Colorado EditorialsHot Sheet

An educator who’s willing to horse-trade like a lawmaker

Author: Dan Njegomir - January 5, 2017 - Updated: June 6, 2017

You don’t picture swinging political wheeler-dealers when you think of straight-laced school superintendents, yet Eagle County Schools super Jason Glass blurs the boundary between the two callings in a column he penned in the Vail Daily this week.

Make no mistake; Glass definitely wants to cut a deal.

He notes that a pending bill by state Senate Education Committee Chair Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, to equalize funding for the state’s charter schools is likely to run into even stiffer opposition in the upcoming legislative session than it did when it was derailed last year. That’s because Hill’s bill, Glass says:

…comes at a tough time as the state of Colorado is expected to have a challenging fiscal year starting in 2017. While preliminary budgets do have some increases to education spending, funding is not expected to keep up with student population growth and inflation.

Glass also notes:

Hill’s equalization bill died last year in the Democratically controlled Colorado House, where many school districts and education lobby groups opposed it. Opponents argued that the bill walked all over the idea of “local control” for educational decisions and charter contracts with school districts already included determinations on how funds would be allocated.

Is there a way around the impasse this time? Glass is glad you asked:

What is needed is a good old-fashioned political trade that could satisfy both sides…A potential solution lies in something called the Hospital Provider Fee. At the risk of over-simplifying a complex issue, Colorado has a special fund called the Hospital Provider Fee, which is a state program requiring hospitals to pay money depending on how many patients stayed overnight and outpatient procedures.

He continues:

The problem is that the Hospital Provider Fee counts toward the Taxpayer Bill of Rights formulaic cap on state revenue before tax refunds kick in, effectively limiting available state resources for things like education. Attempts have been made in the past to reclassify the Hospital Provider Fee as an “enterprise fund” so it would not count toward that Taxpayer Bill of Rights cap. Reclassifying the Hospital Provider Fee would free up around $200 million in the state’s general fund.

His proposal?

The grand bargain would be for the Colorado legislature to pass the charter school equalization bill with the caveat that the Hospital Provider Fee be reclassified as an enterprise fund and made available for education funding.

…This move wouldn’t raise taxes a penny, but it would mean that pending TABOR refund checks for taxpayers would be reduced by a marginal amount. It would also mean that schools in Colorado would stand a good chance of having their funding keep up with inflation and student growth.

In other words, the art of the deal rests on the craft of the compromise.

So, does his idea have legs? Problem is, Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham, of Cañon City, already has gone on the record saying any proposal to reclassify the provider fee is “not really an option.” Meaning, it’s not even likely to make it to the GOP-controlled Senate floor.

Still, you have to give a guy like Glass credit for trying to think like a pol. He has to—so long as politicians control his purse strings.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is a blogger and opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.

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