“Is it OK?”: State Leaders Respond

When the Great Futures Coalition delivered signatures and stories to state leaders in mid-March, we asked them to answer two questions: 1) “Do you understand the impact that multi-year cuts are having on students?”; and 2) “Are you OK with that?”

Some legislators answered. Some didn’t. The current responses are listed below alphabetically by Senate and House. If you do not know who your legislators are, link here and enter your Zip Code and Address.

Senator Irene Aguilar, SD 32

1) Yes

2) No

I would encourage your organization to work with Senator Rollie Heath on his initiative to address this problem — “kids can’t wait.”

Irene Aguilar

Senator Joyce Foster, SD 35

Great Futures Colorado Coalition and Great Education Colorado,

Thank you for expressing your concerns regarding funding education in Colorado and for sharing your stories with me. In response to your questions, I fully recognize the effect that reduced funding is having on students at all levels in this state. As a mother of three children who attended public schools in Colorado, I am especially concerned about larger class sizes in K-12 that make it harder for students to get the one-on-one attention from their teacher that they so often need.

The way our state funds education is not okay with me. Like you, I seek an open conversation about the real consequences of poor funding for education. I will not support any further education cuts and will always work to bolster preschool, K-12, and higher education in Colorado as a way to invest in our future and strengthen our economy.

If you have any questions, please contact my office at 303-866-4875.

Regards,

Joyce Foster

Senator Angela Giron, SD 3

Great Futures Colorado Coalition and Great Education Colorado,

Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding budget cuts in education spending in our State. I certainly share your concerns regarding these cuts. I am working hard to ensure that our students get the education they deserve by providing schools with the resources they need.

I know that teachers and student’s families are sacrificing to provide supplies for the classrooms. I know that higher education costs continue to increase at a staggering rate and individuals and families are struggling to provide higher education opportunities for themselves and their children. You can be assured that I remain committed to helping to change this present reality.

I was inspired by the note from P. Dorram of Pueblo who is working hard to get her degree, at the age of 50, so that she can move out of low paying jobs and be a strong example to her son. I want the system to support individuals, like her, in their educational pursuits. In the end, we all stand to benefit.

I truly believe that an education provides opportunities for people to utilize their abilities and collectively enables our society to achieve our potential. This is why I am leading the charge on SB 126, ASSET (Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow). If passed, this critical legislation will enable students who have attended a Colorado high school for three years, regardless of immigration status, to be eligible for a college education at unsubsidized in-state tuition rates. I agree with J. Marino of Pueblo West that, “it is not OK that an entire cadre of students will not reach their potential or their dreams.” Education is the key to enabling people to reach their dreams – equal access to education is a value we can all support.

Because we are in a revenue crisis and budget cuts have to be made, we must identify ways to increase our state’s revenue so that this will only be a temporary circumstance. I am actively working to both carry and support legislation that will enable our state’s economy to grow and succeed. Additionally, the Senate Democratic Caucus is working on behalf of education by supporting a “no cuts” education agenda to protect students and their schools from further limitations that would compromise their education.

I look forward to working alongside you and the people who represent the education system in Colorado. Our children’s education will determine both their future and ours. We must secure that future by protecting education funding.

Sincerely,

Senator Angela Giron

Senator Rollie Heath, SD 18

Dear Great Futures Colorado Coalition,

I hear about the consequences of substandard state funding for education nearly every day at the Capitol, and fairly often in my home town of Boulder. It’s leading to increased K-12 class sizes, cuts in programs, increased fees and costs to parents, layoffs in K-12 school districts and at institutions of higher education, school closures and heavy debt for students in colleges and universities who must take out loans. I had the good fortune of having quality systems of public education while I was growing up, but it hurts me deeply to consider what additional cuts might do to the educational opportunities for my grandchildren. It’s not OK with me, and I decided to do something about it. I’ve proposed an increase in our sales and income tax rates to help fund education, and if we can collect enough petition signatures, it will be on the 2011 ballot. I will appreciate any support you can provide. I’m doing this because I care about the future of our children and of our state.

