Presentation on Education Issues
INTERIM COMMISSION TO STUDY FISCAL STABILITY
09:07 AM -- Call to Order - Opening Remarks from the Chair
Senator Heath, chair, called the meeting to order. He provided an overview of the agenda for the two-day meeting of the Long-term Fiscal Stability Commission, as well as the subsequent set of two-day meetings. The meetings will focus on the type of state the commission thinks Colorado should be and the associated role of government.
09:09 AM -- Presentation from Believe in a Better Colorado on Education Issues
Representatives from Believe in a Better Colorado came to the table to discuss education issues in the context of the state's long-term fiscal stability. Believe in a Better Colorado is an alliance among the state’s three largest K-12 education associations formed to inform public school employees and citizens about the need to more effectively invest in all essential public services. The representatives from the group in attendance were Jane Urschel, Colorado Association of School Boards; Karen Wick, Colorado Education Association; and Bruce Caughey, Colorado Association of School Executives. A copy of the group's power point presentation is provided as Attachment A. Mr. Caughey explained that Believe in a Better Colorado thinks the state needs to undergo tax reform to provide better public services.
Ms. Wick discussed the state's ranking in funding for public services, indicating that the state lags behind other states for many services. She stated that public funding per $1,000 in state personal income for both kindergarten through twelfth-grade (K-12) education and higher education ranked 48th in the United States. She also noted that Colorado ranked lower on other education-related measures, such as class size.
Ms. Urschel discussed the state's low performance in graduating its residents from college, despite its high level of college graduates, many of whom have come from other states. She believed that the state needs to improve its entire educational system, from preschool to higher education. She did note that the state's efforts to evaluate student achievement are being modeled by other states.
Ms. Urschel continued by stating that FY 2010-11 is a critical year because the TABOR amendment's fiscal constraints to the state will still be in place, the Referendum C time-out will have expired, and Amendment 23's mandated percentage point funding increase above inflation will also expire. She urged the commission to meet with the school finance interim committee because of the strong nexus between the two committees. She also thought that the state needed to undergo fiscal reform because the state's constitutional fiscal provisions and formulas hinder the ability of the state's elected officials to govern effectively. She also stated that the provisions make it difficult for the state's different levels of government to share in the funding of services equitably.
Mr. Caughey discussed Amendment 23's effect on the state budget and funding for K-12 education. He stated that the intent of the amendment was to reverse the cuts to K-12 education in the 1990s. However, the amendment has acted more as a ceiling on education funding rather than the intended floor, and the state is still falling behind other states in funding.
Ms. Wick discussed the recent rankings in funding for education reported by the Census Bureau which included measures of federal, state, and local government funding. She indicated that the state's constitutional fiscal restraints had an adverse effect on funding for education.
Ms. Urschel discussed ways to improve K-12 education in the state, such as the utilization of more technology in classrooms, but stated that there was a lack of resources to employ such measures.
Mr. Caughey explained that the state needed to customize education to help its population develop necessary skills, such as critical thinking and creativity, to compete in the global economy. He commented that the state's public schools do the best they can with their limited funds.
Ms. Wick explained the changing student population. There are more students who have special needs, such as those in poverty, those learning English, and gifted and talented students. Ms Urschel and Mr. Caughey discussed education's role in keeping the state competitive and reducing poverty. Ms Wick noted the high return on investing public money in education.
Ms. Urschel discussed Believe in a Better Colorado's plans to host discussions this fall about ways for the state to better invest in public services.
Representative Gerou inquired about the state's funding levels for education, how it compares to other states in educational performance, and how public schools compare with other types of schools. Mr. Caughey discussed the state's per pupil spending rankings and indicated that Colorado scores in the top half of states in student performance. He explained that it is difficult to compare public schools with others types of schools for various reasons, such as the different types of testing and student populations in the various types of schools.
In response to a commission inquiry about what level of education funding the state should have, Ms. Wick indicated that it was difficult to derive a specific level. The state first needs to decide what outcomes it wants from its educational system. Mr. Caughey noted that one outcome to strive for is increasing the number of students that are proficient in various educational skills. He noted a presentation was recently made to the school finance interim committee which focused on the types of educational services that produce the best results.
The commission discussed issues regarding the appropriate level of funding for education, such as the impacts of continuing the current level of funding, and policies to meet educational goals. Mr. Caughey commented that current performance levels will decline if current funding levels continue, partly because the state will not be able to keep importing college graduates from other states at the same rate; thus, the state will have less educated families over time.
Jim Griffin, representing the League of Charter Schools, started his testimony by noting the increasing number of students in charter schools in the state. He concurred with the prior testimony that the state needed to undergo fiscal reform. He explained how charter schools are mostly responsible for funding facility needs, unlike traditional public schools. However, he noted the legislation that passed in 2009 that will help provide more capital construction funding for charter schools.
The commission discussed the differences in both funding and performance levels between charter and traditional public schools. Mr. Griffin indicated that charter schools perform well in general and that one important measure to look at is the large number of students on waiting lists for certain charter schools. He also explained that charter schools play an important role in helping low-achieving students.