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Current K-12 funding situation stable – for now

The House and Senate education committees Wednesday got some slightly reassuring – but by no means definitive – news about state support for schools in the current 2010-11 budget year.

Joint Budget Committee member Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, told members of the two panels that the JBC is recommending that the state cover a $23 million hole created when school district property tax revenues came in lower than forecast. The bad news is that the budget panel also is recommending that schools not receive $16 million for increases in overall enrollment and in the numbers of at-risk students.

The bottom line, Steadman, said is that schools for now can expect to receive the $5.4 billion in state and local support budgeted for 2010-11. They’ve just have to spread that money among about 1 percent more students than expected when the budget was approved last spring.

The net effect of that is $10.44 less per pupil this year.

But – and this is a very big but – the JBC isn’t finished balancing the 2010-11 budget and may have to trim school funding before that process is done.

“We’re not through making cuts yet,” Steadman said during a briefing with the two education committees. (The JBC met later in the afternoon but didn’t make any further decisions on balancing this year’s budget. Those are expected in the next few days.)

The 2010 legislature made two mid-year cuts to 2009-10 school spending, taking back $110 million that had been placed in “escrow” for school districts and not funding $20 million for growth in both overall enrollment and at-risk student enrollment.

Given the $1 billion budget gap facing lawmakers, more substantial cuts are likely in 2011-12 support for K-12 schools. Among other things, Steadman noted, local district property tax revenues are expected to decline by another $140 million for the next budget year, putting pressure on the state to close that gap.

A plea for streamlining

Earlier in the morning, the two education committees got an earful during a briefing about state mandates on local school districts.

A panel of five representing the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Association of School Boards gave chapter and verse about the burden put on school districts by state data and information reporting requirements.

The volume of reports “distracts us from our primary mission of educating kids,” said Glenn Gustafson, chief financial officer of District 11 in Colorado Springs.

Dave Van Sant, a former superintendent, said districts have “initiative fatigue” because of the rash of new education legislation and related reporting requirements in recent years. “They are at the point of breaking in rural schools.”

To buttress their points, the group gave committee members a 58-page list of Department of Education data reporting requirements and deadlines.

House Education Chair Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, is working on a bill to reduce or streamline data reporting requirements. He said Wednesday that the legislation probably will be ready for introduction in three weeks.

Amended truancy bill passed by House Ed

The House Education Committee Wednesday approved a significantly amended version of House Bill 11-1053, which is intended to encourage school districts and the courts to use alternatives other than detention for truant students.

As originally introduced, the bill would have lifted the requirement that school districts take some truant students to court and also barred judges from jailing parents for contempt in truancy cases.

Some judges objected to that version. Solano, after three meetings with interested parties, came to the committee with an amended version that requires school districts to exhaust other alternatives before taking a truant student to court and which doesn’t interfere with judicial prerogatives.

Solano said she believes too many kids are being put in detention for truancy. But Jeff Clayton, a lobbyist for the Judicial Department, said, there are about 3,000 truancy cases a year and 95 percent are resolved without sending a student to jail.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

The committee also unanimously approved House Bill 11-1074, a technical measure relating to how the Colorado School of Mines can fund its financial aid programs.

New bills

House Bill 11-1168, sponsored by Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, would allow eligible undergraduate students attending a participating private Colorado college to receive the full amount of the College Opportunity Fund stipend instead of the current 50 percent.

Applied as a credit against tuition, the COF payment isn’t a true stipend but rather is a budgetary device used by the legislature and varies significantly year to year based on how much state money is available for higher education. Give the tight budget situation for higher ed, state institutions are expected to be skeptical of any further dilution, not matter how small, of COF funds.

Senate Bill 11-132, sponsored by Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Ed Casso, D-Adams County, would allow any qualified issuer, not just the Colorado Educational and Cultural Facilities Authority, to issue bonds on behalf of a qualified charter school; makes changes in some financial provisions of existing law; centralizes some administrative functions with the state treasurer, and specify procedures for revocation or non-renewal of charters for schools that have outstanding bonds.

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