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The House Education Committee Thursday was happy to pass a bill expanding offerings at Colorado Mountain College but very sad to pass a bill slashing state support of schools.

Colorado Mountain College's facility in Edwards.
Colorado Mountain College's facility in Edwards.

The 2010-11 school finance act, House Bill 10-1369, is on a fast track. It was introduced Wednesday, passed 13-0 Thursday in House Ed and is scheduled in House Appropriations first thing Friday morning.

The measure would cut state support to schools in 2010-11 to $5.4 billion, $260 million less than actual state support in the current 2009-10 budget. (The 2009-10 budget was cut in midyear by $130 million from what the 2009 legislature originally approved.)

The proposed 2010-11 budget is about $365 million less than what full funding of the Amendment 23 formula would have provided.

Sponsor Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, cautioned the committee that the $260 million isn’t set in stone – “that number is not determined yet.”

He also warned that the situation isn’t a one-year problem. “The next year after that is going to be significantly worse.”

Karen Wick, lobbyist for the Colorado Education Association, testified against the bill, saying, “The intention of Amendment 23 is to increase education funding.” (The bill is based on an interpretation of A23 that holds supplemental school funding can be cut as long as the A23 formula is applied to base per-pupil funding.)

Representatives of the other two big mainline education groups, the Colorado and Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives, also expressed their sorrow about the situation.

Jane Urschel of CASB repeated a quip she’s used before: “School finance is like a Russian novel – long, boring, bloody and in the end everyone dies.”

Bruce Caughey of CASE said, “We support the method for the cut … but we don’t support the legal basis or the underlying adequacy of school funding in Colorado. … We need to develop the political will to correct that.”

That remark prompted some pushback from Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, who said he was “slightly offended” by Caughey’s political will comment. “Know that there are some of us who believe that more money doesn’t automatically equate to a better education.” On the question of asking the public for more revenue, McNulty said, “I don’t think we can go out to the public and tell them we are getting the best bang for the buck.”

“I can comfortably say the public in Colorado is getting a very good deal in its public schools,” replied Pommer.

The committee went on for another 20 minutes discussing issues like public understanding of school needs, the long-term effects of such cuts and their general unhappiness, but the issue never was in doubt.

“None of us wanted to look” at this. … “This is going to be extremely difficult for all of us,” said cosponsor Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon. (She also said the cut probably is more like $280 million.)

Legislative staff fiscal note explaining the bill
Scanlan had a happier task earlier in the meeting, when she presented Senate Bill 10-101, which would allow Colorado Mountain College to offer a limited number of bachelor’s degrees. CMC is a local district two-year college that serves several counties in central and northwestern Colorado.

After hearing supporting testimony from a well-spoken series of college leaders, students and community members, the committee passed the bill 13-0.

For the record

The House Thursday gave final approval to these bills:

  • Senate Bill 10-008 – Authorizing a study of the average daily membership method of determining school enrollment. 65-0
  • Senate Bill 10-058 – Expanding the nursing teacher loan forgiveness program. 64-1
  • Senate Bill 10-150 – Diverting $46 million in state school lands revenue to 2010-11 state school support, rather than depositing the money in the permanent fund. 39-26

And, the Senate gave final approval to these measures:

  • House Bill 10-1036 – Setting up a three-year schedule for school districts to put financial information online, including budgets, quarterly statements, check registers, audited financial statements and investment reports. Passage ends a two-year effort to pass the idea, which started with Republicans. This bill, however, is largely the product of work by Democrats and school district interests. 32-0
  • House Bill 10-1034 – Changing the qualifications required for school speech-language pathology assistants in an effort to ease a shortage of those professionals. 32-0
  • Senate Bill 10-108 – Allowing private and propriety colleges to participate in the state system of common core courses, known as gtPathways. Participation would be voluntary, interested colleges would have to pay a fee and would be subject to annual review by the state. 32-0

The measures, except SB 10-108, now go to the governor for signature.

The Senate confirmed these education-related appointments:

  • Regina Rodriguez and David Edwards to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education
  • Stuart Bliss, Mohan Misra and Richard Truly to the School of Mines board
  • Patricia Hayes, Amy Anderson, John Schlichting and Cecelia Sanchez de Ortiz to the Charter School Institute board

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

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