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Key “surprises” in Hick budget

There’s relative good news and three surprises for education in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed 2012-13 state budget.

The good news, relatively speaking, is that cuts to K-12 schools and higher education aren’t as deep as some had feared.

The surprises are:

  • A proposed hold back of $67.5 million intended for schools this year
  • A request for $7.7 million to implement new educator evaluations
  • A decision not to fund development of new state tests to replace CSAPs

Legislative leaders were briefed on the proposal Monday, and the budget was released this afternoon prior to a Hickenlooper news conference. The governor is required to submit a plan to the joint Budget Committee on Nov. 1.

“It’s not a question of choosing to do this,” Hickenlooper told reporters. “There is going to be serious resistance to all the cuts.”

“The two places that we are having significant reductions are K-12 and higher education,” budget director Henry Sobanet told reporters at a briefing earlier.

Key budget numbers

The plan proposes an $89 million reduction in total program funding, the combination of state and local revenue that pays for basic instructional operations. That’s about $160 a student. Current total program funding is about $5.2 billion, down some $228.9 million, about 4.2 percent, from 2010-11. Current average per pupil funding is a little under $6,500. (No district-by-district projections will be available until after the Department of Education receives updated enrollment and property tax revenue figures in December.)

Direct state support of state colleges and universities would drop 9.7 percent, taking it to $563 million from the current $619 million, which includes $519 million for institutions and $100 million from financial aid. Next year institutional support and financial aid each would take $30 million cuts.

“There are a few cuts that are very hard for me personally,” Hickenlooper said, referring to the financial aid cuts.

“It’s unfortunate that part of the reduction here is in financial aid … these reductions unfortunately are unavoidable,” Sobanet also said. Federal funds and money raised by individual institutions already provide the bulk of aid to Colorado college students.

Over the last five years K-12 enrollment has increased 6.8 percent and the higher ed student population has grown 20.5 percent.

Key education initiatives

The $67.5 million question

The 2011 legislature set aside $67.5 million to be allocated to some districts after Jan. 1, 2012, on the basis of enrollment growth and/or declines in local property tax collections. Hickenlooper is proposing that money not be spent in the current year but instead be rolled over for use in 2012-13.


  • Total spending: $20 billion, +1.7%
  • General fund: $7.4 billion, +3.2%
  • K-12 general fund: $2.8 billion, down slightly
  • Higher ed general fund: $563 million, -9.7%
  • Revenue is 5% below 2007-08 peak


  • 92% of increased spending goes to Medicaid and prisons
  • Budget would be lower than 2011-12 without Medicaid increases
  • Suspension of the senior property tax exemption (worth about $100 million) would continue

Total spending includes all state funds, including those the legislature doesn’t control, such as highway money. The general fund is the main account that lawmakers can budget.

Rep. Tom Massey, who engineered the original $67.5 million plan, said, “I’m sure we will get a chance to discuss” moving the money to 2012-13. “We’ll have to argue over that and any education cuts. … I’ve found the governor to be very open minded.” Massey, a Poncha Springs Republican, is chair of the House Education Committee.

Sobanet told Education News Colorado the administration feels delaying use of the money would be fairer to school districts since it would be distributed through the school finance formula. Under Massey’s 2011-12 plan, the money would go only to some districts.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said board members around the state have differing opinions on whether the money would be more welcome this budget year or next.

Funding for SB 10-191

The budget includes a $7.7 million request to fund implementation of the principal and teacher evaluation systems required by Senate Bill 10-191. Planning and some implementation already have started, but so far those efforts have been funded by existing budgets and outside grants.

Delaying the CSAP replacement

The governor decided not to grant the Department of Education’s request for $25 million to pay for design of new statewide tests that would launch in the spring of 2014.

“We think we can wait one more year,” said Sobanet, noting, “$25 million to redo CSAP was not something we were willing to make cuts for.” CDE leaders had been pushing for the funds because they believe a 2014 launch of new tests is needed for effective implementation of new state content standards and the educator evaluation systems. New multistate tests, which could be cheaper to acquire, are expected to be available in 2015.

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond issued a carefully worded response to the plan to delay development of new tests. “While we understand the direction and priorities of the Governor, we continue to view a strong assessment system as critical to the state’s reform effort. … We’ll continue to raise this issue in future discussions with our lawmakers so Colorado can make an informed decision about what it wants for its statewide assessments,” he said.

Digging deeper

For those interested in school finance detail, the proposed budget assumes 3.5 percent inflation and 1.5 percent enrollment growth, both key factors in the Amendment 23 school funding formula. Two years ago the legislature introduced a “negative factor” that’s used to reduce the A23 formula to an amount the state can afford. Sobanet estimated the 2012-13 negative factor will cut K-12 spending $350 million from what A23 otherwise would have called for.

Sobanet said anticipated increases in local property tax revenues will mean that the state share of school funding may decline slightly.

One other bit of good news is that Hickenlooper proposes to end the two-year policy of having state employees contribute more of their salaries to pensions so that the state could save money by contributing less. That affected thousands of employees in the higher education system but didn’t apply to school districts and their teachers.

The bad news, Sobanet said, is that proposed higher employee contributions to health insurance costs will largely wipe out the pension contribution savings.

Sobanet, who’s director of the State Office of Planning and Budget, said the budget has five overarching principles:

  • Protection of the vulnerable, such as Medicaid recipients
  • Economic development
  • Continuation of education reforms
  • Modernizing state government
  • Improving long-term budget planning

In his letter to the JBC, Hickenlooper wrote, “The budget reflects the ongoing work of closing the State’s structural budget gap and funding the demands of numerous federal and State Constitutional requirements. The proposal also contains several proposals to protect the most vulnerable Coloradans, promote economic growth, continue needed reforms in education and modernize State government.”Sobanet said the possible passage of Proposition 103 wasn’t factored in to budget planning. “If it passed some of these reductions [in education] would not be necessary”

Release of the document is just the start of a long process that won’t end until next April or May, when the legislature finally passes the 2012-13 budget.

Lawmakers have the final say (although a governor can veto parts of a budget), and the legislature made some changes in the budget Hickenlooper proposed for the current, 2011-12 year.

For instance, the governor initially proposed a $332 million cut in K-12 spending, a figure lawmakers managed to whittle down to about $229 million.

There may be legislative fights over the continued suspension of the senior citizen property tax break and over education cuts. Updated state revenue forecasts will be made in late December and late March.

As to those forecasts and future budgets, Sobanet said, “The economy is recovering, but the revenue picture remains unsettled.”

Reaction roundup

Most of the reaction to the budget plan was nuanced, with people avoiding criticism of the governor but making it clear all aspects of the budget will be in play. Here’s a sampling:

“Educators, families and students do appreciate the efforts the Governor’s office made in minimizing the damage, [but] diverting funds from our investment in public education is the wrong strategy to advance prosperity and growth in Colorado.” – Bev Ingle, president of the Colorado Education Association

“The governor has provided the Joint Budget Committee with a good starting point, but ultimately this is a legislative responsibility.” – Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont and a leader in efforts to minimize education cuts during the 2011 session

“While we appreciate many of the proposals the governor has made, the governor’s budget does raise some points of concern.” – Republican JBC members Reps. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen and Jon Becker of Fort Morgan

“We will continue to work with the governor’s office and our colleagues across the aisle to find ways to minimize cuts to our classrooms.” – JBC member Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver

Text of Hickelooper budget to JBC and budget details (PDF)

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