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Republicans grouse about earmarked spending

Reducing the negative factor, the state’s $1.4 billion school funding shortfall, has gotten most of the attention this year, but there are plenty of bills floating around that propose spending money on a variety of other education programs.

A couple of Republican House members put a spotlight on some of those bills Monday with unsuccessful arguments to defeat the measures.

“Here we go again with expanding a program we can’t afford to expand,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, after House Bill 14-1156 came up for preliminary debate. The bill would make students in third through fifth grade who now are eligible for reduced-price lunches able to get free lunches. (Preschool through 2nd grade students already get free lunches.)

Sponsor Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, originally included students up to grade 12 in his bill, but scaled it back to reduce the cost.

“I hesitate to speak against this,” Murray said, saying state spending ought to be focused on highways, basic K-12 support and public safety.

Moreno countered by saying, “We are talking about one of the most fundamental things in school, that kids get fed.”

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, said, “It seems to me like we’re trying to raise test scores in the lunchroom. … Schools are for learning. They’re not for social programs.”

There was similar back-and-forth on House Bill 14-1276, which would create a modest grant program to pay for programs to teach high school students how to perform CPR.

“Here we go again, spending money on a new program, which could go to spending down the negative factor,” said Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial.

“What we’re doing is creating a new program when can’t fully fund the programs we have,” Murray added.

(There was a similar argument over House Bill 14-1124, which would provide resident tuition eligibility to Native American students who belong to tribes with historic ties to Colorado. “We can’t afford it,” argued Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen.)

In all three cases, the GOP arguments were for naught, as the bills passed on voice votes.

There is a wide range of bills that proposed spending on education programs other than the negative factor, and both Democrats and Republicans are involved in backing those efforts. Here’s a rundown on the measures still in play:

Democratic spending bills

Total cost – $7.2 million

Achievement gaps – House Bill 14-1376 would require the Department of Education to gather data, broken out by ethnic groups and other student characteristics, on how students perform in core courses. The measure is so new that a fiscal analysis hasn’t been done yet. (Awaiting House committee action)

Alternative ed campuses – Senate Bill 14-167 would create a pilot program for improvement of alternative education campuses’ performance, at a starting cost of $62,639. (Awaiting Senate initial consideration)

Adult education – House Bill 14-1085 would create a $960,000 program to fund adult education and literacy programs. (Awaiting final House vote)

Gifted students – House Bill 14-1102 proposes to spend about $3 million to beef up programs for gifted and talented students. (Awaiting initial House vote)

Health – House Bill 14-1276 proposes a $300,000 grant program for training high school students in CPR. (Awaiting final House vote)

Minority teachers – House Bill 14-1175 would give the Department of Education $50,000 to prepare on report on recruitment and retention of minority teachers. (Passed House 38-24 Monday)

Principals – Senate Bill 14-124 would spend $2 million to create a program for training school turnaround leaders. (Awaiting Senate initial consideration)

School meals – As amended in committee to reduce its cost, HB 14-1156 would make those students currently eligible for reduced-price school lunches eligible for free lunches, as a cost of $809,095. (Awaiting final House vote)

A Republican spending bill

Rural districts – Wilson’s House Bill 14-1118 would provide financial incentives to rural school districts to offer Advanced Placement classes, at a cost of $499,061. (Passed House 53-9 Monday)

Bipartisan bills

Total cost – $6.1 million

Counselors – Senate Bill 14-150 would increase funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps to the tune of $5 million. (Awaiting initial Senate floor action)

Safety – House Bill 14-1301 adds $700,000 in funding for the Safe Routes to School program run. (Passed House 42-20 Monday) Senate Bill 14-002 would provide $281,952 for placing the Safe2Tell program in the attorney general’s office. (Awaiting Senate initial consideration)

Testing – House Bill 14-1202 would spend $142,750 to help support a task force that would study the state testing system. (Awaiting Senate committee review)

Out of the running

Several proposed K-12 spending bills with a total cost of nearly $20 million have been killed. Here’s the list:

Data – House Bill 14-1039 proposed to spend $593,945 on linking ECE student data with the main K-12 data system. (Democratic)

ECE quality – House Bill 14-1076 would have cost $12.5 million to set up a program to improve quality of early childhood facilities. Senate Bill 14-006 proposed $470,115 to pay for scholarships for early childhood educators. (Both Democratic)

School supplies – House Bill 14-1094 proposed an August sales-tax holiday on school-related purchases at an estimated $2.8 million loss in state tax revenues. (Bipartisan)

Teachers – House Bill 14-1262 would have created a $4 program to pay bonuses to highly effective teachers who worked in low-rated schools. (Bipartisan)

Several of the surviving bills have had their price tags reduced to improve their chances for survival, but some have costs that would balloon after the 2014-15 budget year.

The two bills that comprise the main school finance package, House Bills 14-1292 and 1298, propose reducing the negative factor by $110 million. But they also include some specialized funding, including $20 million for READ Act early literacy programs, nearly $20 million for charter school facilities, $17 million to expand kindergarten access for at-risk students and $30.5 million in additional money for English language learner programs.

Those two measures have passed the House and will be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday afternoon.

Big bills move with little debate

While the House squabbled a bit over minor education bills, some big measures advanced with no debate. They are:

  • House Bill 14-1202, the proposed study of statewide testing requirements, passed 62-0.
  • House Bill 14-1294, which sets requirements on CDE for protecting the privacy of student data, also was approved 62-0.
  • Senate Bill 14-165, which would give districts flexibility in how much to weight growth data for teacher evaluations in 2014-15, passed on a preliminary voice vote.

Over in the Senate, the College Affordability Act, Senate Bill 14-001, easily passed a preliminary vote. That debate consisted only of brief positive comments from supporters.

The measure is an “historic reinvestment in our higher education system,” said prime sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood.

“Arguably it’s not enough, but it is a step in the right direction,” said Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker.

The bill would increase higher education funding by $100 million next year and cap tuition increases at no more than 6 percent for the next two academic years.

The Senate Monday also gave preliminary approval to House Bill 14-1291, which would give charter schools authority to hire armed security guards.

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