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Senate approves K-12 cuts

The Senate voted 32-2 Tuesday morning to pass Senate Bill 10-065, which cuts $110 million from state K-12 support and specifies that the state won’t cover another $20 million for enrollment and at-risk student increases.

The measure is the second education bill that’s on the fast track to passage in the legislature’s opening weeks, but it’s not being greeted with the same enthusiasm as the Race to the Top-related proposal that took only three days from introduction to signing. (For instance, no senators signed on Monday as SB 10-065 cosponsors.)

The Senate Friday afternoon had given unanimous preliminary approval to SB 10-065. It was a grumpy vote for some lawmakers.

“I don’t think this is a great bill. I am very unhappy about it, but I think it’s a necessity,” said Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, speaking on the Senate floor.

Speaking during an earlier Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, said, “This is going to be very painful [but] there is no way around it.”

Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge (file photo)
Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, carried the K-12 budget cut on the Senate floor Jan. 15.

The $110 million cutback was an escape hatch created by lawmakers in 2009 when they approved some $3.7 billion in school aid. The legislature told districts not to budget or spend the money until after Jan. 29, the deadline set for 2010 legislature to pull the money back. (That deadline is why SB 10-065 is on the fast track.)

That “escrow” provision was a last-minute 2009 compromise between the Senate, which wanted to just cut $150 million, and the House, where members were heavily lobbied by the Colorado Education Association to not make such a cut.

Friday, Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, called the 2009 compromise “a cruel hoax” and said the $110 million escrow “shouldn’t have been in the bill in the first place.”

CEA lobbyist Karen Wick testified against the bill earlier in the day before the appropriations committee. Reminding members “We represent almost 40,000 members,” Wick continued, “We think our schools need to keep this money. [It] would help districts prepare for what’s to come.” (She was referring to 2010-11 cuts in state aid that could exceed $350 million.)

“I appreciate your advocacy, but we have the whole spectrum [of budget problems] to look at,” said Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins and chair of the Senate Education Committee.

The committee passed the bill to the floor on a 9-0 vote.

The bill also reduces state school aid by an additional $67 million, but that won’t be a cut to districts because they are expected to receive that amount in higher-than-projected local tax collections.

The bill now moves to the House. If the measure passes, the $110 million reverts to the State Education Fund, a separate pot of money that’s used partly for general school aid and partly for special programs. The fund is currently on track to go insolvent.

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College funding shift gets JBC OK

The Joint Budget Committee Thursday approved a staff recommendation to cut state tax support of higher education by about $225 million this budget year. The money will be replaced with federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, but the shift will help cover the overall problems in the general fund, the state’s main budget account.

The recommendation will be turned in to a budget-adjustment bill similar to SB 10-065.

New bills update

A few more new bills were introduced Friday before legislators scattered for the three-day weekend. Of interest is Senate Bill 10-069, which would require that the money saved by the pending expiration of Amendment 23’s 1 percent “bonus” provision for school aid be shifted to the state highway fund, starting in 2011-12 and running until 2020-21.

The bill is sponsored by two eastern plains Republicans, Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling. It likely has no chance in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

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