Thursday, May 22, 2008


COMMERCE CITY ― Gov. Bill Ritter today signed into law an ambitious plan that will provide $1 billion to build new K-12 schools statewide and repair aging schools with crumbling roofs and failing electrical, heating and plumbing systems.  
Known as B.E.S.T, or Building Excellent Schools Today, House Bill 1335 will leverage existing revenues from the state's School Land Trust Fund and create a centralized school construction plan. The legislation was sponsored by House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, Senate President Peter Groff and Sen. Gail Schwartz. State Treasurer Cary Kennedy was the chief architect.
"This is pioneering legislation," Gov. Ritter said during a signing ceremony at Monaco Elementary School in Commerce City, an aging urban school set to undergo vital repairs this summer. "This is the most substantial commitment to rebuild and repair K-12 schools in the history of Colorado – and with no new taxes and no impact on the General Fund.
"B.E.S.T. is a terrific example of the forward-thinking, pragmatic and student-centered reforms that characterized the 2008 legislative session," Gov. Ritter added. "It doesn't solve all of our school-construction needs. But it's a first step in a long process toward ensuring that all Colorado children learn in safe, healthy schools."
"In order to prepare our children for tomorrow, we must begin building excellent schools today," Treasurer Kennedy said. "There's no greater investment we can make in Colorado's future. This program puts state resources to their highest and best use for Colorado's school kids."

"Every child deserves a safe, healthy place to go to school," said Speaker Romanoff, who toured Colorado's crumbling schools last year with members of the advocacy group Great Education Colorado. "Students and teachers should be able to focus on reading, writing and arithmetic – not flooding, fire hazards and broken septic tanks."
"By investing in school safety, we are also investing in the overall education of Colorado students," Senate President Groff said. "This bill not only offers a solution to crumbling schools, but it does it in way that is fiscally reasonable."
"It's time the state steps up to address the condition of our schools, especially those in our rural districts," Sen. Schwartz said. "We included measures in this bill to give schools a fighting chance to teach their children in safe environments."
The Need
Many of Colorado's schools are aging and in dire disrepair. Some of these building are nearly 100 years old, with failing roofs, piping, heating, water and electrical systems. Needed repairs would cost $4.7 billion, according to a 2003 State Auditor's report.
However, half of the 178 school districts in Colorado don't have a tax base to support this level of construction.
The B.E.S.T. Plan
Building Excellent Schools Today will direct $30 million to $40 million of existing revenues from the state's School Land Permanent Trust Fund to leverage up to $500 million in state dollars and an additional $500 million in local matching funds.
The School Land Trust encompasses 3 million acres. The federal government gave this asset to Colorado's schoolchildren upon statehood in 1876, exclusively for the support of K-12 schools.
Revenues from the School Land Trust have grown significantly in recent years as mineral and commercial developments have expanded. Revenues have grown from $48 million annually in 2003 to $83 million next year.
Revenues from the Trust Fund come from various sources, such as interest income, oil-and-gas royalties, rental income from agricultural and grazing leases, and timber sales.
Other states use School Land Trusts to support K-12 capital construction, including Washington, Arizona, Wyoming and Montana.
The first step of enacting B.E.S.T. will be to conduct a statewide assessment of school health and safety needs. Once complete, construction grants will be awarded based on:
o       Meeting health and safety needs;
o       Helping poor, rural districts that have the oldest infrastructure;
o       Building 21st century schools throughout Colorado.