School funding and healthcare issues still remain in legislative session

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    Like students longing for the end of a school year, I and my fellow legislators are looking forward to the last two weeks of the legislative session. We’ll be putting in long days and nights, working through the huge pile of bills still in front of us before “sine die,” or adjournment, of the 2014 session.

    Frustratingly, the bills related to K-12 school funding have not yet made it to the Senate floor. I know many educators, as well as concerned constituents, have been waiting for a progress report on that topic. There have been extensive negotiations occurring among the various stakeholders, but, I, too, would like to see where we are finally getting to, especially in terms of addressing the “negative factor” applied in the recession years and in reducing the number of strings attached to the state’s school funding.

    Local school boards need fewer mandates and more room to maneuver in meeting the needs of their particular district. I also support increased funding for Colorado’s charter schools, which, when combined, now educate more students than any large, urban school district.

    I’m sponsoring a bipartisan bill to improve online educational opportunities as those, too, are an important educational resource for many, especially in the rural and remote areas of my district.

    Last week, along with Sen. Irene Aguilar, M.D. (Denver), I presented to the full senate chamber senate Bill 187, a bipartisan bill focused on digging into the challenge of ever-increasing healthcare costs in Colorado.

    Aguilar, a Denver physician and chairwoman of the Senate healthcare committee, and I come to this bill from very different perspectives as to what our healthcare system ought to look like, but we share a very strong concern that healthcare costs are on an unsustainable upward trajectory. It is that common ground that compels us to work together on this bill.

    I’ve been clear in this column and at the legislature that I am not a supporter of the federal healthcare reform bill known as Obamacare, PPACA or ACA. Without having demonstrated our ability to reduce costs to pay for the substantial expansion of Medicaid at the state level, we’re in the position of cutting into the funding for every other area of state support, including, but not limited to K-12 education, in order to pay for those escalating healthcare bills.

    In the private sector, small and larger business owners in my district have, for years, told me how much they, and their employees, are negatively impacted by rising health insurance premiums. From the years I volunteered on Durango’s Mercy hospital board, I know that healthcare providers are also confounded with the administrative burdens placed on them by governmental regulations that often make little or no sense.

    SB 187 creates a commission made up of critical stakeholders in the healthcare industry, and specifically excludes politicians, to assess this upward cost curve in Colorado. We want the commission to propose ways to truly reduce those costs. The bill’s language, as it left the Senate, asks the commission to identify cost drivers and to use “out of the box” thinking in how to address them. If the bill survives the legislative process, I’ll be anxious to see the progress and results of what’ll no doubt be many difficult, yet very important, conversations for the commission members.