The representatives and candidates who attended the Cherry Creek Community Legislative Network's annual Legislative Breakfast at Eaglecrest High School on Oct. 31 faced a wide range of questions from a wide range of attendees.
The morning's panel featured House District 3 Representative Jeff Bridges, House District 36 Representative Mike Weissman, House District 37 candidate Tom Sullivan, House District 40 Representative Janet Buckner, State Senator Nancy Todd, House District 3 candidate Toren Mushovic, House District 41 candidate Lynn Myers, State Senator Jack Tate and House District 37 Representative Cole Wist. Over the course of the two-hour event, the group fielded questions regarding school finance in Colorado, state constitutional issues, 2018 state ballot proposals, gun safety and regulation and broader questions about culture and civility in America.
These questions came from members of CCCLN, a non-partisan committee promoting awareness of education issues, legislation, and the legislative process to the entire Cherry Creek School District community. They also came from a number of high school students from across the district, a group that wasn't hesitant to tackle the most complex and difficult contemporary issues facing Coloradoans and Americans.
Indeed, as CCCLN President Laura Felix set out the goals and metrics of the annual event, she was sure to directly address the high school students in the room. Civil political discourse was a top priority for the breakfast, Felix explained, before she stressed to the students in attendance the importance of taking an active role in their civic life.
"You matter," Felix said, directly addressing the students from every one of the Cherry Creek School District's high schools. "November 6th is right around the corner, and we all have questions for our representatives and candidates. Dialogue must take place; we are better together and when we learn from each other."
The event started with a round of questions related to school finance in Colorado and Amendment 73, the statewide ballot question that would increase income taxes for 8 percent of tax filers and for C Corporations. If approved, the measure would result in an additional $1,660 in per-pupil funding in CCSD, according to figures from the 2018-19 school year. For more information about Amendment 73, follow this link to explore background resources.
All representatives and candidates at the Legislative Breakfast were asked about their general knowledge of school funding in Colorado, as well as their stance on Amendment 73. They were also asked about funding options for schools if Amendment 73 should not pass. Finally, every member of the panel answered questions about how mental health should be addressed in CCSD and districts across the state.
Democratic Rep. Jeff Bridges pointed to structural flaws in the state's funding formula, and though he voiced misgivings about Amendment 73's approach to fixing those shortfalls, he pointed out that he'd vote for the measure. If 73 doesn't pass, Bridges said, legislators should look "at ways to increase funding incrementally," before adding that increasing funding to mental health programs in schools statewide should be a priority.
Democratic Rep. Weissman offered his support for Amendment 73, explaining that the measure represents "the best chance" for repairing a broken school funding system. If the measure doesn't pass, he added, the Legislature should prioritize its funding to boost the educational system. He also spoke of the importance of working on reducing the stigma related to mental health issues, noting that "we should all help each other get past" stereotypes and an unwillingness to broach the topic.
Democratic candidate Sullivan stated that Colorado teachers are underpaid and overworked, adding "that's not acceptable." He voiced support for Amendment 73, and stressed the Legislature's responsibility in providing guidance toward fixing the flawed finance formula, should the measure fail. He also spoke passionately about the importance of increasing full-time mental health staff in every school across the state.
Democratic Rep. Janet Buckner spoke about her roots in the Cherry Creek School District, before voicing strong support for Amendment 73. "If 73 passes, it would give schools the ability to decide how they'll spend the money," she said, adding that she disapproves of ballot measure 74 and Proposition 109, as they'd take money away from the schools. She also spoke to the importance of boosting funding for mental health across Colorado's educational system.
Democratic Sen. Todd, who cannot run after her current term expires due to term limits, also spoke of her roots in CCSD and also spoke of her support for Amendment 73. "We look for the silver bullet for everything," she said, adding that while the amendment isn't a cure-all for the state's education shortfalls, "it's a darn good way of starting." She also spoke of her support for a measure that allocated additional funding for suicide prevention measures across the state, tying the action to support for boosted mental health resources.
Republican candidate Mushovic outlined his background in health care and mental health before coming out against Amendment 73, insisting that "we have a major spending problem." He instead called for rethinking the state's budget model and changing "the paradigm." Mushovic spoke several times about the importance of refiguring the state's health care system in order to boost funding for education and other resources.
Republican candidate Myers cited her experience as a residential real estate broker and an economic development expert in her arguments against Amendment 73. She spoke of the potential impact on the state economy and the stability of Colorado's tax base. She also detailed an "all hands on deck" approach to mental health, insisting that schools, businesses and religious organizations should have a hand in mental health.
Republican Senator Tate also came out against Amendment 73, citing the stability of the tax base and insisting that "you don't want to legislate from the ballot box." Tate also spoke about the impact of drug and alcohol addiction on mental health in the state, and raised questions about the influence of pop culture on broader instances of violence.
Republican Rep. Wist called the state's school funding system "out of date, inadequate and unconstitutional," adding that the current structure did not provide a "thorough and uniform" approach to funding. However, he voiced concerns about Amendment 73, stating that he wasn't comfortable "layering another measure" in the state Constitution. Wist urged the Legislature to come up with a new funding formula to address the issues.
Over the course of two hours, the panel fielded more questions about violence, school funding and tone of the debate in Colorado politics and beyond. While the candidates kept answers and details brief, Rep. Weissman offered a perspective about the rules for political debate in the CCSD community and beyond.
"(We) do not tolerate attacks and do not tolerate smears," he said. "We need to be better than that."