Hot topic of the week shifts to school funding

Every week, this session seems to feature a new high-profile and volatile issue to be debated. Last week, it was the start of the school-finance bill. Coloradoís approach to funding schools has been incredibly complex and difficult to understand. Thereís a formula that takes into account many factors, which then determines how much funding each school district will receive from the state.

Getting to fair and balanced funding of schools hasnít been achieved and is evident in my Senate district. I was hopeful that those working most closely on the new formula would be able to arrive at something that would transcend the rural-versus-urban disparities.

The bill sponsors hope to arrive at a new formula that would be sufficiently popular to help pass a $1 billion tax increase to be proposed this fall for a statewide vote. Itís an ambitious goal, and one that will require buy-in from across the state to succeed.

Iíve been very fortunate to have a number of fully engaged school district superintendents and school-board members who are not only monitoring the situation from afar, but have traveled to the Capitol to testify in the Senate education committee about how the new proposed formula fell short of an equitable approach for some of the rural areas of the state.

Amendments were made to address at least some of the problems, but it was done in a rush. The dust hasnít yet settled on what was done, and it remains to be seen whether those amendments will survive through the debates in the Senate and in the House.

While all this was happening, I was in other committees getting three of my bills passed out of committee. Two of those bills address improving Medicaid-fraud detection and recovery of misspent funds. Thereís still a lot to do to reduce Medicaid fraud, and a recent study by the Pew Center estimates that between 7 and 9 percent of the Medicaid funds are paid to fraudulent claims.

Medicaid expenditures at the state level are on a trajectory to overtake the only other area of the state budget thatís larger Ė K-12 school funding Ė so, addressing Medicaid fraud has been a high priority for me. Iíve carried a number of bills addressing this topic, and I am pleased that the advocates for Medicaid beneficiaries in the disability community have been strong supporters of my bills.

I also had two bills signed by the governor this week. One was the bill allowing electronic participation in meetings by school-board members, and the other was making some changes in the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs, which was also sponsored by the two state representatives in my Senate district, Reps. Mike McLachlan and Don Coram.

Sadly, the events of the last week were overshadowed by the ruthless murder of Coloradoís Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements. Details of the killing are still unfolding, but there will be no adequate explanation of why this thoughtful and kind public servant was shot at the door of his home. I knew Clements from working with him on the criminal justice commission. His tragic death is a great loss for Colorado, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and coworkers, including Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Coloradoís General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Roberts at (303) 866-4884 or ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.