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School finance bill set to launch

The 2012-13 school finance bill will be focused on shoring up state aid to school districts, according to its sponsor, with a modest amount of spending for special programs.

Improved state revenues have made it possible for the Joint Budget Committee to set aside $57 million that’s intended for maintaining average per-pupil spending in 2012-13 at the same level as this year, a little under $6,500.

In years before the state budget squeeze, the annual school finance bill often was used to fund various specialized education programs as well as to set the overall level of school funding. Four years of budget cuts have not only dried up funding for those programs but also forced cuts in operational funding for school districts.

Given that improving revenues make it possible to avoid K-12 cuts, Rep. Tom Massey said Wednesday the school finance act will focus on accomplishing that. The bill could be introduced as early as Thursday.

Massey is a prime sponsor of the finance bill and chair of the House Education Committee. He said he’s proposing two significant “extras” in the finance act, $1.3 million to fund the Department of Education’s regional services program and an extra $1 million for charter school facilities costs.

The regional services program, created a few years ago but not funded, is intended to pay for CDE to provide small districts and boards of cooperative education services with expertise and consulting for work they’re unable to do on their own.

For charter schools, current law provides $5 million a year, distributed on a per-pupil basis, that charters can use for building needs. Massey’s proposal would add $1 million to that amount.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, said Wednesday that the bill also will include $300,000 to pay for giving every student skills tests such as the Accuplacer once during high school.

Massey hopes – and thinks – other lawmakers will resist the temptation to dip too much into the $57 million for special programs.

“Everyone understands the realities” of the budget situation and the need to maintain K-12 spending levels, he said.

Massey and other House Ed members met Wednesday morning with CDE staff and two JBC members for a briefing on the budget situation and its effect on K-12.

“I just want you to know we’re in a very tentative position financially,” said JBC chair Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, subtly urging lawmakers to avoid the temptation to “go shopping” in the school finance act.

Budget hightlights

Leeanne Emm, CDE school finance director, walked the meeting through the expected school finance situation for 2012-13. Based on her analysis, here’s what things look like:

$5.29 billion in total program funding would be available to schools, compared to the current $5.23 million.

  • Average per pupil funding would be $6,474.24, compared to this year’s $6,404.49 without the additional $57 million. (Actual per-pupil funding varies widely by district.) The amount would still be below the $7,076 per-pupil average in 2009-10, a figure approved in the last legislative session before the recession hit.
  • Base funding per student would be $5,843.26 up from $5,634.77 this year. Base funding is the minimum amount guaranteed under Amendment 23 to every school district and is driven by inflation, calculated at 3.7 percent for next year.
  • Next year’s statewide enrollment is estimated at 817,185, an increase of 9,027, or 1.1 percent.

While the latest budget news is a welcome change for education, next year’s funding will be considerably less than what it would be under the original method of applying Amendment 23, the 2000 constitutional change that set a funding formula for K-12.

Prior to 2009, the legislature multiplied both base funding and other parts of school support by inflation to come up with total program funding for the following school year. (Amendment 23 originally required addition of another 1 percent, but that provision has expired.)

Because of declining state revenues, in 2009 the legislature created a “negative factor” that allowed it to cut annual school spending enough to balance the budget without gutting other state programs. K-12 spending accounts for more than 40 percent of spending from the state’s general fund.

The expected negative factor for 2012-13 is estimated at $1 billion, meaning that total program funding for schools would be $6.3 billion next year if Amendment 2 were being used as it was prior to the recession.

See Emm’s slide presentation to the committee here.

The main 2012-13 state budget bill, House Bill 12-1335, was introduced in the House Wednesday. That measure sets the base level of school funding as required by Amendment 23. The “long bill” proposes state funding of about $512 million for state colleges and universities, plus another $100 million for financial aid.

The House isn’t expected to finish work on the budget bill until the middle of next week. Then the Senate has to consider the bill.

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