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Don’t count the money yet

A bill passed by the Senate Education Committee Wednesday theoretically could take the 2011-12 cut in K-12 education below $200 million, but lots of things have to fall into place before that happens.

Senate Bill 11-001, introduced on the first day of the session last January, is kind of the symbolic cornerstone of the Senate Democrats’ promise to protect education funding as much as possible during this legislative session.

The bill essentially bets that on June 30, when the state fiscal year ends, revenues will be higher than projected by the March quarterly revenue forecasts. That hoped-for excess would be funneled to education and used, after the 2011-12 budget year starts on July 1, to reduce the currently projected $250 million cut to K-12 total program funding.

The fiscal note that explains the bill estimates that amount to be $62 million.

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins and chair of Senate Ed, and Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, are pushing the bill.

Bacon seemed to assuage Republican members’ concerns that the plan would reduce the amount of money in the State Education Fund. (Part of the House/Senate/governor budget deal reached last week would keep at least $120 million in that fund as a cushion against expected education budget cuts in 2012-13.)

Five Democrats and Republican Sens. Nancy Spence of Centennial and Keith King of Colorado Springs voted for the bill, which now goes to the Senate Finance Committee. Only Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, voted no.

If it passes the Senate, the bill might get a cooler reception in the Republican-controlled House. A clutch other education funding bills are floating around (see story), competing for members’ support.

The biggest question mark about SB 11-001, of course, is whether 2010-11 revenues turn out to be as large as the bill’s sponsors hope.

The committee also passed Senate Bill 11-109, a truly symbolic school-funding plan. The bill originally proposed an income tax check-off that citizens could select to provide money for schools.

The committee amended the bill to give the money to the state preschool program. Regardless of the beneficiary, the dollars involved are miniscule. The fiscal note accompanying the bill estimates that revenue would be only an amount “greater than $5,000.”

The fiscal notes reports that the most popular check-off in 2009, the Military Families Relief Fund, raised a modest $187,799.

A potential stumbling block for the bill is a provision that the preschool check-off go to the top of the list of charities printed on state income tax forms.

“Everyone who brings forward one of these is going to want theirs on the top” in the future, Spence predicted.

But, the bill passed to Senate Finance on a 7-1 vote, with Renfroe again the only no vote.

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