All the best,

Sen. Rollie Heath

Senator Cheri Jahn, SD 20

Dear Great Education Colorado,

First, I want to thank you for contacting each legislator with your concerns on the cuts being made to education. I admire the passion our citizens have for our public education system and can understand your not wanting us to make any cuts. With that being said, I have to say that I was troubled by your question of whether or not I thought these cuts were okay. I cannot tell you how much this budget has troubled me, and I NEVER think it is “OK” that such cuts have to be made.

I take this job as a legislator very seriously. That includes the constitutional mandate that we, in Colorado, must balance the budget by the end of every session. We scoured all of the departments and policies to see where we could possibly make the cuts we had to make. I would like to share some of the cuts we were forced to make that honestly, along with education, not only made me lose sleep, but just make me sick.

I championed juvenile issues during the eight years that I served in the House, especially issues surrounding our juveniles locked up in prison or trapped in the judicial system. Some of the programs I fought for, ensuring that they actually receive the treatment, education, and programs they need, had to suffer serious cuts this year.

I have fought hard to implement policies around community corrections and getting offenders treatment, education, and programs so they can successfully come back into our communities. We had to decimate their funding in this budget. These programs included labor programs (to teach skills), educational programs, sex offender treatment programs, and drug and alcohol treatment. Along with this came the cuts to residential substance abuse treatment.

We also completely closed one prison in the state, leaving a community in Bent county with massive job cuts – about 250 before the trickle down. It is reported that one out of five families were employed at the facility. The determination was made that we could not sustain funding for prisons at the current level and this was a cut that had to be made. The trickle down in economics will be quite telling as these workers lose their jobs. All of the other businesses in these communities will sorely miss the spending that used to be made by these workers. Adding this closing on top of the education cuts was just devastating.

In the Dept. of Human Services we made serious cuts as well. We had to make cuts in medicaid programs, including the state’s medicaid medical and mental health programs, the Colorado Indigent Care Program, the Children’s Basic Health Plan, and the Old Age Pensioner Medical Program. One program that saw cuts, the Medical Services Premium, provided health care funding for 613,148 people (an increase of 54,841 people). These are acute services like physician services, prescription drugs, hospitalizations, nursing home care and community-based services.

We cut funding for Child Care Services, which oversees Youth Corrections, and also the Circle Program at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo. We cut $4,550,000 from their funding, a devastating cut. We also cut $6.3 million for services for those with disabilities at the Regional Centers for People with Disabilities and the community services for the elderly.

I would like to report that we did add some other funding to our education systems, even though we did have to make horrendous cuts. We moved $100 million into the Education Fund. This will help plan for future budget cuts and should allow us to lessen any cuts to education. In SB184, the Amnesty Bill, we will be able to take all funds that come in, which is expected to be $5-$10 million, which we were told is a very modest projection, and put all of it into the education fund. We all voted to fully fund the Counselor Corps Grant Program at $5 million, and we added $22 million just thirty days ago.

These are just a few of the cuts we made; I just wanted to make it very clear that we did not in any way target education. Our K-12 education system is at least 45.6% of our budget, prisons are about 14.1%, human services/health care is 26.9% and higher ed is 9.3%.

Sincerely,

Senator Cheri Jahn

Senator Steven King, SD 7

With three children in school, I have first hand life on the effects of reduced funding. I will tell your coalition the same as my children and their teachers. “I will do my best.”

Steve

Senator Gail Schwartz, SD 5

My constituents are right to be concerned with the proposed cuts to education funding, as they would have a major impact on students, families, educators, and many others across Colorado. One of my constituents, K. Harris from Basalt, voices the concerns shared by many when she writes, “It is not okay that money is being cut from education and at the same time more is required of educators–the extra will take away from planning, professional development and, most importantly, teaching.”

Throughout my career as a senator, I have dedicated significant time and effort to promoting quality education to all Coloradans because our young people all deserve the opportunity to attend high-quality public schools to be better prepared to succeed as they go off to college or start their careers. During my first term as State Senator, I carried the ‘Building Excellent Schools Today’ (BEST) program to ensure that more rural areas of my district and throughout the state have safe and healthy facilities. The work that I have done on education has enabled me to grasp the impact these budget cuts will have on our state, and, like many of you, I am also very concerned. While I am committed to minimizing budget cuts, given the budgetary constraints that Colorado is currently facing, it is likely that that education will have to endure some budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year. As school districts around my senate district prepare for these serious cuts, I want to understand what measures will be necessary to take to minimize the impact of these cuts on students.

