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$110 million K-12 cut a done deal

Gov. Bill Ritter Thursday afternoon signed Senate Bill 10-065, the measure that cuts $110 million from current state K-12 support and specifies that the state won’t cover $20 million in higher-than-projected enrollment and at-risk student increases.

Just a few hours earlier the House voted 56-7 to pass the bill.

The $110 million amounts to nearly a 2 percent cut for school districts. The money was approved by the 2009 legislature with the proviso that school districts couldn’t spend it until Jan. 29 (this Friday) so that the 2010 legislature could pull it back if financial conditions warranted.

Ritter, still scrambling to balance the current 2009-10 budget, has included the $110 million in his calculations.

The cut has made education advocates grumpy, but few legislators saw any alternative. The Colorado Education Association testified twice in committees against the bill, saying school districts need the money and that the cut violates Amendment 23.

Among those voting against the bill Thursday were Democratic Reps. Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs, Cherilyn Peniston of Westminster and Judy Solano of Brighton, all members of the House Education Committee and retired teachers.

Even deeper cuts of 6 percent or more are proposed for state K-12 support in 2010-11.

Smooth sailing for transparency bill

The House gave easy preliminary approval Thursday to House Bill 10-1036, which requires school districts, charters and BOCES to post online information about budgets, audited financial statements, salary schedules, check registers, credit and purchase card payments and investment performance.

The bill has a three-year phase-in period, starting this July, and a Department of Education advisory committee will develop templates that districts can use.

The bipartisan bill was developed starting last summer with the advice of school districts. A 2009 Republican-backed transparency bill was defeated in the face of district concerns about cost.

Cosponsor Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, acknowledged district involvement in the bill by saying, “I would like to thank all the vested interests.”

Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, a sponsor of the 2009 attempt, asked several questions about the new bill during floor discussion but seemed satisfied with the sponsors’ answers.

Representatives rejected a proposed floor amendment by Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, that would have allowed districts to also post information about how corporate tax breaks, state aid cuts and mandated programs affect their budget.

Pommer, chair of the Joint Budget Committee, is at the center of the bitter fight over the proposed repeal of several business tax exemptions to help balance the state’s 2009-10 budget. Slowed down by extensive testimony, most of it opposed, the House Finance Committee worked for more than 12 hours Wednesday and early Thursday but passed only some of the bills on party-line votes.

That committee will resume its effort at 8 a.m. Friday.

It wasn’t his day

Joe Roy, chief of the University of Colorado-Boulder Police, testifying at the Capitol Jan. 28, 2010.

Joe Roy, chief of the University of Colorado-Boulder Police, testifying at the Capitol Jan. 28, 2010.

Rep. Steve King’s afternoon probably started to really go downhill as soon as Joe Roy started testifying to the House Education Committee Thursday.

King, a Republican former policeman from Grand Junction, this year proposed House Bill 10-1054, which would require state colleges and universities to give 45-minute orientations to new students about how to respond in critical incidents.

A much more expansive school and college safety bill by King went nowhere last year, defeated in large part by opponent concerns about cost.

This year’s proposal is much more modest – and King made it repeatedly clear to the committee that he was open to almost any amendments – but the uniformed and armed Roy found plenty of fault with the measure.

Roy is chief of the University of Colorado-Boulder Police. Reading politely, rapidly and crisply from a written statement, Roy provided all sorts of reasons to vote no. King’s face got longer with every sentence.

Not that previous witnesses had done King any favors. Victim-and-safety advocate John Michael Keyes had concerns that some of the language in the bill is obsolete. Keyes’ daughter, 16-year-old Emily, was killed by an intruder at Platte Canyon Hill School in 2007.

Two officers of the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority were concerned that the bill didn’t address campus fire safety.

After an hour, committee chair Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, mercifully laid the bill over, saying it needed amendment too extensive to do during a committee hearing.

In other action

Here’s a quick rundown of other education bills passed Thursday:

  • House Bill 10-1028 – Universal application for early childhood services (House final approval)
  • House Bill 10-1034 – Credentialing of school speech-language pathology assistants (House preliminary approval)
  • House Bill 10-1037 – Continuation of supplemental online program (House preliminary)
  • House Bill 10-1071 – Qualifications of CSU forestry employees (House preliminary)
  • Senate Bill 10-018 – Donation-funded School awards program (Senate final)
  • House Bill 10-1064 – Requires prep athletes to appeal eligibility rulings through internal procedures before requesting outside arbitration (House Education 11-1)

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