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Legislature put on notice

A campaign intended to nudge the 2013 legislature into taking education funding seriously kicked off Wednesday with student speakers urging citizens to join the effort.

Dubbed 2013: Year of the Student, the effort is seeking individual and organizational endorsements and their commitment to contact legislators.The hope is “to join together the voices of the hundreds of thousands of Colorado’s who support public education,” said Douglas County 9th grader Hayley Stromberg, the lead-off speaker for the Capitol news conference. “The story of the 2013 legislature is ours to write.” Stromberg leads an effort named the Douglas County Kids Campaign.

“A Call to Legislative Action” petition will be presented to lawmakers and the governor after the November election. The campaign so far has signed up more than 50 community and advocacy groups.

Five other students, all college aged, also spoke at the event. Zeke Johnson, a University of Colorado Boulder senior, said rising costs are forcing students to go out of state. “Colorado cannot afford to have our best and brightest seeking education elsewhere.”

The Year of the Student effort launches at a time when education funding remains a major unresolved question hanging over the state.

Last December a Denver District judge ruled for the plaintiffs in the Lobato v. State school funding case, finding that Colorado’s K-12 funding system violates the state constitution’s requirement for a “thorough and uniform” school system.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and the State Board of Education appealed the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court, where it’s pending. (The state doesn’t have to file its first brief in the case until next month.)

With the district court ruling on ice because of the appeal, there wasn’t much talk about school funding during the 2012 legislative session, to the frustration of advocates for increased school spending.

Some Democrats wanted to add a Lobato cost study to the 2012-13 school funding bill, but that amendment was withdrawn in committee in the face of warnings that it would sabotage the whole school finance act.

Republicans introduced a late resolution that would have had the legislature intervene in the case as a friend of the court on the state’s side. But that measure was killed in committee because it had no chance of passing the full legislature.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, promised to introduce legislation to reform some elements of the finance system but didn’t pull the trigger, saying at session’s end that the issue wasn’t ready for legislative consideration. Johnston has been working with a study group named the Colorado School Finance Partnership, which reportedly is regrouping on the issue.

Year of the Student organizers hope to convince the 2013 session to do what lawmakers didn’t do this year.

And education in general has emerged as a major subject of concern for participants in TBD Colorado, a statewide effort launched by Hickenlooper to gather citizen views on major policy issues (see story).The Year of the Student campaign was organized by Great Education Colorado, an advocacy group that long has pushed for improved school funding.

Late last year Great Education mounted an online petition campaign urging state officials not to appeal the Lobato ruling. The group also was a major backer of Proposition 103, the school-and-college funding increase defeated by voters last year. And in 2010 Great Education backed an unsuccessful legislative proposal to exempt school funding from the limits in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Lisa Weil, Great Education’s policy director, said Wednesday, “There wasn’t a sense of urgency” about education funding in the legislature this year” and that “It’s going to be necessary to have legislators hear from constituents” to change that in 2013. “We want to make sure that session will focus. … We’ve kicked this thing down the road for the last time.”

The campaign isn’t planning to propose specific changes to the finance system; it just wants lawmakers to take up the issue, Weil said.