For these reasons I’ve planned a series of “Local School Budget” town halls throughout Senate District Five as a forum for an open conversation on how these education cuts will impact local schools and communities in my district. I am paying close attention to the plans that school districts are developing, and I am committed to working with my colleagues in the legislature to protect our schools in next year’s budget. Stabilizing school funding long term is the best way forward.

Sincerely,

Senator Gail Schwartz

Senator Pat Steadman, SD 31

Dear Great Futures Coalition,

In answer to your questions:

1) YES

2) NO

Sincerely,

Pat Steadman

Representative Lara Bradford, HD 55

1) Yes.

2) No.

Representative Brown, HD 59

1) Yes! Thanks for your concern also! We’ll do what we can.

2) No!

Representative Lois Court, HD 6

Dear Great Education Colorado People:

Thank you for delivering the comments from my constituents with their concerns regarding education funding in Colorado.

Here are my answers to your questions:

1. Yes

2. No.

I’m sure you’re aware of the various efforts underway to put a citizen initiative on this fall’s ballot to address the woefully inadequate funding we have available for education and so many other services in our state.

I urge all of you to get involved in these efforts. I’m not sure at this point which specific idea will rise to the top, but it is my sincere hope that whichever one becomes the most viable will achieve wide-spread support in the campaign and in November.

It’s up to you, the citizens of Colorado. What kind of state do you want? I hope we’ll all have an opportunity to answer this question on the ballot this fall.

Thank you for all your efforts for our children.

Sincerely,

Lois Court

State Representative

House District 6

Representative Randy Fischer, HD 53

Dear Great Education Colorado:

Thank you so much for taking the time to contact me with your concerns about the deep cuts proposed for education in the Governor’s 2011/2012 budget.

You asked me if I recognize the impacts that the Governor’s proposed cuts will have on students. The answer is an emphatic “YES”, I am acutely aware of the impacts these cuts would have, not only on students, but on teachers and other educational professionals.

I am aware that Colorado is ranked 49th or 50th in the nation in per capita spending on higher education. I am also aware that recent cuts in K-12 and early-childhood education has resulted in increasingly large class sizes, fewer resources for special-needs students and the lay-offs of thousands of professional educators. On a personal level, my wife spent her entire professional career in high school classrooms in Fort Collins. Her experiences have helped to inform my awareness of the impacts of underfunding education.

You also asked if I find the Governor’s proposed cuts acceptable. The answer is “NO”! I find the proposed cuts to K-12 education unacceptable. However, it is we, the legislature, who crafts the budget bill and who are ultimately responsible for balancing the budget. Please be assured that I will be at the forefront of legislative efforts to prevent deep cuts to education in Colorado. I do not support the Governor’s budget unless serious efforts are made to raise revenue for early-childhood, K-12, and higher education. I ran for office to strengthen Colorado’s education funding, not to slash it.

Colorado is at a critical juncture. I believe the legislature must take decisive action this year to address the structural problems in our state budget. We will need the support of educators to be able to accomplish this. Thanks, again, for your comments about education and Colorado’s budget crisis.

Best wishes,

Randy Fischer

State Representative

House District 53

Representative Deb Gardner, HD 11

Thanks for your letter concerning the state of education funding in Colorado.

I’ve read the concerns of the many petitioners whose stories you included, and am happy to answer the two questions you and they pose:

1) Do I recognize the effect that reduced funding is having on students – preschool through higher ed? And

2) Is it OK with me?

Here is my answer:

I am painfully aware of the effect that reduced funding is having on students.

As we all know, we’re facing budget cuts that will have an impact on all kinds of programs around the state and, even if I have to consider them, most of them are definitely not okay with me. However, the last place I want to cut funding is in the area of education – for both moral and practical reasons. Not only do our kids deserve the best education we can give them, our State deserves an educated workforce As well, I know how hard teachers work, and how much they care about providing kids with the best education possible, and I care deeply about their ability to do their jobs to the best of their ability, and to be properly compensated for their dedication.

