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Annual school finance bill launched for quick consideration

The proposed 2014-15 school finance bill was introduced Friday and is scheduled to go directly to the House Education Committee on Monday afternoon.

The most interesting policy piece of House Bill 14-1298 is a proposal to increase the number of state-funded early childhood slots by 5,000, bringing the total to 28,360. Districts could use the money for the Colorado Preschool Program, for half-day kindergarten slots or for full-day kindergarten students.

The bill proposes $5.9 billion in total program funding – basic school operating expenses – for 2014-15.

The bill also includes a declaration that the “negative factor” – the current shortfall in school funding – shouldn’t increase in future years. And the bill contains technical provisions related to the cost of living factor used to determine individual district funding and another related to school district bond issues.

The school finance bill is just one piece of Colorado’s complicated school funding system. Generally the bill is used as the vehicle to set funding increases, while base funding is contained in another bill, the main state budget measure. (That hasn’t been introduced yet.)

A third measure is in the mix this year, House Bill 14-1292. The so-called Student Success Act is a $263 million measure that proposes to reduce the negative factor modestly, give districts extra money for implementation of reform programs and also provide extra funding for English language learners, charter school facilities and kindergarten classroom construction. (Get details in this story.)

The success act is opposed by some education interest groups that want more money used for buy down the negative factor and less spent on earmarked programs.

Both measures likely will be a little bit up in the air until after the March 18 quarterly revenue forecasts give lawmakers a more exact idea of how much they have to spend next year.

House Education chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, announced Friday that the committee will take testimony Monday on both the finance bill and the success act but won’t vote on the measures.

Read HB 14-1298 here.