Ken Brenner: Funding crisis
April 29, 2009
We are watching the Colorado Legislature struggle to balance next year’s budget during the current recession. I am sure that taking money from Pinnacol’s reserves – a quasi-governmental agency that provides workers compensation insurance – is not the answer for funding our colleges and universities. What is missing from the discussion about higher education is how to provide its own dedicated funding source. Where is Colorado’s commitment to the long-term value of higher education for its citizens and statewide economic development?
Not all colleges are funded in the same way, and we have a great example of a stable long-term funding strategy right here in Northwest Colorado. Colorado Mountain College receives a property tax from our district that generates almost 75 percent of its operating budget. Tuition fees for classes and a little state money make up the rest of CMC’s revenues. If you ever have taken a class from CMC, you probably noticed the tuition was very reasonable, now you know why. Why not ask voters whether they will support this long-term solution?
The School Finance Act also is badly in need of a comprehensive overhaul. Although it originally was intended to provide a level playing field for funding our K-12 system, it now serves as a funding ceiling for all school districts statewide. This year’s “tweak” of the SFA will cost rural schools money. The RE-2 school district in Routt County will have a net loss of more than $325,000 dollars from the state because of a change in the formula. The irony is, local school districts can ask voters for as much money as they want for new or remodeled schools. Meanwhile, the SFA guarantees that we can only fund the operation of the new school at the level of 49th of the 50 states.
Join me in urging the state Legislature to propose a new dedicated funding source for Colorado colleges and universities. They also should form an interim committee to propose sweeping changes to the SFA. The changes should allow schools to offer full-day kindergarten, preschool for parents who want it, small classroom sizes, teachers paid a living wage, art, music, dance, physical education and vocational options for students who will not be attending college. Hopefully, we can see past the recession and focus on what we want education in Colorado to be for future generations.
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