Democrats Hatch School Funding Proposal

    The rapidly increasing revenues from state and federal taxes and royalties on energy production is often nicknamed Colorado’s Golden Goose. If Democrats get their way in the 2008 legislative session, more than a few tail feathers will be plucked.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAnyone who has children attending school in trailers knows that Colorado’s schools have not been able to afford to keep up with capital improvements.

    Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver) said he spent the summer touring schools across the state and found unsafe situations. He argued that students and teachers should be able to focus on things like reading, writing and arithmetic – not building maintenance problems like flooding, fire hazards and broken septic tanks.

    “In Yuma County, part of a roof collapsed in the elementary school,” Romanoff said, “and in Crowley County, there are gutters inside the high school gym to route the water leaking through a roof they can’t afford to fix.” He even heard of a student in his desk that fell through the floor of a trailer.

    Top Democratic legislative officials have proposed a way to pay for deteriorating and overcrowded classrooms in the state: take about $40 million per year for the next 20 years from federal mineral lease revenues and allow the state to leverage up to $1 billion toward capital construction projects for Colorado’s decrepit K-12 schools.

    With the average school facility in Colorado built in 1967 of concrete masonry, school reconstruction projects are overdue. According to a 2005 study sponsored by the Donnell-Kay Foundation, a quarter of the state’s school buildings are functionally inadequate and nearly a third of elementary schools are too small. The study also found a backlog of school capital construction and maintenance projects totaling $5.7 billion to $10 billion, because school systems have not had the funds to make needed improvements.

    Federal mineral lease monies are not subjected to TABOR regulations and, therefore, changes in revenue distribution or use can be made by the Legislature. Plus, noted Senate President-elect Peter Groff, D-Denver, the Democratic plan does not raise taxes or take funds out of the state’s general fund.

    Definitely, the Golden Goose has been laying some hefty nest eggs. For instance, federal mineral lease revenues dedicated to school funding have climbed from an average of around $50 million in 2004 to a projected $90 million in 2008.

    These funds are currently divided among Colorado’s public school systems for maintaining and building school facilities. The Democratic proposal would help school systems expand their bonding capabilities by partnering with the state to make up for the deficient funding within their district; however, these federal mineral lease dollars still fall billions short of the need.

    Theoretically, the $40 million would come off the top of the federal mineral lease revenue base dedicated to support schools for the next 20 years, which happens to parallel the supposed life cycle of the current oil and gas boom.

    Photo of Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff by Leslie Robinson