Ritter offers ‘revolutionary’ education plan | AspenTimes.com

Ritter offers ‘revolutionary’ education plan

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Gov. Bill Ritter called Thursday for a “revolutionary shift” in Colorado education to help prepare public school students for college, saying the system needs a major overhaul.

“If ever there was a place to be bold and ambitious, to push hard and fast against the status quo, this is it,” Ritter told legislators in his annual State of the State speech.

Ritter, a Democrat starting his second year in office, also outlined plans for developing the economy, cutting health care costs and improving transportation. He agreed with lawmakers that Colorado must take steps this year to resolve conflicting spending mandates in the state Constitution.

The cornerstone of his speech was his education plan, which he called the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids.

“Education is the cornerstone of our economy and it dictates how we will move Colorado forward in the 21st century,” he said.

He called his plan “the most revolutionary shift in education policy this state has seen in years.”

Ritter told a joint session of the House and Senate that Colorado has focused too much on “seat time” and course titles and not enough on whether students are actually learning.

“When nearly one-third of college freshmen in Colorado require remedial training, something is wrong,” he said.

Responding to Republican criticism that he has no discernible agenda, Ritter also issued a 40-page “Book of Accomplishments,” touting progress on his campaign promises to improve education, health care and transportation, developing the renewable energy as an economic driver, and protecting the environment.

House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said he’s still not sure what the priorities will be.

“It was difficult to tell from the governor’s speech how he plans to address many of the key issues facing the state, including health care, transportation, illegal immigration and higher education,” May said. “The lack of a clear agenda gives us an opportunity as Republicans to gain support for our legislative package of real solutions,” May said.

Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, said Ritter appeared to be backing off some of the more ambitious programs he announced last year, including plans to provide health insurance to all 792,000 uninsured people in Colorado by 2010.

Panels that Ritter appointed to study health care and public education produced proposals that carried huge price tags.

“It seems to me he’s in full retreat from the blue ribbon committees he appointed,” McElhany said.

Ritter himself acknowledged his top priorities will take more time, and he is now proposing a “building block” approach to tackle smaller portions of those issues.

“We aren’t going to come up with big fixes in all of those areas all at once. It would be a fool’s errand to even try,” he told lawmakers. “We must make steady progress across the board, doing what we know is right and what we can afford,” Ritter told lawmakers.

For business, Ritter proposed a change in the business personal property tax exemption to ease the burden on more than 30,000 small businesses, simplifying tax calculations for corporations, creating a $3.5 million-a-year fund to develop life-science and biosciences businesses and dedicating $3.5 million from the Clean Energy Fund to economic-development activity.

On health care, he said he would focus this year on controlling costs, eliminating waste, improving quality and expanding access to public health programs for low-income children and other vulnerable people.

On transportation, Ritter said he wants to encourage alternatives that will cut down on pollution and give travelers more options. He said he’s waiting on a panel to identify alternate funding sources to replace dwindling transportation funding from the federal government and from fuel taxes.

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