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K-12 cuts could top $500 million

The Joint Budget Committee Wednesday afternoon was told it should set a target of $509 million, or 8.8 percent, for what the legislature should trim from the amount schools otherwise would have expected to receive in the 2010-11 budget year.

Staff analyst Carolyn Kampman made the suggestion as part of her overall recommendations for school funding next year. When compared to actual 2009-10 K-12 aid, the cut would be $291 million, or 5.2 percent. Kampman’s briefing paper stressed that the two figures could shrink depending on upcoming revenue forecasts and other legislative budget-balancing decisions.

“My hope is it’s a large target and will get smaller,” she told the committee.

Kampman detailed her recommendations at a figure-setting hearing for the Department of Education. During figure setting for a department, a committee analyst prepares a detailed proposal for the department’s budget, including dollar amounts that will be included in the annual state budget, the long appropriations bill.

Each proposal contains several specific recommendations. The committee usually approves groups of recommendations without much discussion. That’s what happened Wednesday with Kampman’s plan.

It’s been widely assumed for months that state school support would drop in 2010-11, an inevitable result of the state’s revenue losses and despite the provisions of Amendment 23. Gov. Bill Ritter’s initial budget proposal last November suggested a 4.6 percent cut in 2010-11 compared to actual spending this year.

Full funding next year would equal about $5.8 billion in state and local revenue, according to the JBC document. Target funding for 2010-11 is $5.3 billion, $508.8 million or 8.8 percent less.

Actual school funding for the current year is about $5.6 billion, also below what full funding would have been. The 2010-11 target is $291 million, or 5.2 percent, below that current spending.

The reductions could be smaller, Kampman said, depending on things that may happen later in the legislative session, including transfer of $46.1 million in state lands revenue to school aid, possible cuts in other programs supported by the State Education Fund or proposed Ritter administration transfers that could add $135 million for school support.

The numbers in the quarterly revenue forecasts to be issued later this month also could redraw the school funding picture for next year – for either good or bad. (See pages 25-27 of the briefing paper for details on all this.)

School finance is complicated because state support for schools is drawn from three separate funds and distributed through two different pieces of legislation, the long bill and what’s called the school finance bill.

Kampman actually is recommending an increase in the base school support contained in the long bill and that the cuts – $509 million or whatever the figure ends up to be – from the school finance bill, which will be introduced later in the session.

Ritter has proposed that cuts be taken from a fund used to adjust individual district support based on cost of living, although all districts would take the same percentage cut. Some school groups are nervous about that idea, fearing it would set a precedent for future budget years. So, there’s expected to be extensive debate over the mechanics of the cuts.

Final decisions on school finance won’t be made until late in the session, which will end in early May.
Related: Districts’ bloody budget moments arrive

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