Thursday roundup
- Tax sniping
New bills
For the record

Projected cuts in state aid to K-12 education next school year keep rising, and school administrators fear they will get even bigger.

Todd Herreid, a legislative staff analyst, told members of the House Education Committee Thursday that recent calculations indicate “a decrease in total program spending of at least $431 million compared to current law. This represents a decrease of 7.5 percent.”

Herreid made his comments as he presented the committee with a required annual report on the condition of the State Education Fund, kind of a piggy bank that is one of the sources of state aid to school districts. The report estimates that the SEF will be down to only about $6 million in 2010-11.

The estimated $431 million cut is more precise but is in the same ballpark as a rough estimate Herreid made in late December, when quarterly state revenue forecasts were issued.

In November, Gov. Bill Ritter’s proposed cutting K-12 support by 4.56 percent, or $260 million, from the dollar amount of school aid in the current 2009-10 budget. The Department of Education calculated that cut actually would amount to $374.1 million, or 6.12 percent, when calculated against the full amount school districts would otherwise expect to receive in 2010-11 under full application of the Amendment 23 funding formula.

Herreid’s figure of $431 million represents an increase in CDE’s original $374.1 million estimate.

The Ritter administration has taken the position that Amendment 23 applies only to “base” state funding of schools, about 75 percent of total support. The other 25 percent, nearly $1 billion, is distributed to districts through what are called the “factors,” pots of money designed to compensate districts for cost of living, at-risk students and small size. So, K-12 cuts would be taken in some form from the factors.

Most legislators have at least grudgingly agreed with Ritter’s interpretation of A23. Some interest groups, especially the Colorado Education Association, believe that interpretation is unconstitutional.

Some district administrators fear the effective cut in school instructional budgets could be 10 to 12 percent in 2010-11, given that districts will face increased costs for things like pensions and health insurance at the same time state aid is cut.

So something will have to give, most likely class sizes, teacher jobs and teacher salaries.

The legislature recently passed, and Ritter signed a law, cutting $110 million of state school aid in the current budget year, about 2 percent. The state also isn’t compensating districts for higher-than-projected enrollment and numbers of at-risk students.

Background and EdNews stories

Education in cross fire of tax debate

Program cuts are one side of budget balancing; raising revenue is the other.

For the past two days, the Senate Finance Committee has been working its way through a package of eight bills that propose to eliminate various tax exemptions and use the revenue for both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 budgets.

The debate has been partisan, with Republicans opposing and majority Democrats supporting – and passing – the bills.

Supporters argue that failure to pass the tax bills will force even deeper education cuts, a contention that was challenged by Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, during a Wednesday evening hearing.

According to a GOP news release, King “blasted the lobbyists for two liberal education groups that were falsely claiming the revenue generated from the Democrats tax increase plan would go towards K-12 education.” The release identified the groups as the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives, groups that teachers’ unions – or education reformers for that matter – might not think of as “liberal.”

GOP staffers also cranked out a news release promoting a Republican proposal to cut state payroll rather than eliminate the tax exemptions.

By early Thursday evening, Senate Finance has passed all but two of the tax bills. The package will go to the Senate floor Friday afternoon.

Ed bills continue to stack up

A large number of new bills were introduced in the Senate Thursday, including three related to education:

• Senate Bill 10-150 – This measure would allow additional revenues from state lands to flow to the Public School Fund rather than the permanent fund for 2010-11 only. This is a way to raise a little more cash for K-12 schools. Most school aid comes from the tax-supported general fund, which lawmakers frantically are trying to balance, with a lesser amount coming from the State Education Fund and the smallest amount from the Public School Fund. Sponsored by Joint Budget Committee members.

• Senate Bill 10-154 – The bill would expand the definition of “at-risk student” as it applies to alternative schools, which have separate accreditation standards because of their high percentages of at-risk students. At-risk usually is defined as eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches. The bill would expand that to “include children with disabilities, migrant children, homeless children, children with a documented history of serious psychiatric or behavioral disorders, and children who are 2 or more years behind grade level as determined by statewide assessments or by other assessments,” in the words of the summary. Sole sponsor for now is Sen. Paula Sandoval, D-Denver.

• Senate Bill 10-161 – The proposal would allow charter schools to contract with boards of cooperative education services and other charters for buildings and services. Sponsors are Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs.

For the record

The House Thursday gave preliminary voice approval to House Bill 10-1064, which would require high school athletes to use the standard Colorado High School Acivities Association appeals process for eligibility disputes before taking a case to outside arbitration or to court.

The House Education Committee approved House Bill 10-1044, which would require state licensing of neighborhood youth organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, and House Bill 10-1013, a technical cleanup of school finance laws.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.