Group fights to keep school funding

A group of Colorado parents and teachers are keeping a fixed eye on proposals in the legislature that have potential to severely limit state funds for Moffat County Schools.

According to the grassroots group Colorado Protectors of Public Schools, or COPOPS, proposals to override a voter-approved mandatory school-funding bill, could result in an $80,000 loss over two years for each school in the Moffat County district.

Rep. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, has introduced a bill known as "C-VOTE," or Colorado's Vision of Tomorrow's Economy, that would cut in half Amendment 23 funding requirements for all Colorado schools over the next two years. Amendment 23 requires state increases to school funding that accounts for inflation, but legislators warn the bill's long-term impact will cause massive cuts in other government agencies in the future.

"COPOPS is not naÃive," said spokesman Liane Morrison. "We recognize what is facing Colorado's budget, but the need for quality schools is just too important. We want to send a message to lawmakers and the public that this is a huge issue."

COPOPS members held a press conference Tuesday at the capitol to rally against cutting education funding without voter approval.

Any plan must be passed by two-thirds of Colorado's General Assembly and then head for voter approval in November.

COPOPS distributed pledge cards to legislators as a measure for voters to keep tabs on how lawmakers act on the education funding proposals. Legislators were given until a March 31 date to accept or decline the pledges. COPOPS will also financially back candidates that make funding education a priority, Morrison said.

"This is a way for people to channel their frustrations," she said.

COPOPS members refuse financial backing from teacher's unions or school districts. COPOPS members are those who donate money to the cause but Morrison couldn't identify the group's numbers.

According to the fiscal year 2003-04 state budget prepared by the Joint Budget Committee staff, mandatory spending required by Amendment 23 made up 44 percent of the state's general fund. Amendment 23 is currently under voter approval until 2011. But if no changes are made, K-12 education will become 100 percent of the state budget in less than 10 years, according the a legislative outlook prepared by the Colorado Society of Certified Public Accountants.

If a measure like C-VOTE is approved, it could have devastating effects on the Moffat County School District, said Financial Director Mike Brinks.

Personnel salaries account for about 85 percent of the budget. Losing $250,000 would mean the elimination of six teachers, he said.

"It would ruin us, R-U-I-N," Brinks said. "We haven't been in real good shape with our declining enrollment, so a quarter of a million dollars out of our budget is a healthy chunk."

Vicki Wade, a parent of three children who attend district schools, echoed disapproval of the proposed cuts.

"I think there's got to be better place to cut than education," she said. "Education is absolutely the top priority. Enough is enough, teachers already don't get paid enough."

\Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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