The General Assembly could make major progress on buying down the state's debt to K-12 public education under the School Finance Act, which cleared the House Education Committee Monday on an 11-2 vote.
Hundreds of Colorado teachers left their classrooms and descended on the state Capitol Monday morning to demand lawmakers protect public pensions and put millions of dollars more into K-12 education each year.
Many in Colorado, including firefighters, police officers, other public servants — and especially the more than 35,000 members of the Colorado Education Association — want to see the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association fixed and poised for a solid future. We all depend upon a strong PERA for retirement. However, the current bill (SB-200) moving through the Senate is not the answer. Here is why:
As reported by Chalkbeat Colorado and other media this week, the Colorado Supreme Court on Monday upheld a much-debated 2010 state law that lets school districts place veteran teachers on unpaid leave if they are underperforming. Meaning, tenure won’t shield teachers from dismissal.
The ruling drew accolades from education reformers, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michael Johnston, who as a state senator had sponsored the law when it was still a bill in the legislature.
As expected, the state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, denounced the ruling — tenure being a cornerstone of collective bargaining agreements. (The union’s attorneys had represented the plaintiffs in the suit that led to the court decision.)
The face-off between those two takes on the subject has riven the Democratic Party for years. Following Monday’s ruling, it spilled over onto the pages of Colorado’s unofficial Democratic barometer, Colorado Pols.
The blog took note of the development — and zeroed in on Johnston’s praise of the court action as well as the fact his position was in sync with that of the conservative Republican education-reform group Ready Colorado. (For the record, the longtime liberal advocacy shop Colorado Children’s Campaign also welcomed the ruling.)
That prompted a flurry of comments posted by readers who heaped scorn on Johnston — and in some cases questioned whether he belonged in the Democratic Party:
“He and Lebsock…”? Ouch.
Johnston — a onetime teacher who has proven to be a champion fund-raiser so far in the governor’s race — did draw some support:
One alert contributor to the comment thread pointed out Johnston isn’t alone on the campaign trail in his support of the state law that was reaffirmed Monday: Rival Democratic gubernatorial contender and 2nd Congressional District U.S. Rep. Jared Polis also embraced the policy. Polis, an education reformer and charter school champion in his own right, reiterated his support for the law in an op-ed he penned for Politico in 2013.
A Colorado Senate committee listened to four and a half hours of testimony on how to fix the state's shaky pension plan Tuesday, but it didn't take a vote. Instead, the Finance Committee will reconvene Wednesday to throw amendment at Senate Bill 200.
At stake is a plan to fill in a projected pension shortfall of $32 billion to more than $50 billion over the next three decades as state, local and school district employees retire. The Finance Committee was the first to get a whack at the bill that is likely to be rewritten at every step of legislative process, but needs to get to the governor's desk before the General Assembly adjourns on May 9.
The sponsors called the compromise to fix PERA a starting point, not a finish line, as a bill to do so was introduced Wednesday. Senate Republicans and House Democrats agree, however, that lawmakers must make sure the money the state pension brings in is enough to support its retirees.
Former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, one of five leading Democrats running for governor of Colorado, has won the unanimous endorsement of the United Steelworkers District 12 labor union, her campaign Friday.
Calling the Boulder Democrat a fighter for the working people of Colorado, the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters threw its support Thursday behind U.S. Rep. Jared Polis in the gubernatorial race.