Sincerely,

Deb Gardner

State Representative

House District 11

Representative Dickie Lee Hullinghorst, HD 10

I thank you for the delivery of the packet of letters from constituents concerned about the current and future state of education in Colorado. I learned a lot from those letters, as well as from the Town Halls, District Coffees, and Budget Listening Tour I have been involved in since the start of this legislative session.

You should know that I believe firmly that education is an investment in our future and that the General Assembly should prevent as much cutting as possible in this area. I know that your children are getting less time with their teachers because class sizes have grown and that things are looking bleak in the near term. It is clear that informed Coloradans want those of us that serve in the legislature to exert leadership in trying to find solutions to our budget shortfalls that impact education funding as little as possible.

We Democrats in the state legislature will fight to prevent deeper cuts to education, in part through assuring that unnecessary revenue reductions are minimized, particularly special interest give-backs in the form of corporate tax incentives. I assure you that, as the General Assembly tackles the budget in the coming weeks, my Democratic colleagues and I will be fighting for the priorities that you have laid out for us.

I encourage you to stay involved. Call or email me, and continue to follow this debate in the press. Also, I encourage those supporters in House District 10 to attend one of my upcoming Town Halls or District Coffees. Details on future events can be found on my website at dickeylee.net.

Thanks to you and your organization for the work you do to assure that Colorado stays an exceptional place to live and grow.

Sincerely yours,

Dickey Lee Hullinghorst

Colorado State Representative

House District 10

Representative Matt Jones, HD 12

1) Yes.

2) No, not OK with me.

Representative John Kefalas, HD 52

1) Reduced state funding for P-20 education is having a significantly negative impact on students and learning. I will do all in my power to minimize cuts to education and mitigate the impacts. I will also work hard to solve our structural deficit budget problems.

2) Obviously, this is not ok with me.

Representative Andy Kerr, HD 26

It is not OK.

Colorado should support world class schools, but instead of making a sound investment in our future, we let our education spending drop near the bottom of the rankings. As we cut further, we push away the opportunity to be a magnet for business and innovation. We starve our workforce development, and every bad choice we make today leaves our children less prepared to make good choices tomorrow.

I was a middle school teacher before I came to the legislature. They are two different jobs, but I continue to fight for the same goal. In both the classroom and the committee room, I focus on the job at hand in order to prepare for a successful future. The future I want for Colorado is one filled with thriving schools, universities, businesses and families. It is a generational challenge, and it is a challenge we will fail unless we prepare the way now.

This is not the first economic downturn we have faced, and it won’t be our last. Knowing that, we need to ask, how can we soften the dips and how do we speed the recoveries? Every correct answer must include supporting quality public education. Without cultivating all our students, we can’t build an environment that attracts business to our state, or one that grows cutting edge companies right here within our borders.

I will fight to reduce the damage caused by our current budget crisis, but no matter how we resolve this year’s issues, the structural budget problem will remain. Ultimately, the people of Colorado must come together and decide who we are as a state, what programs we want and how we will fund them. We can’t cut our way to a balanced budget that still provides needed services. Part of the conversation needs to include revenues. As a legislator, TABOR only allows me to address half of the problem. I applaud Great Education Colorado and citizen groups like it across our state, for looking at the full picture.

Together, we have the choice of funding our schools, or losing a generation of opportunities. I am a father of three. How do I feel about failing to support our kids and the future of Colorado? I would say it is one hundred percent not OK!

Andy Kerr

State Representative: HD 26

200 E. Colfax Ave., Room 271

Denver, CO 80203

(303) 866-2923

andy.kerr.house@state.co.us

Representative Jeanne Labuda, HD 1

1) Yes!

2) NO!

Representative Pete Lee, HD 18

1) Yes

2) No

We cannot let the next generation bear the brunt of our current fiscal situation – the price we risk paying is in missed opportunity. I have always supported public schools, and have heard from my constituents who reaffirmed that education is their priority. I will continue to work to minimize cuts to our schools.

Representative Claire Levy, HD 13

Dear Great Futures Coalition and Great Education Colorado,

I received a packet of materials last week with messages from people all over Colorado expressing concern about the prospect of cutting education budgets. You asked me as a member of the General Assembly to answer two questions: do I recognize the effect that reduced funding is having on students and is this effect okay with me.

