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Budget news keeps getting better

Updated 4:30 p.m. March 30 – The legislative Joint Budget Committee on Friday finished work on the proposed 2012-13 state budget, ending a week of maneuvering, compromise and good news for education.

On Thursday the committee reached a major compromise, a breakthrough that cleared the way for decisions on higher education spending and on support of the State Education Fund.

Earlier in the week the panel decided to add money to K-12 funding, likely meaning that overall state per-pupil support of schools will remain the same next year.

Also Thursday, a bill affecting payroll deductions of teachers’ union dues was introduced in the House.

Budget deal clears a logjam

The compromise reached in the JBC Thursday involved how much to cut personnel budgets at many state agencies in 2012-13. That issue doesn’t directly affect education – teachers aren’t state employees, and college and university salaries aren’t controlled by the legislature.

The committee’s three Democratic and three Republican members had been deadlocked on the issue, and that disagreement had stalled votes on other, smaller issues that were less controversial.

One of those was reducing a planned $30 million cut to state colleges and universities to about $7 million. The JBC approved that change on a 6-0 vote. That would put direct state support of higher ed at about $512 million next year.

The committee also decided unanimously to add $59 million to the State Education Fund at the end of this budget year. The fund, which periodically has dipped to low levels in recent years, is used to backstop state support of schools and for special purposes such as testing costs. (The committee toyed with the idea of putting about $80 million in the fund but stuck with $59 million when it closed the budget bill on Friday.)

Earlier this week, the JBC approved providing $57.2 million more to state support of K-12 education, meaning funding next year will remain at the same level as this year, about $5.23 billion in combined state and local support. That amount will maintain average state per pupil funding of about $6,500, although the amounts received will vary by district depending on other factors such as whether enrollment is growing or declining and the number of at-risk students.

While the JBC’s decision was key, it’s not the last word on 2012-13 school support. The exact amount of school funding will be set not in the main budget bill but in the separate school finance act. Members of the House Education Committee will meet with JBC members and Department of Education staff at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday to start discussions about the finance act. The $57.2 million could be divvied up in a variety of ways by the finance act, but key legislative leaders are committed to giving most or all of the money to districts as part of the school finance formula.

The budget committee was able to reduce previously expected cuts because an uptick in state revenues yielded about $199 million in additional funds to spend.

Before the state revenue picture changed, districts had been starting to draft their 2012-13 budgets by working off an earlier plan by the Hickenlooper administration. That model proposed a $48 million cut in school funding next year, which would have reduced average per-pupil funding by about $200.

The main 2012-13 budget bill is expected to be introduced in the legislature next Wednesday after JBC staff analysts finish their calculations and make sure the budget is balanced, as required by the state constitution.

(The above section of the story was updated March 30 to correct information about per-pupil funding in 2012-13.)

Republicans introduce union dues bill

House Bill 12-1333 would put into state law a matter that’s now handled by contracts between school districts and unions.

The measure would allow individual employees to request districts to deduct union dues from their paychecks – and to request at any time that such deductions be stopped. The bill also would ban notice to or permission from the union for such changes and ban districts from entering agreements with unions for dues deductions without individual employee approval.

The bill also would require unions give annual reports to members on how their dues were spent.

Current state law is silent on the issue of payroll deductions for dues and merely says that no school employee is required to join a union. In districts with unions, dues deductions are typically controlled through collective bargaining agreements.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and four other House Republicans. It has no Democratic or Senate sponsors.

Veteran statehouse observers note that similar bills have been introduced in prior sessions but never passed, even in years when Republicans controlled both houses.

Through its political arms, the Colorado Education Association is a longtime and major contributor to Democratic candidates. Republicans have a one-vote majority in the House this session, while Democrats have a five-seat majority in the Senate. In an election year when future control of the legislature is at stake, HB 12-1333 is expected to have little or no chance in the Senate if it passes the House.

For the record

The Senate Thursday gave final approval 35-0 approval to Senate Bill 12-121, which sets new procedures for charter schools to calculate matching funds for Building Excellent Schools Today construction grants. Charter schools have felt that the original matching requirements in the BEST law unfairly disadvantaged them in qualifying for grants.

The House voted 64-1 for final passage of House Bill 12-1240. The bill mostly makes technical changes in laws affecting the Department of Education. But among those are delays in two reform initiatives, drafting of statewide high school graduation guidelines and creation of specialized diplomas to reflect individual student competencies.

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