LOUISVILLE -- More than 100 people packed a standing-room-only town hall meeting hosted Wednesday night by two state lawmakers. But instead of discussing the scheduled topic of education finance, the crowd was there to talk gun rights.
Gun-rights advocates urged Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, to vote against gun-control legislation, saying the proposed laws would be difficult to enforce and wouldn't reduce gun violence. Last week, the state House passed a package of four gun-control bills that will go next to the Senate.
The bills limit gun magazines to 15 rounds, require background checks -- and background check fees -- for all gun transactions and ban concealed weapons on college campuses. Employees of Magpul Industries, an Erie-based maker of gun magazines that has threatened to leave the state if the magazine limit passes, were among those who spoke at Wednesday's meeting against the legislation.
Though most people came to protest gun control, the majority of the meeting was devoted to a question-and-answer session on proposed legislation that would revamp the way Colorado funds schools for the first time in 18 years.
If passed by the Legislature, the complex, 144-page document would go into effect only if voters approve a statewide initiative to increase education funding -- probably by anywhere from $750,000 to $1.1 billion annually.
Questions at Wednesday's meeting were answered by a panel that included Jones, state Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger, Boulder Valley Education Association President Tina Mueh and Leanne Emm, assistant commissioner of school finance at the Colorado Department of Education.
Emm said the state is underfunding schools by $1 billion, all while asking school districts to do more. Colorado is near the bottom nationally for per-pupil spending, the panelists said.
"We're just in this very bad space right now," she said.
Added Messinger, "We have not kept pace as a state."
The average per-pupil funding from the state now is $6,400. If the draft bill is passed by the Legislature and approved by voters, the state would spend $1,400 more per student on average.
Several people asked if additional money would be spent on school security and urged the district to arm its teachers.
Messinger responded that he and the school board don't support arming teachers, saying the district instead is working to boost security by limiting access to schools. The district also relies on its partnerships with local law enforcement agencies, he said.
"We are proactively working with our school community," he said. "We're very concerned about safety."
Mueh added that polling by the National Education Association shows about 80 percent of teachers don't want to carry guns.
Other questions centered on accountability, cutting non-academic programs like sports and reducing administrative costs in favor of higher teacher salaries.
Mueh praised the district for raising teacher salaries -- Boulder Valley's starting teacher salary, at $40,000, is one of the highest in the state -- and being transparent about spending. ___