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Education budget decisions delayed

The Joint Budget Committee Monday delayed making key recommendations on 2012-13 education budget issues, asking for more information from the Department of Education and creating a time crunch for itself as the deadline nears to finish the proposed state budget bill for next year.

Colorado Department of Education
Colorado Department of Education

“Does anyone feel like we’ve got to write a term paper in about six hours?” JBC chair Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, jokingly asked her colleagues.

The committee discussed but did not act on funding for development of new statewide tests and the Building Excellent Schools Today program, and it approved less funding for implementing the educator effectiveness law and for the Colorado Counselor Corps than requested by CDE.

In comparison, the state’s colleges and universities got off easy Monday afternoon. After hand-wringing during two meetings last week about the formula for allocating state funds to higher education, the committee gave up Monday and voted 5-1 to recommend the campus-by-campus allocation formula agreed to by college and university presidents and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. That formula also was recommended by JBC staff analyst Patrick Brodhead. (Read Brodhead’s full higher education recommendations here.)

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, noted that all college presidents supported the allocation, a somewhat rare event in the fractious world of Colorado higher ed: “It’s something that’s very important and quite welcome … and I want to respect that.” Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, was the lone dissenter on higher ed funding.

Back to CDE

During the debate on CDE funding, JBC members had some critical words for CDE, the State Board of Education, Hickenlooper and the Senate Education Committee for how they’ve handled – or mishandled – the issue of funding for development of new state tests.

“The department has been as clear as mud on this whole thing,” complained Steadman. “I found the position of the state board and the department to be hazy at best.”

Steadman also was critical of the Senate Education Committee for its disjointed recommendations on the issue of testing costs. (Both education committees have had trouble with the issue: See this story about the Jan. 26 Senate Ed meeting, this article about the Jan. 30 House Ed session and this report on the Feb. 1 joint meeting.)

Gerou chimed in to say, “My concern has been with the governor’s office. … Nobody’s coming in to explain it.”

“It” is the fact that CDE and the state board requested $25.9 million in 2012-13 to develop new Colorado-only tests to replace the CSAP. Gov. John Hickenlooper requested zero, signaling that the state should wait to sign on to multi-state tests expected to be available in 2015. But the administration hasn’t presented a detailed plan for what it wants to do with testing.

Lawmakers, especially the JBC, have been frustrated by what they see as the administration’s failure to lay out its plans and what they see as CDE’s inability to be clear on what it would accept short of the full amount.

JBC analyst Craig Harper, faced with the prickly task of developing recommendations for the committee, is proposing spending only $8.2 million on new tests – enough to develop social studies, science and financial literacy assessments, which won’t be provided by the multi-state tests. Harper is suggesting the legislature could revisit the question of multi-state tests next year. (Read Harper’s recommendations here.)

The committee put off a decision on testing funds, and both Gerou and Steadman suggested that the JBC may have to propose its own bill laying out a plan for future testing, given that – in their view – no one else is willing to do that.

The JBC is trying to wrap up what’s called figure-setting, the approval of department-by-department 2012-13 budgets to be included in what’s called the “long bill,” the main state budget.

Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen / File photo
Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen

Gerou noted that the committee had hoped to finish figure setting by March 20: “We’re not on schedule right now … that’s been a lot of me not forcing decisions. We’ve got to start forcing decisions.” The JBC meets again on Wednesday.

The committee delayed a decision on CDE’s request for $424,390 to fund its education effectiveness unit – Harper is recommending continued funding of $250,000. But the panel did accept his recommendation to grant only $6.4 million of the $7.7 million that Hickenlooper asked for implementation of the teacher and principal evaluation law. (This is another example of CDE and the governor not being on the same page.) Harper said the rest of the $7.7 million could be made up out of federal Race to the Top funding the department is receiving.

The JBC also delayed acting on authorization of funding levels for the Building Excellent Schools Today program. Some panel members are concerned about the program building up lease-purchase payment obligations that might require a legislative bailout if state school land revenues – the main source of BEST funding – drop in the future.

The committee asked for more information from BEST administrators. “The more they work with us the better it’s going to be for everybody,” Gerou warned.

And the JBC voted to accept Harper’s recommendation to cut $480,000 from the $5 million Colorado Counselor Corps program’s budget. That would mean no new schools could join the program next year. The Counselor Corp is a perennial budget fight in the legislature, and this vote will spark opposition. “Let the emails begin,” said Gerou.

Finally, the committee ran out of time to set a base level for K-12 funding next year. That joins the list of items to be decided between now and March 20.

District reimbursement bill delayed

The House Education Committee discussed House Bill 12-1306 Monday but delayed a vote until Wednesday. The bill would allow a district to apply for additional funding if its spring count of students taking statewide tests is higher than its Oct. 1 count.

Minority Democrats on the committee seemed skeptical of the bill, but couldn’t seem to put their fingers on what bothered them. “I’m just trying to understand this bill,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County. (Get background on the measure in this EdNews story.)

There also are concerns about how the bill’s estimated $875,818 annual cost would be covered.

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