DENVER (AP) – Teachers lined up in Colorado’s Capitol Thursday to give senators an earful about how looming budget cuts will hurt students, even as state economists warned that improving state finances won’t prevent education from being cut next year.
The Democratic-controlled Senate Education Committee invited educators to share specific cuts they’d have to make under budget reductions the Legislature will consider next week.
Teacher layoffs, fewer Spanish and art classes and afterschool activities, even closed schools and higher dropout rates were predicted by educators from across the state who testified.
“Simply put, we can’t afford more cuts like this to continue,” said Kevin Schott, principal of the 450-student Basalt High School.
However, senators started the hearing with a gloomy update from state economists who warned that cuts appear likely. Though higher tax collections and previous budget cuts mean the looming state shortfall for next year now appears to be about $450 million, not the $1 billion anticipated, state budget-writers were told shortfalls are still expected for the following year.
“Much like a household that finds itself with additional money, you can spend the money, you can save the money, or you can do some combination of those things,” said Todd Herreid, fiscal director of the Legislative Council.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper last month suggested cutting some $332 million from K-12 education next year, a cut that would likely force teacher layoffs, higher class sizes and even shorter school years in some districts.
Lawmakers make the final decision on what to spend, and the Senate will start debating what cuts to make starting next week. Thursday’s Senate committee meeting was described as an outlet for state teachers and local officials to describe what the cuts would mean.
Democrats from both chambers also held town hall-style meetings across the state last weekend to gather testimony about cuts.
Teachers at Thursday’s hearing warned of lower-quality schools. Local officials said the economy could be hurt by underfunded schools. One grandmother even testified that she feared for the future because of inadequate school funding.
A northern Colorado superintendent pointed out that additional cuts come after Colorado agreed to adopt new curriculum standards to compete for federal Race To The Top funds, which it didn’t get.
“How am I going to train my teachers on the standards?” asked Ron Cabrera, superintendent of the Thompson School District, which includes Berthoud and Loveland.
A high-school English teacher from Brighton, Doreen Groene, told lawmakers that her classes are already so large that sometimes she doesn’t have enough desks or books for all of her students. She said she simply had no idea how her school could save more money.
“We cannot prepare students for postsecondary education or the work force without resources,” Groene said. “What is there left to give?”
by Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)