People buy Powerball lottery tickets in hopes of winning the $1.5 billion jackpot at Safeway in 2016 in Estes Park.

Republican state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling will sponsor a bill for a referred measure that would tap lottery funds to pay for K-12 education, he announced Monday.

The measure has yet to be introduced in the Senate.

“We have enough outhouses at soccer fields,” the Sterling lawmaker said in a statement. “The state has spent billions of dollars on parks and recreation, and now it is time to make education funding a state priority. Let's allow the voters to decide which is a higher priority — education or recreation?”

Under the resolution, beginning in the third quarter of the 2020-21 fiscal year, any dollars intended to go to Great Outdoors Colorado that aren't legally committed to paying off bonds would instead be transferred to the State Education Fund.

Sonnenberg’s measure is planned for 2020 because it seeks a constitutional amendment; that means it will compete with ballot measures and a presidential and Senate race in Colorado. As a constitutional amendment, the measure also would need 55 percent approval from voters.

Sonnenberg and his Republican colleagues have been trying for years to tap lottery proceeds. The senator tried tapping lottery funds for education late in the 2010 session in an effort that almost mirrors his 2019 proposal. Back then, however, the plan was to tap such funds to stave off a fiscal emergency. What killed the bill in 2010 was opposition from the teachers' union, Sonnenberg told Colorado Politics, because it wasn't enough.

Nine years later, Sonnenberg is hoping that the revenue the measure could tap for education — perhaps around $66 million, although the dollar amount hasn't yet been announced by the fiscal analysts — becomes part of an array of tools to help fund education.

The governor's request to pay down the state's debt to K-12 — a $77 million request supported by both then-Gov. John Hickenlooper and now by Gov. Jared Polis — isn't that much higher than what he's suggesting, Sonnenberg pointed out, adding that this kind of money is huge for rural school districts.

Rural districts benefited from a $30 million boost in funding in the 2017-18 budget and in last year's appropriation. 

Whether Sonnenberg finds support from Democrats, whose votes will be essential for the measure to move forward, is another matter. So far, they're noncommittal.

The Colorado Education Association did not respond to a request for comment. 

However, Chris Castilian, executive director of Great Outdoors Colorado, had this to say: 

"For the past twenty-six years, GOCO has partnered on more than 5,000 projects from parks and trails, to open space and wildlife protection. As our population continues to grow, GOCO sees ever-increasing demand for conservation and outdoor recreation funding – in some programs, demand is nine times greater than available funding."

"Our outdoors are core to Colorado’s identity, quality of life, and economy, and GOCO’s investments ensure that Coloradans today and into the future will continue to enjoy and care for what makes our state great.”

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