Greg Brophy, a Colorado gubernatorial candidate, said hiring the right teachers is the best way to fix the state’s K-12 education system, not approving a $1 billion funding measure that will appear on November ballots.
Brophy, a Republican state senator from Wray, stopped by the Herald offices Thursday to discuss education, among other topics.
He explained his opposition to Amendment 66 and discussed his plan to replenish funding for higher education.
If approved by voters in November, Amendment 66 will fund the School Finance Act, the first comprehensive attempt to reform public K-12 education in Colorado in two decades, by raising $951 million in additional taxes for education.
Brophy said he opposed Amendment 66, characterizing it as a “billion-dollar tax increase.”
“I don’t think it’s going to pass. Maybe then we can recognize that we want the government of Colorado to live within its means,” he said.
Brophy entered the race in July, joining ex-congressman Tom Tancredo in the field of viable Republicans looking to unseat Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014. Secretary of State Scott Gessler is expected to throw his hat into the ring Tuesday.
Brophy, an avid bicyclist, watermelon farmer and veteran Colorado lawmaker, said he understands the difficulty school superintendents and principals face in providing quality educations for Colorado’s children while costs go up and their budgets remain flat.
But he said hiring, training and retaining talented teachers was the single most important aspect of education, saying he favored improving or getting rid of “the bottom 5 to 8 percent of our teaching core.”
“If we either help them improve or help them find an occupation that fits them better ... we’d have a 20 percent improvement in education outcomes,” he said. “Three to six teachers in any big school cause that much fallback with kids.”
He said the additional money that Amendment 66 would levy for Colorado’s schools is superfluous to securing better academic results throughout the state’s schools.
“K-12 really has had a lot of money thrown at it. What we haven’t addressed is teacher effectiveness,” he said.
Curtis Hubbard, spokesman for Colorado Commits to Kids, the group that is campaigning for Amendment 66’s passage, said Brophy was “wrong on many levels.”
Hubbard said Brophy’s characterization of state funding for K-12 education as healthy was deeply incorrect in his view and in the view of “tens of thousands of people.
“It’s probably not the view of parents who have been asked to reach into their pockets more and more in fees; it’s probably not the view of students who have to pay to take art and music classes; probably not the view of teachers who have to pay for their own supplies in classrooms that are over capacity,” he said.
Brophy said another reason he opposed Amendment 66 was that the money it raised wouldn’t end up going to classrooms anyway, but to programs such as Medicaid.
He said in the context of the state budget, “all money is fungible,” and Amendment 66 only guarantees a certain percent of the state’s general fund would go to education, while the new taxes it levies would likely go toward funding “entitlement programs.”
Hubbard disputed Brophy’s math.
He said Amendment 66 explicitly guarantees that $951 million in new taxes will go straight into the state education fund, and any other use of the funds would be illegal.
He said in addition to raising the $951 million through new taxes for education, Amendment 66 stipulates that a minimum of 43 percent of Colorado’s general fund be set aside each year for K-12 education, “replacing K-12’s inflexible mandates for education to allow legislators in downtimes to have more money for colleges, prisons, etc.”
Brophy said entitlement reform was the only way to ensure Fort Lewis College would still have funding in the next few years.
“We have got to reform our entitlement programs. This isn’t really an ideological battle about whether these programs should exist – I feel like my side lost that battle 50 years ago,” he said. “It’s about solving the math problem.
“We’ve decided as a country that we’re going to have a safety net. The thing that’s not settled – and it’s going to have to be – is how are we going to pay for this without harming Fort Lewis College?
“I’m the only one with a plan for this,” he said.