Colo. governor signs school funding overhaul

Colorado governor signs school funding overhaul that relies on big new tax approval

Associated Press

DENVER (AP) -- Colorado educators looking for bold changes to how the state funds public education have part of the equation answered, with Gov. John Hickenlooper signing into law Tuesday a mammoth bill revising how state tax dollars should be used to fund public education.

But a big piece of the equation is still a blank: Will taxpayers approve some $1 billion in new taxes this fall to pay for the upgrades?

That question was left unanswered Tuesday when Hickenlooper joined fellow Democrats and education advocates to applaud the passage of a new school finance process for Colorado. The changes include statewide full-day kindergarten and more money for preschool and at-risk students. The new law also calls for money to implement school reforms such as a new teacher evaluation formula that takes effect next school year.

But the whole thing depends on voter approval of a higher tax that voters have yet to see. Two dozen proposed tax increases and changes have been submitted as possible ballot measures, most of them income tax hikes. It's still unclear which tax measure advocacy groups plan to petition onto ballots.

The governor gave no additional hint Tuesday of which tax he prefers, though he said he'd "certainly" campaign for the eventual measure.

"I have several preferences," the governor said. "But just out of deference to yourselves, I'll keep it to myself."

Lawmakers who sponsored the school-finance overhaul didn't say, either. But the House sponsor, Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, said the sweeping school finance law is just the first hurdle to address underfunded public schools.

"We still recognize that our biggest challenge is yet to come," Hamner said.

"The biggest challenge ahead of us will be convincing all of the people of Colorado, by November, to share in this vision, and encouraging them to see that there is nothing more important to Colorado's future than well-educated students and graduates," she added.

Supporters have until 2017 to seek the higher tax. That is, if the higher tax fails this November, the finance overhaul could be triggered if voters approve it on a future election.

The changes don't affect school funding for the 2013-14 school year, which was signed into law last week.

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