School finance will soon take center stage at Colorado’s Capitol

Last week, the Senate took up the budget bill and, as is often the case, stripped the amendments made on the bill in the House. This may explain why, midweek, the House chose to pass a resolution dissolving the Senate. While this was intended in jest, at least partly, it reflects each chamber’s traditionally territorial approach to the budget bill.

I’m pleased two chief complaints I had about the House version of the bill have been addressed in the Senate. An amendment was added to get Fort Lewis College $10 million at the start of the new fiscal year, so the college can begin construction on its new sciences building project. Secondly, the Senate passed the bill with $21 million set aside to fund a Colorado firefighting air fleet, to be ready to assist as needed in this year’s fire season.

Now, we’ll see this week if the Senate version survives the conference committee charged with reconciling the differences between the two chambers’ versions of the budget. With just a month left to the 2014 legislative session, we’ll soon be taking up the school-finance bill, which focuses on the funding for Colorado’s K-12 system.

I’ve received a lot of input in anticipation of this next bill, and I’ll keep that input in mind as we go through the legislative process with this very important topic. The measures taken during the recession resulting in education cuts from the so-called “negative factor” applied in the school-funding formula must be addressed now that the economy is improving.

Being a strong local-control state, including in the area of education, there’s a resulting tension between state and school board control of finances and the education system, in general. I was concerned last year when the Medicaid expansion was proposed that we’d soon see that program expansion come at the cost of our education system. Unfortunately, that time’s already here. With the requirement for a balanced state budget, meaning we can spend only the revenue the state takes in, how we resolve these competing demands between growing health-care costs and sufficient education funding is yet to be determined.

Several of the bills I’m sponsoring are making their way through the House. The bill on water conservation efforts has changed from its introduced version, but now the topic of municipal water conservation will be explored in depth at the Water Resources Review Committee during the interim. I’m also optimistic my bipartisan bill will pass that involves the water interim committee in an expanded public hearing process regarding the developing Colorado water plan.

As we continue to struggle with the drought consequences and serious threat of wildfires stemming from poor forest health and current climate conditions, it will be critical for Coloradans to consider how we can best manage our natural resources, including our water supply, for the long term. I look forward to continuing to work on these complex challenges.

In the midst of the budget and other bill activity, I was very pleased and honored to receive the Dan Noble Award at Club 20’s spring meeting in Grand Junction. The award is given for outstanding public service to Western Colorado and is named for the Norwood senator who served with admirable distinction in the Colorado Legislature in the 1980s.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact her by phone at (303) 866-4884 or by email at ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.

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