Thursday, January 11, 2001
Denver After listening to Colorado Gov. Bill Owens State of the State address Thursday, local legislators said they generally agreed with the governor but have reservations about education reform.
"I have a conflict with the governor's message on spending the increases (in education funding mandated by the passage Amendment 23)," said Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park. "Rural districts have entirely different needs. I'm concerned we're tying the hands of rural schools."
Owens said he wants to reduce class size in grades kindergarten through third to 17 students, give incentives to recruit teachers in rural areas and in subjects such as math and science, and to buy textbooks.
If the governor or lawmakers propose mandates for class size, White said he would seek an exemption for school districts under a certain student population, something like 3,000 students.
Sen. Jack Taylor,R-Steamboat Springs, said he would have a similar concern but added the governor answered this question in his speech.
"It's not a mandate," Taylor said. "The option is there and they (all school districts) are going to get their money either way."
"We have two choices," Owens said. "We can either let these dollars be absorbed in the base with no discernible outcome or we can direct these dollars toward small class sizes, a priority of parents and, at least until now, educators.
"It is certainly reasonable to ask that, over the next decade, schools use this new funding first to reduce K-3 class size to 17."
While the governor said he advocates local control of school funding, he will insist school districts be accountable for the increased dollars.
He said he fears additional money will be spent for "business as usual," so he exempted reducing class size and special education funding from the money he said he would hand over to school principals.
"Nowhere in Amendment 23 did it say there should be no strings attached," Taylor said, echoing the governor's sentiments that accountability by school administrators is crucial.
The majority of the increased funding will come from the state's revenue surplus, a surplus that remained even after Owens instituted cuts in sales and income taxes last year.
Calling tax relief efforts since he became governor the most important in Colorado history, Owens said he would like to put a tax cut back on the Legislature's agenda this session.
Taylor, the chairman of the Joint Audit Committee, said he believes calculations by the Governor's Office of State Planning and Budgeting that the surplus is overspent by about $23 million.