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Budget plan gives K-12 a bit more

Schools would receive a slight increase in state support under Gov. Bill Ritter’s proposed 2011-12 budget, but not enough to cover projected enrollment growth and inflation, and the total would be far short of the full Amendment 23 formula.

The governor also proposed hold-the-line spending for state colleges and universities, leaving them with a cut of $89 million because of federal stimulus funds that will no longer be available.

Ritter publicly unveiled his proposed budget Tuesday afternoon after having delivered it to the legislative Joint Budget Committee late Monday.

“This proposal increases classroom spending, [and] we’re doing everything we can to protect higher education, “ Ritter told reporters.

The budget totals about $19.1 billion, including about $7.6 billion from the tax-supported general fund. The current, 2010-11 budget originally was about $19.6 billion, and the general fund totaled about $7 billion.

The governor’s office said the general fund budget contains about $714 million in balancing measures, including spending cuts and transfers from other state funds into the general fund. Another $379 million in programs simple weren’t funded, including $365 million that would have gone to schools if the full A23 formula were applied. During budget setting last spring the legislature, based on legal advice, narrowed the base of school spending to which the formula is applied.

Todd Saliman, Ritter’s budget director, said that if the official revenue forecasts issued in September hold up, the governor’s plan would produce a balanced budget without the need for further major adjustments.

The proposal is Ritter’s last budget, since he’ll be leaving office in January. Saliman said he doesn’t expect the new governor will make major adjustments, predicting, “The core components of this budget won’t change.” Saliman noted that when Ritter took office in early 2007, “The core components of the budget that Gov. Owens wrote did not change.”

The legislature, of course, has the final say on the budget, and the JBC starts its hearings later this month. Budget deliberations and directions could change if Republicans take majority control of one or both houses in Tuesday’s election. If the GOP gains only one house, the six-member JBC would have an even 3-3 partisan split.

K-12 support

The plan proposes a $43 million increase in total program funding, which is the combined state-local effort to pay classroom operating costs. Current total program funding is a little under $5.4 billion. The state contribution next year would increase $91.2 million while the local share would drop $48.2 million because of declines in local property tax revenues.

The base per-pupil funding would rise to $5,585 from $5,530, but the average per-pupil funding (the amount calculated after special forms of aid to districts are factored in) would drop by $39.57 from the current $6,822.

The funding is estimated to be $92 million short of what would be needed to fully cover the costs of inflation and enrollment increases. And, it’s another $365 million short of full A23 funding.

Higher education

The budget maintains base state tax support of $555 million, the amount colleges and universities received this year along with $89 million in federal stimulus funds.

Colleges now have the authority to raise resident tuition up to 9 percent a year without legislative review. The budget assumes campus trustees will do that plus raise non-resident tuition and average of 5 percent. That would yield $1.68 billion in tuition revenue, up from this year’s $1.6 billion and continuing the shift of higher ed costs from taxpayers to students and families.

Ritter said the proposed spending “allows us to continue the conversation about higher education funding.” That conversation will kick off next week with the formal announcement of a new higher education strategic plan, which does call for increased taxpayer support of colleges and universities (background story).

Links to Ritter budget documents and details

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