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Tuesday Churn: Dems named to House Ed

Updated 3:30 p.m. – House Democratic leaders today finally named members of the education committee, and it’s a familiar crew. Returning to the panel are Reps. Judy Solano of Brighton, Cherilyn Peniston of Westminster, Sue Schafer of Wheat Ridge and Nancy Todd of Aurora. A former member, Rep. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, will be coming back. (All are former teachers or school district officials.)

Just-appointed Rep. Millie Hamner of Summit County, outgoing superintendent of schools there, will be the one Democratic newcomer. House Republican appointments to the committee were named earlier.

What’s churning:

Most state agency chiefs would sooner go to the dentist than appear before the Legislative Audit Committee, but such sessions are unavoidable. Executives have to sit and smile tightly while auditors pick at their financial practices in front of the eight-member panel. (Most audits find few major financial problems, but auditors always come up with something.)

Nancy McCallin, president of the Colorado Community College System, had her annual turn before the committee Monday afternoon but managed to turn part of the session into a little tutorial on her top concern – underfunding of the state’s community colleges.

Auditor Brett Hanselman of KPMG set up the issue by noting the community colleges have had to cope with a lot more students on a diet of reduced state support, and McCallin followed suit with comments about how recent state funding allocations for individual colleges have hurt fast-growing systems. “Enrollment was not taken into account at all,” she said, adding, “We feel very strongly that the high tuition, high aid model does not work for our students.”

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education, backed by several college presidents, has proposed 2011-12 allocations that McCallin and Metro State President Steve Jordan don’t like. That allocation will be up for debate after the 2011 legislative session gets rolling.

The audit for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2009 and 2010 was generally complimentary of how the system has managed its money, but auditors did find assorted issues at various campuses, including Community College of Denver and Red Rocks and Colorado Northwestern community colleges. (You can read the audit here; see pages 9-31 for the problems that auditors found and what the system has done about them.)

One source of funding that’s helped community and other state colleges stretch their budgets during the current downturn is the federal Pell Grant program, which provides scholarships for lower-income students and which has been significantly expanded in the last two years.

But it now appears thousands of college students could see grants shrink because of a possible $5.7 billion shortfall in the program. Bloomberg News reports that “Congress underestimated the amount of money necessary to fully fund all students eligible for the grants, and if lawmakers don’t make up the difference, 7.7 million college students could see their awards reduced by $845 each next year.” Bloomberg quoted Mark Kantrowitz, who runs the website FinAid.org (read story).

In case you missed it, a new report from the Colorado Children’s Campaign finds that state spending on children’s programs – early childhood development, K-12 education, health care and family supports – has declined over the last decide while the child population and child poverty have increased. “While revenue and resources were shrinking, numbers of children and rates of poverty were growing,” said Chris Watney, campaign president. Get the full report here (downloads a PDF).

What’s on tap:

An update on the Public Employees’ Retirement Association will be included in the Joint Budget Committee’s briefing on the Department of Personnel at 9 a.m. in the JBC hearing room at the Legislative Services Building, 200 E. 14th Ave.

The Aurora school board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. at the Educational Services Center, 1085 Peoria St. in Aurora. The agenda shows a board workshop on proposed changes to district graduation requirements – but it doesn’t include anything saying what those changes might be.

Good reads from elsewhere:

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