I certainly do recognize the effect our dire financial condition is having on students and it is absolutely NOT okay with me.

What’s more, it is time to stop talking as if there is nothing that can be done about this situation. We cannot control the weather but we can control whether we provide our children with a high quality education.

Thank you for sharing thoughts from real people who are feeling first-hand the effects of the cuts the legislature has already imposed. We need to hear those thoughts and the general public simply must know that this is not just a theoretical problem. It affects our children and our future.

Claire Levy

State Representative

House District 13

303-866-2578 (capitol)

Representative Joe Miklosi, HD 9

Dear Great Ed:

Thank you for sending me the thousands of your comments and for the opportunity to communicate with your organization. We need to change the way we fund kindergarten – college education in Colorado. The current system is simply not adequate enough to prepare our students to compete and win in an ever-changing, global economy. The cuts that have been proposed are simply not acceptable and I will do everything I can to ensure that the cuts are reduced. One idea I am contemplating is creating a statewide college opportunity fund to empower every deserving student to attend one of our colleges or universities so they can achieve their unique version of the American Dream.

Representative Joe Miklosi

303-866-2910

Representative Dan Pabon, HD 4

Great Futures Colorado Coalition and Great Education Colorado,

I want to thank you for sharing your concerns regarding to cuts to education in Colorado. I agree with you that cutting $286 million from education is NOT acceptable. I recognize the impact will be felt for years to come.

I ran on protecting education, and I plan on keeping my promise to the voters. I am actively working to find innovative solutions to reduce the burden on our kids and ensure every child has access to a top quality teacher and a top quality school.

Providing our children with a good education is our obligation as a state and an investment in our future. We need an educated workforce to remain competitive in the global economy.

As never before, we face difficult times. We still must balance the budget but we have fewer resources to work with – federal stimulus dollars have run out and there are no more places to move money around.

I will continue to work for solutions and to minimize the impact on our families and communities and look forward to continuing to hearing from you as we work together to fund education.

Representative Dan Pabon

House District 4

(303) 866-2954

Representative Cherylin Peniston, HD 35

1) Yes, I absolutely do recognize the effects. They will be devastating. I know this because I am a retired public school teacher (27 yrs.) and former president of the WEA (the Westminster Education Assoc., a local of the CEA)

2) No, of course not. Myself and my caucus are dedicated to reducing the amount of the cuts currently proposed.

Thanks for speaking up,

Rep. Cherylin Peniston

Representative Sue Schafer, HD 24

I do not support the Senate budget with the cuts to K-12 and higher ed. As a teacher and adjunct professor I do understand the impact on students, educators, community and the Colorado workforce. I am looking for other revenue to reduce the cuts in both K-12 and higher ed.

Sue Schafer

Representative Ken Summers, HD 22

1) Yes.

2) Cuts to education are always difficult and the last to be made.

Representative Nancy Todd, HD 41

Yes I a very aware of the drastic impact that cuts to education are making. As a former teacher I will continue to do all I can to keep cuts away from k-12 ed in Colorado. I have the stacks of letters on my desk to remind me of those strong supporters of k-12 public ed in our state.

Rep Nancy Todd

Representative Angela Williams, HD 7

Dear Colorado Education Supporters,

In answer to your questions:

1) YES

2) NO

I ran on protecting education, and I plan on keeping my promise to the voters in my district. As the budget makes its way to the House next week, I will work to find innovative solutions to reduce the burden on our kids and ensure every child has access to a top quality teacher and a top quality school.

My priority as a legislator is to ensure that the children of Colorado have a bright future. Providing our kids with a good education is our obligation as a state and an investment in our future. We need an educated workforce to remain competitive in the global economy.

I know that times are tough, but how we respond is a test of who we are as Coloradans, and we simply cannot afford to balance the budget on the backs of our schools, our kids, and our teachers. I will work hard to find innovative ideas that alleviates the burden on our kids.

Sincerely,

Representative Angela Williams

House District 07

Office: 303-866-2909

Representative Roger Wilson, HD 61

1) Yes

2) NO!