Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ritter Calls for Education Reforms, More Efforts on Renewable Energy in State of State Address

Gov. Bill Ritter delivered his second State of the State address today, using the occasion to call for an intensive effort to reform and improve the state's public education system and continue development of a "new energy economy."

Ritter's speech, delivered to a joint session of the house and senate, reprised the governor's commitment to a "Colorado promise." He asked legislators to eliminate preschool waiting lists, expand access to kindergarten, raise funding for higher education, begin implementation of a health care study commission's recommendations, resolve the uncertainties surrounding the use of electronic voting machines in this year's elections, and simplify the personal property tax.

He also urged legislators to avoid partisan entrenchment.

"The people elected us to solve problems, to get results and to make a difference," said Ritter. "They did not elect us to wage partisan warfare or to lock down and refuse to engage in productive dialogue. We must never mistake sound bites for sound public policy."

The governor's speech focused on health care reform. He told legislators that the state should add 17,000 more children to the Children's Health Insurance Plus (CHIP) program and streamline eligibility for Medicaid.

Ritter also spoke at length about education. He emphasized the need to move more children into preschool and kindergarten programs and announced creation of a "counselor corps" that would provide services to middle and high schools with low rates of graduates attending college.

He also endorsed a bill containing a series of reforms, called the "Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids," which would raise graduation standards, impose skills testing and assure that high school graduates are prepared for college.

"I am proposing a seamless system of expectations, policies and tools that thread their way from pre-school to college," said Ritter. "We must ensure that every classroom in Colorado is providing a rigorous and relevant education, and that students are learning skills that effectively prepare them for success in the 21st century."

Ritter also argued for an increase in the severance taxes applicable to oil and gas exploration, implored legislators to work across the aisle on "contentious funding issues" related to transportation and expressed support for the creation of a "school safety resource center" that would help schools develop and implement plans and programs for preventing violence.

Ritter closed his speech by quoting an early 20th century governor, Henry Augustus Buchtel.

"Give these precious days to making wise laws which will be a blessing to the millions of future citizens of Colorado," said Ritter. "That is what we are here for: to make the State."