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Narrowing the state’s priority list

Early childhood education is near the top of the list as TBD Colorado, the statewide effort to engage citizens in planning the state’s future, starts focusing on a handful of key priorities.

Word cloud of discussion topics at a TBA Colorado public meeting.

Word cloud of discussion topics at an earlier TBD Colorado meeting.

It’s the only education-related issue in the five policy areas that the TBD process is now concentrating on as the group starts working on a final report for release in November.

The five top initiatives are:

  • Increased access to home- and community-based services for the elderly and disabled
  • Increased access to early childhood education
  • Maintenance of the state transportation system
  • Restoration of the state income tax rate to 1999 levels to increase state revenues
  • Encouraging use of managed-care systems for Medicaid recipients

TBD – the letters stand for “To Be Determined” – was started by Gov. John Hickenlooper as a bottom-up effort to inform and get feedback from citizens across the state about key issues facing Colorado, specifically education, transportation, health care, the state workforce and the state budget.

Tuesday, members of the TBD Advisory Group gathered at the University of Denver’s Ritchie Center to be briefed on the results of 70 community meetings held last April and May and of six regional “summits” held in June.

Hickenlooper attended Tuesday’s session and said the TBD work provides “a great foundation” for decisions about the state’s future. He noted that although all the issues have been discussed for years in Colorado, “What we need to try to do is bring fresh perspectives.”

Participants at the May and June meetings voted on 18 proposed policy initiatives, using an instant feedback “clicker” system to choose one of five options ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Those who attended the June summits were provided additional information about the potential costs or savings associated with each initiative.

The five initiatives that will receive further study were chosen based on those responses, explained Chris Adams of Engaged Public, a policy consulting organization that has been working with TBD.

At the June summits, 98.4 percent of participants strongly agreed or agreed with the idea of improving access to home- and community-based services for the elderly and disabled. The idea is seen by some policymakers as a less costly and higher quality alternative to nursing homes and other residential care facilities.

Some 84.6 percent of participants at the June summits strongly agreed or agreed with improving access to early childhood education.

Other education-related initiatives on the original list of 18, including mandatory physical education, longer school days, linking K-12 funding to school performance and privatizing state colleges and universities, drew significantly less support.

At Tuesday’s meeting, advisory group members divided into small groups to discuss that five proposed initiatives. TBD organizers will consider those suggestions and do further analysis from data gathered at the earlier meetings as they prepare their final report.

The advisory panel is something of a who’s who of civic leaders. Among education figures at the session were Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia; former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien; early childhood advocate Anna Jo Haynes; Russ George, Colorado Northwestern Community College president; former state higher education chief David Skaggs; Tony Salazar, executive director of the Colorado Education Association; Denver Public Schools board member Nate Easley; Dick Monfort, University of Northern Colorado trustee and Colorado Rockies owner; former Colorado State University President Al Yates; and businessman and philanthropist Steve Schuck. About 90 people attended the session.

Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Hickenlooper was vague on what happens after TBD finishes its work and gives its report to him and to lawmakers. The future will involve “continuing the conversation. … There’s no such thing as too much discussion,” he said.

Asked if the issues raised during the TBD process will require more state funding to solve, Hickenlooper said, “Part of the process is discussing if we need to do everything” or whether some government spending can be shifted.

TBD Colorado is similar to bottom-up consultative efforts the Hickenlooper administration conducted on economic development and early childhood services. But TBD is being run by an independent non-profit group, not by the governor’s office, and is funded by private donations.

“The nice thing about TBD is I don’t control it,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s as close to neutral as we could get.”