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Dems plan to save breakfast funding

The debate over the level of state funding for school breakfast programs that erupted last week took a new turn Monday with a promise by two lawmakers to introduce legislation that would go around the Joint Budget Committee on the issue.

On a 3-3 party-line vote last week, the JBC in effect killed a proposal to provide an extra $124,229 to the school breakfast program for the rest of the current 2010-11 budget year. That could mean some poor children would have to pay 30 cents for breakfasts starting later in the spring. About 12,000 students could be affected.

During a midday meeting at Capitol Hill’s Dora Moore Elementary School, Democratic legislators and representatives of a variety of advocacy groups criticized the JBC vote. Democratic Rep. Cherilyn Peniston of Westminster and Sens. Evie Hudak of Westminster and Linda Newell of Littleton said they will introduce a bill to ensure the breakfast program gets the funding they believe it needs.

Meanwhile, two Republican members of the JBC, said they might reconsider their earlier votes if the Department of Education provides more information. Reps. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen and Jon Becker of Fort Morgan initially voted against the additional funding.

“Being able to provide breakfast each day for our neediest kids is an important function of government. We should not be balancing our budget on the backs of our families in these tough economic times,” said Peniston.

Another PERA bill surfaces

Bipartisan legislation was introduced Monday that would continue this year’s split of employer and employee contributions to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association. The bill is sponsored by all six members of the Joint Budget Committee.

Last session the legislature changed some employer and employee contribution rates for the current, 2010-11 budget year. The change covered PERA’s state (which includes a significant number of higher education employees) and judicial divisions.

The move decreased the employer contribution rate by 2.5 percent and increased the employee rate by a corresponding 2.5 percent.

The new measure, Senate Bill 11-076, proposes to continue the switch for the 2011-12 budget year. The move is a way for the legislature to help solve its budget problem because it reduces the amount that needs to be spent on pensions.

Another bill introduced last week Senate Bill 11-075, would allow school boards, if they chose, to do the same thing with their employee contributions.

While the idea of shifting pension contributions may have appeal to elected officials trying to deal with budget cuts, it’s not necessarily a tactic favored by pension managers.

That’s because employees who leave state service can withdraw their pension contributions and take the money with them, thereby reducing total PERA assets and income, even if only a little bit. In contrast, employer contributions stay with the pension system, even if the employee for whom they were made leaves.

House Ed passes three bills

The House Education Committee, at its first “action” meeting of the 2011 session, on Monday unanimously passed three housekeeping bills to the full House.

  • House Bill 11-1060 would create a better schedule of staggered terms for voting members of the University of Northern Colorado trustees.
  • House Bill 11-1017 would update the replacement procedure for student and faculty members of the Auraria Higher Education Center Board.
  • House Bill 11-1077 would create separate sections in state law for laws covering gifted and talented students and those covering special education students.

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

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