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First draft of 2015-16 school funding bill starts circulating

A draft proposal of a school funding bill floated this week would provide a modest boost to base district revenues and also suggests increased funding for at-risk students and some charter schools.

But the bill likely won’t satisfy district leaders, leading to plenty of dickering and debate before a final plan emerges.

Like most big education and budget issues, the school funding bill is running late. In contrast, the 2014-15 K-12 budget bill was introduced Feb. 28, 2014.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, will be the Senate sponsor for the school finance bill. Here are the highlights of the draft he circulated this week, based on the document and an explanation by Hill.

  • District funding would be increased by $100 million, but that would be one-time money and not built into permanent base funding for schools.
  • The “negative factor,” the state’s school funding shortfall, would remain at about $880 million.
  • An additional $38 million would be provided to districts, allocated according to the numbers of at-risk students they have.
  • $12 million in additional funding would go schools supervised by the state Charter School Institute.
  • Starting in 2016-17, an additional amount of state income tax revenue would be funneled to the State Education Fund, on top of a diversion already required by the constitution.
  • A current distribution of $20 million to all charter schools for facilities costs would be increased by $540,000 and would automatically escalate in future years.
  • A much-disliked financial transparency mandate on school districts would be eased and districts required only to supply data to the Department of Education for inclusion on a state website. (Get background here on this contentious issue.)

Colorado’s complicated school funding system requires two bills to pay for schools every year. Base school funding, including constitutionally required inflation and enrollment increases, is contained in the annual state budget bill. (By the way, the Joint Budget Committee is struggling to make its Monday deadline to introduce that bill in the Senate.) The second measure, which which Owen is sponsoring, is called the school finance act is needed for additional school spending.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed a $200 million one-time boost in school funding next year, on top of what’s required to cover enrollment growth and inflation. The state’s school superintendents want $70 million in addition to that amount, $50 million for at-risk students and $20 million for small rural districts.

State and local operating funding for schools in the current 2014-15 school year is about $5.9 billion.

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