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JBC votes to cut leadership academy, counselor corps

The Joint Budget Committee Tuesday accepted a staff recommendation to cut the School Leadership Academy and the Colorado Counselor Corps programs in the Colorado Department of Education.

The decision came during committee figure setting for CDE’s administrative and special-programs budgets. The committee did figure setting last week for the bulk of CDE’s budget – aid to school districts (see story “K-12 cuts could top $500 million”).

Both the academy and the corps programs were created by legislative action in the more optimistic spring of 2008, when the state still had spare revenue to devote to extra education programs.

The leadership academy, a Project of Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, is intended to provide principal training. In 2009-10 the program has a budget of $25,000 in federal stimulus funds, provided by Gov. Bill Ritter because the legislature had no state money to fund it. The CDE proposed a 2010-11 budget of $75,000 and part-time staffing, paid from the SEF.

The push for the counselor corps was led by Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora. School districts can apply for state funds to hire extra counselors. The program is designed for schools with dropout and graduation rate challenges. The program got an initial $5 million from the SEF, and the department wants another $5 million from the same source in 2010-11.

The SEF is a separate pot of money that is funded by a small portion of state income tax collections and by whatever transfers legislators choose to make from the state’s main general fund. The SEF used both for special programs and to help top off state aid to school districts. The fund is dwindling, but lawmakers may need to tap it for school aid to relieve some of the pressure on the general fund. So, programs like the leadership academy and counselor corps are vulnerable in this tight budget yet.

Other special CDE programs dear to hearts of some legislators probably won’t be in the 2010-11 budget because the department did its own cutting and didn’t request any funding. Those include the Family Literacy Education Fund, state aid to boards of cooperative education services, civic education, financial literacy, Colorado History Day, funding for the Innovation Schools Act, summer school aid, Dropout Prevention Activity Grants and Regional Services Cooperatives.

The committee didn’t specifically discuss analyst Bernie Gallagher’s leadership and counselor recommendations before approving them.

Committee members did raise some questions about the cost of CSAP testing.

Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge (file photo)
Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge (file photo)

“Can we start saving some of the $20 million we spend on CSAPs,” asked Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge and JBC vice chair. “$20 million on testing just bothered me right from the start. That’s a lot of money.”

Under terms of the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids law, the state will be moving to a new testing system over the next couple of years.

JBC chair Rep. Jack Pommer. D-Boulder, said testing “is supposed to be shorter and cheaper once we get there” but there will be high costs for implementation.

Gallagher noted the previous – he called it “pie in the sky” – CDE estimate of $80 million for a new system.

Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, wondered if it would be possible for the state to take a one-year testing “holiday” to save money. Similar suggestions have been made in the past by other legislators. CDE officials always patiently explain that federal NCLB requirements make that impractical.

Gallagher also warned that other provisions of CAP4K will require money to implement and “the state will need to strategically prepare for these expenditures.” (An outside consultant is studying those potential costs.) Gallagher, citing his interpretation of media reports, also raised doubts about whether Colorado can count on federal Race to the Top funds to help pay some of those costs. “It sounds like our state is challenged in winning the full $377 million.”

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. The committee sometimes has to tweak the numbers before the long bill is introduced late in the session, and the bill is subject to amendment as it moves through the House and Senate.

As part of that process, other CDE programs could be on the chopping block later, depending on the state’s financial situation.

In their figure-setting documents, analysts include what are called “ugly lists,” programs that could be cut if necessary but trims that the analysts aren’t formally recommending.

Gallagher’s CDE ugly list includes 11 programs. The largest seven are:

  • Transfer Read to Achieve cash fund to general fund – $6.5 million
  • Eliminate the Closing the Achievement Gap program – $1.8 million
  • Stop covering school lunch costs for students eligible for reduced prices – $850,000
  • Ending a similar cover-the-gap program for school breakfasts – $700,000
  • Cutting supplemental online services and funding – $530,000
  • Trimming another school breakfast program – $500,000
  • Eliminating CDE’s content specialists – $437,392

Full JBC briefing paper (see pages 65 for the leadership program, 71-72 for the counselor corps and 96-98 for the “ugly list”)

For the record

Tuesday otherwise was a quiet day for education news. The Senate gave unanimous final approval to House Bill 10-1037 (continuation of supplemental online program Senate Bill 10-062 (technical changes in categorical programs).

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