Schwartz: More funds needed for education | AspenTimes.com

Schwartz: More funds needed for education

Sen. Gail Schwartz
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DENVER – State Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village) is among a growing list of legislators vowing to find funds to reduce the budget cuts Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing for K-12 education.

Schwartz said it is a “personal priority” for her to provide more funds for education. She said she will “leave no stone unturned” during the budget process toward that goal.

Hickenlooper unveiled his 2011 fiscal year budget for the Colorado Legislature last week. It proposes a net reduction of $332 million for public education. That is on top of a $263 million cut by the state for the current fiscal year. Schwartz said that is too big of a hit.

“This year we’re coming back to the same well,” she said. “Just because this is the biggest slice of the pie, it’s not the only slice of the pie.”

The Joint Budget Committee will work on its own budget. Even Hickenlooper’s fellow Democrats say the budget passed by the Legislature is likely to be significantly different than the freshman governor’s proposal. Senate President Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont) directed committee chairs and leaders Monday to review the expenditures of the departments they oversee “to identify savings that can be used to backfill anticipated cuts to our state’s educational system.” The 2011 budget goes into effect July 1.

Schwartz said the governor’s proposed budget would devastate some of the 20 school districts in Senate District 5, which includes Aspen. Several school districts in the San Luis Valley receive a greater portion of state funding because their local property tax bases are weak, she said. Several of those districts have already responded to cuts in state funding by reducing the school week to four days.

Schwartz made education a focal point of her first four-year term in office along with renewable energy. She is in the first year of her second term.

The Aspen School District received $15.32 million in state funding or $9,096 per student in 2010-11, according to the Colorado Department of Education. The governor’s proposed budget would cut $1.72 million from Aspen’s funding, or about $927 per student, the education department’s website showed.

The Roaring Fork RE-1 School District, which includes Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, received $36.17 million or about $7,050 per student in 2010-11. It is looking at cuts of $2.81 million or $502 per student. Only a small portion of the downvalley school district is in Schwartz’s district, but she is still concerned for the effects on education in the Roaring Fork Valley.

In the bigger picture, she is concerned that the cuts will make Colorado dead last among all states in per capita funding for education. That is intolerable, she said, because a well-educated work force is key to economic prosperity.

The Legislature doesn’t have a lot of funds to divert into education. Plummeting revenues have forced massive cuts. Schwartz said $4.3 billion has been pared from the budget in the last three years. Colorado’s constitution requires a balanced budget.

The state budget is the same size as a decade ago, yet the population is 17 percent greater, according to Schwartz. Despite the funding challenges, she declared additional funds will be found for education for the 2011-12 budget.

“It feels impossible, but I’m confident we can find more funds,” she said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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