Legislative session ends with less than expected for Colorado highways, but inroads for charter schools

Legislative session ends with less than expected for Colorado highways, but inroads for charter schools

Author: Joey Bunch - May 10, 2017 - Updated: June 19, 2017

The Colorado legislative session was supposed to be all about funding transportation, but lawmakers spoke more about inroads and progress Wednesday as they adjourned the 120-day General Assembly.

Roads got a fraction of what lawmakers said they hoped to raise in January. Two bills would have allowed voters to decide on raising billions of dollars for projects such as unclogging traffic on interstates 25 and 70. Both died in the Republican-led Senate. Both had strong Republican support, but not enough.

The bills would have raised about $700 million annually, but the deal-breaker proved to be whether taxpayers should be asked to put more than they already do in the state’s $26.8 billion budget. Instead lawmakers reclassified a fee on hospital beds that will raise about $100 million a year. That money, however, would be allocated annually, and Colorado lawmakers have a history of neglecting transportation promises.

“I think we could have done better,” said Rep. Kimmi Lewis, R-Kim, lamenting money spent elsewhere in the budget that could have supported transportation and rural hospitals.

The freshman legislator said that next year she would be more aggressive against spending increases. Lewis supported the omnibus Senate Bill 267 because her district has five rural hospitals, and the bill includes $528 million to stave off cuts to hospitals across the state.

“I’m going to vote for it today, and that kills me,” Lewis said.

Lawmakers tinkered with hundreds of other bills, including a long-sought informed-consent law that applies before homeowners associations can sue builders for construction defects. None were as bright or bold as the failed transportation bills, however.

Charter school funding turned out to be a winner on the last day of the session when the legislature agreed on sharing future property tax increases equally with charter schools. After years of gridlock in the Capitol, charter school advocates called House Bill 1375 a breakthrough.

“Slowly but surely, based on what we’ve done with a couple of key education votes, we’ re changing our paradigm about how education and learning opportunities for children should be defined and delivered,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument. “That’s a huge win, because that can transform students’ lives, than can transform how we deliver education, so we can bring education kicking and shouting into the 21st century.”

Lundeen hopes to maintain momentum on the subject with the bipartisan bill he sponsored. House Bill 1340 created a 10-member legislative committee to study school finance.

“We’re going to look at and define what it means to fund every student in Colorado with the respect that individual student deserves,” Lundeen said.

Senate Education Committee chairman Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, co-sponsored both bills along with other efforts to benefit charter schools this session.

“My priority is to always seek out new ways in which we can shift the focus on education in Colorado from a discussion about systems and institutions to one that emphasizes each students’ individual needs, goals and dreams,” Hill said.

Rep. Tony Exum Sr., D-Colorado Springs, said he was disappointed lawmakers can’t do more to address traffic north of Monument, but he was happy with his big legislative win to provide firefighters with a voluntary cancer fund they could pay into.

A career firefighter, Exum said he knew colleagues who died from complications of cancer waiting on insurers, who demand elaborate proof that the illness is work-related.

“We are out there putting our lives on the line trying to protect communities,” he said of the carcinogens fire crews face in burning buildings. “This is a byproduct of that. It’s a voluntary program to try to get some funds, because firefighters have died waiting on worker;s comp.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.

One comment

  • BEM

    May 11, 2017 at 10:44 am

    We looked at multiple charter schools for our child. But we could not afford the “FEES”, and the parental volunteer time that was required. They said that we could file a grievance explaining why we can’t afford the fees, but they made it clear that the student would not get any extras. Charter schools may appear to be non-profit, but they seem to be making a lot of money (if all the money is spent on invertors, wealthy owners, etc then there is no profit to show). So lets just use tax-payer money to fund private businesses! When these charter schools opened, they knew what they were getting into and what funding was / wasn’t there. Now they just want to steal money from the students that need it. When you defund, deregulate, and privatize; the losers are the poor and economically disadvantaged!
    If we really want to focus on the individual students, goals, and dreams… then we need to address the fundamental problem of too many students per teacher. How can you ever expect focus on the individual when one teacher has 30+ students in class?


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