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$250 million cut may not be set in stone

Just because the Senate has passed a 2011-12 budget package that includes a $250 million slice out of school funding doesn’t mean some lawmakers aren’t trying to shrink that cut.

At least three efforts are in the works:

• The Senate Education Committee Wednesday will consider Senate Bill 11-109, which would allow taxpayers to use an income tax check off for education funding, and Senate Bill 11-001, which would require transfer of “excess” revenues as of next June 30 (if any) to the State Education Fund and the State Public School Fund, two accounts that help support schools.

The first would raise a pittance for schools; the latter could generate an estimated $62 million that could be used to offset part of that $250 million cut.

Sen. President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, said he thinks the bills can pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, adding (with a smile) that he understands they’d get a “fair” hearing in the Republican-run House.

(Another funding measure dreamed up by Senate Democrats, Senate Bill 11-184, has passed the Senate and been assigned to the House Finance Committee. It would create a short-term tax amnesty program later this year to entice delinquent taxpayers to pay what they owe. It would raise an estimated $9.2 million for diversion to the State Education Fund.)

• The 2011-12 school finance act (Senate Bill 11-230) will be heard by the House Education Committee next Monday, chair Sen. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, told EdNews. Massey said he asked the bill go to House Ed (rather than to the appropriations committee with all the other budget bills) so it could get a full and “fair” hearing from legislators who understand education.

Asked if the idea was to shrink the $250 million cut, Massey said, “We’ll see. … That’s the goal.”

(Watch for some committee members to suggest trimming some elements of the CSAP testing system to raise more money for school operations.)

• Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, has his own idea for giving schools some more money – and shifting some of the financial responsibility from the state back to local taxpayers in school districts.

King’s bill would allow local districts to hold elections for special property tax overrides above existing overrides. For every $5.50 raised by a new district tax, the state would kick in $1 from the State Education Fund. There would be provisions to make the idea attractive to small districts with weak property tax bases. He likened the idea to the BEST school construction program, under which districts put up matching bond funds to leverage state funds for school construction.

King said that Shaffer has given him permission for a late bill, that he’s seeking bipartisan cosponsors and could introduce the bill this week or next. If King’s idea gains traction and is passed, it could raise money in the second half of 2011-12 for districts that hold elections on the special tax next November.

Everyone know this year would be grim budget session for schools, but Gov. John Hickenlooper sent shock waves through the education world in mind-February when he proposed a $322 million cut in K-12 total program funding. (A year ago schools took a $260 million cut for the current 2010-11 school year.)

The governor agreed to the $250 million cut as part of the House/Senate/executive branch budget deal announced last week and passed by the Senate Monday.

It’s too early to tell if any of the efforts will fly, given the legislature’s partisan split and other factors like the fact that lawmakers have only a month left on the calendar and need to turn to some major issues like congressional redistricting.

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