Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 17, 20173min657

Believe it or not, plenty of Colorado K-12 students owe fines for overdue library books, damaged or missing textbooks, and the like. If you are a parent, you already know this.

Especially for some households of modest means, forking it over can amount to more than just an incidental expense. And even if paying the fines isn’t that big a deal for other families, the question arises: Is failure to pay them a big enough deal to warrant withholding a student’s transcripts?

Before you answer, know this: Gov. John Hickenlooper thinks the answer is no, and he made that clear by signing House Bill 1301 into law today. (OK, now you can go ahead and answer the question.)

What’s HB 1301? The state House Democrats thought you’d ask. From a press release the House Dems’ press office issued today:

HB17-1301 prevents a school or school district from withholding records required for enrollment in another school or institution of higher education, such as a transcript or diploma, for failure to pay any fine or fee assessed by the school. This includes fines related to returning or replacing textbooks, library resources or other school property.

So, is it a get-out-of-jail-free card? Perhaps, a blank check to run up the tab on overdue books or missing texts because, by statute, there now will be no meaningful consequences? The press release addresses that, too, quoting House sponsor Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City:

“We must give every student access to a free public education … That includes access to their grades and transcripts if they need to change schools or reenroll. Grades, transcripts and academic records belong to the student and no student should be prevented from receiving or continuing their education because of inability to pay.”

And it noted this:

Testimony during the bill’s hearing before the House Education Committee pointed out that the policy of withholding transcripts can lead to low-income students dropping out of school. Martin Schneider with the Community Prep School in Colorado Springs said that half of the students at the school each year are new students and 35 percent of those students have unpaid fines from previous schools—most fines are less than $30.00. Many students and their families don’t have an ability to pay those fines which acted as a barrier up until now for students seeking to continue their education.

It probably didn’t hurt the bill’s chances that it was bipartisan. No less a no-nonsense conservative than Senate Republican Majority Leader Chris Holbert, of Parker, was the Senate co-sponsor along with Aurora Democrat Rhonda Fields.




Rachael WrightRachael WrightMay 11, 20177min379

Twenty Years Ago This Week in the Colorado Statesman … A new welfare law was finally agreed upon and the Legislature narrowly averted a special session. “That’s the art of compromise,” Gov. Roy Romer said. He said he would sign the latest version of the state's welfare reform law that had successfully met the requirements of new federal laws while passing muster on both sides of the Legislature's aisle.


Paula NoonanPaula NoonanApril 7, 20175min508
Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

Colorado’s population in 1992 was 3.5 million. Census projections put the state’s population in 2017 at 5.5 million. In 1992, 812,308 citizens — 53.68 percent of voters — said yes to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), and 700,906 citizens — 46.32 percent of voters — said no.

Not to make too fine a point, but the 1.5 million 1992 voters on TABOR would comprise 27 percent of today’s population. And many of those 1.5 million people are no longer living in Colorado. Yet here we are, 25 years later, juggling TABOR limitations at the Capitol.

As background, the state in 1992 was in a deep recession from the oil and real estate bust of the 1980s. Front Range citizens especially were in an economic pit.

Downtown Denver was a dump: no Coors Field, no Pepsi Center, no new Mile High Stadium, no new Auraria Campus, no lightrail, no fancy Union Station, no pedestrian bridge over to the Highlands, no condos in LoDo or RiNo, downtown shopping fleeing to the suburbs, and prominent Denver retail names gone bankrupt.

Colorado Springs was hit hard as its real estate expansion of the ’80s died. Banks were on the brink of going out of business across the state.

After the anti-tax 1992 TABOR vote, Denver metro citizens did a 180-degree reverse and voted to build Denver International Airport. Then citizens voted for Coors Field and Mile High Stadium. With help from Gov. Bill Owens, RTD got a tax for light rail.

These investments set the stage for Colorado’s current economic vibrancy. The investments occurred based on a good feature of TABOR — let the people decide what projects and programs merit their money. Yet TABOR’s bad features, still in place, are wreaking havoc on the state’s budget.

Senator Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, was among five legislators who voted against SB-254, the budget appropriations Long Bill. He’s asking people to take a long view back and forward: “It’s a vote to raise the TABOR issue once again. We’re not funding our schools, oil and gas inspectors, renewable energy, or filling in gaps from cuts from D.C.”

It’s esoteric for newcomers to know that Colorado’s current budget is based on the 2009-2010 recession years due to TABOR. “Unlike other states, because of TABOR’s ratchet down effect, Colorado doesn’t get to make up for downturns and come back,” says Kerr.

When the state gins up more tax revenues, as it has, the budget base doesn’t move up. Its budget level continues at the 2009-2010 recession point, forcing refunds of extra tax dollars.

