Educators hope programs return
DENVER – When voters agreed to send more tax money to grade schools, middle schools and high schools in 2000, the state was on an economic high, with forecasts of billion-dollar surpluses.Then the recession hit in 2001 and state revenue shrank. The school-funding measure, called Amendment 23, still required public school spending to increase for the next 10 years, so lawmakers were forced to make deep cuts nearly everywhere else.They slashed spending for colleges and universities, Medicaid, home nursing and transportation. They also cut anything in K-through-12 education that wasn’t required by Amendment 23 or other state and federal laws: funds for at-risk students, libraries, textbooks, school maintenance, preschool programs, teacher development grants, school breakfasts.Educators hope the state will restore at least some of those programs if voters approve a measure on the November ballot to temporarily relax the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment that limits state revenue and spending.Referendum C asks voters to give up $3.7 billion that would otherwise be refunded to them under TABOR over the next years.Anna Jo Haynes, executive director of Mile High Montessori, said she was forced to turn away 10 at-risk preschool students because of funding cuts. She’s worried the state will cut hundreds of more statewide if voters reject Referendum C.”That would be devastating to these highly at-risk children,” she said.Opponents of the ballot measure said it’s unfair to blame TABOR for problems in public education, especially after voters increased funding, even during the height of the recession. They said teachers and students have no reason to complain because they got guaranteed increases.”What they call double trouble, most voters call double-dipping,” said former Senate President John Andrews, a Republican who is one of the leading opponents of Referendum C.He said despite the increased spending on public education, test scores have not risen dramatically.”There certainly has not been a breakthrough in education excellence after they got that spending guarantee,” Andrews said.Andrews and other Republicans are still smarting after Democrats refused to approve a ballot measure last year that would have asked voters to simultaneously fix problems with TABOR and Amendment 23, which is also a constitutional amendment.Republicans refused to do anything that would weaken TABOR; Democrats refused to do anything that would hurt education.This year, Democrats and GOP Gov. Bill Owens reached a compromise, agreeing first to ask voters to fix TABOR and promising to fix Amendment 23 later.Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada, said if Referendum C is approved, Democrats are willing to ask voters next year to change Amendment 23 to suspend increases during a recession.Windels said if the measure fails, she expects some lawmakers to try cutting more optional public-school initiatives, including reading programs, preschool programs and money for libraries.”There is going to be a real push to make public education share the pain,” Windels said.Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, said lawmakers will be limited in the number of cuts they can make by the threat of lawsuits over funding for at-risk students and other programs, but that won’t stop some lawmakers from trying.”If you want to destroy K-12 education for children, you can do a lot of things,” she said.
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