The council that advises Gov. John Hickenlooper on education issues Thursday got an early look at TBD Colorado, the administration’s planned initiative to gather public opinion on the challenges facing Colorado and how to deal with them.
Kent Thiry, who will chair the education committee of the initiative, and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia briefed the Education Leadership Council about the effort and took comments from the group.
There’s been increasing Capitol chatter recently about TBD Colorado – TBD stands for “to be decided” – but the administration has made no formal announcement about the initiative. “The governor hasn’t officially kicked this off or even talked much about it,” Garcia noted.
The lieutenant governor told the group that Hickenlooper may provide more information about the initiative in the State of the State speech on Jan. 12, or that an announcement may be made separately.
The effort is intended to use community meetings statewide to gather a wide spectrum of public opinion about key issues facing the state. Garcia and Thiry mentioned education, health care and transportation, but Thiry said the full initiative may include other issues.
TBD Colorado is seen by some as Hickenlooper’s way of starting to approach the fiscal and constitutional issues that have constrained state government, particularly during the economic downturn, and led to significant budget cuts for K-12 schools, higher education and other state programs.
The administration used a similar process of statewide information gathering and consensus building for economic development ideas last year and more recently for early childhood education.
Up to now the governor has declined to be drawn into public discussions about how to fix what some groups and leaders see as a looming fiscal crisis for the state. Hickenlooper declined to endorse or oppose Proposition 103, the failed 2011 ballot measure that would have raised state taxes to generate additional education funding.
“This TBD effort is being led by business people and others,” Garcia said, and is intended to ask citizens and community leaders around the state “about their vision for Colorado … to ask what we want from our education system, our health care system, our transportation system.
“The idea was the governor’s, but he does not have an outcome in mind,” Garcia said. “We don’t want people to think we are advocating for any particular course of action.”
The initiative will be privately funded and run by a 501(c)(3) organization, not the governor’s office, Garcia said. “TBD” was originally used a placeholder for the initiative’s name, but the lieutenant governor said it’s possible the name will stick, given that the effort is about issues that are to be decided.
Engaged Public, a Denver public policy consulting and facilitation firm, has been hired to assist in the effort. “They are the ones who are going to do the heavy lifting” with the community discussions, Garcia said.
The 11-member education panel that Thiry chairs will hold its first meeting next week. Garcia will work with the group as an advisor and resource.
Thiry said the overall concept behind TBD Colorado is to drive “consensual change.”
He told leadership council members that the effort is still being fleshed out. “You’re looking at very incomplete thinking” on how to present education issues to the public.
Members of the group had lots of questions and suggestions about how to frame the education discussion. Thiry said, “It is reasonable to be totally skeptical about whether we’ll achieve very much … but it’s worth a try.”
Thiry is chairman and CEO of DaVita, the national dialysis company that’s based in Denver, and also is a member of Colorado Forum, a group of business leaders that is among several civic organizations that have been studying Colorado’s fiscal and constitutional challenges.