The Hospital Provider Reimbursement Fee portrays the problem. The health care fees, considered a tax, push state revenues above TABOR limits. The Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee put up SB17-256 to reduce provider fees by $264 million, which causes an additional $264 million loss in federal matching funds.

The provider fee reimburses hospitals for delivering care to people who can’t pay. Without the fee, some hospitals, particularly in rural counties, don’t have enough money to operate. When those hospitals close, uninsured and insured alike lose care.

Four Democratic Senators, Irene Aguilar, Kerry Donovan, Matt Jones and Andy Kerr, and Republican Sen. Owen Hill, voted against the budget Long Bill. Also affected by TABOR is the ongoing $880 million annual negative factor that lowers public K-12 education spending. House members get to vote next.

So the question is, when will today’s citizens get the chance to vote on tax policy for today?


Ernest LuningErnest LuningJanuary 2, 201725min416

House Democrats and Republicans agree that two matters are likely to dominate discussion in the chamber during the upcoming legislative session, although they disagree about how to refer to one of them. Along with funding the state’s transportation needs, House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle told The Colorado Statesman recently that tackling the “construction defects” issue, as Democrats like to say, or reforming “construction litigation” problems, as Republicans phrase it, will be a top priority and that a resolution appears to be in sight.


Terry JonesTerry JonesMay 17, 20166min457

Free burritos, free tacos and margaritas and discounted fried chicken sandwiches. These aren’t the happy hour specials at the local bar, but tokens of appreciation awarded to educators during Teacher Appreciation week. I understand the good intentions — and I love a good margarita — but does our society make these same offers to physicians, engineers or architects? Of course not, because this would be perceived as condescending to those professions. As education professionals, we deserve the same public accord as other august professions.


Paula NoonanPaula NoonanFebruary 3, 20164min341
Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

Colorado’s public school students are on an Oliver Twist funding diet of gruel without milk. They’ve been on this “let them eat mush” meal plan since 2009-10 when the state’s education economy tanked.

Most kids don’t achieve to their potential on gruel. Here’s the factual, no-nonsense dollars-and-cents data points underlying stagnant graduation rates, increasing drop-out rates and standardized testing scores. The state should not be proud.

Mapleton School District has seen its student population grow from 5,374 children, with 3,211 at-risk, in 2009 to 8,203 in 2014, with 4,327 at-risk. Despite this population jump, its per-student allotment has trended down over seven years due to underfunding.

For seven years, Mapleton has lost roughly $900 per year per pupil in its budget. It’s a cumulative dollar loss since 2009-10 of $6,246 per pupil, almost one school year’s worth of funding per student. Most public schools in the state, including charters, have seen a similar, total one-year per pupil loss.

Educators say that eighth grade is critical for academic development. Kids who do well in eighth grade go on to college without remediation. Last year’s eighth-graders have been without full funding since they were in second grade. They are struggling.

Examine these results. Lauded Denver charter schools KIPP and DSST in northeast Denver have gotten their eighth graders to 32-38 percent “meet expectations” in math and 46-47 percent “meet expectations” in English/Language Arts. The schools receive millions of extra dollars from foundations and big donors, but they haven’t broken the 50 percent “meets expectations” threshold in their free-and-reduced lunch schools.

Laredo Middle School, situated in Aurora in the Cherry Creek School District, with a diverse demographic, got 38 percent of its eighth-graders to “meet expectations” in ELA and only 11 percent to “meet expectations” in math. Since sixth grade, Laredo’s eighth-graders didn’t take home a math textbook. When parents don’t have a text to help with math homework, they can’t help with math homework, and it shows.

Even the highly respected, core knowledge D’Evelyn Junior High, a choice-in option school in Jefferson County, struggles to get its eighth-graders to “meet expectations,” with 65 percent meeting standards in ELA and only 22 percent in math.

D’Evelyn’s ninth-graders are at 83 percent “meet expectations” in ELA and its 10th-graders at 87 percent. Only D’Evelyn’s 11th-graders, who received full funding for more years of their schooling, scored outstanding: 96 percent of 11th-graders “meet expectations” in ELA. Evidence here suggests that, grade by grade, lower funding has lowered academic achievement.

Schools up and down the economic demographic cannot get their eighth-graders close to 80 percent “meet expectations” in ELA and math. These eighth-graders, now in ninth grade, are probably doomed to finish their education lacking another full school year’s worth of funding. They’ll be two years down in resources, but the children are supposed to graduate on time and college and career ready. That doesn’t, and won’t, add up.


Kara MasonKara MasonFebruary 2, 20168min323
New Department of Education Commissioner Richard Crandall has a few weeks of work under his belt, and it has been overwhelming — the good kind of overwhelming, he said, the kind that has him buzzing with new ideas. “More than 30 organizations have contacted us, saying ‘Hey, we want to meet with you,’” Crandall told […]

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