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Colorado school finance bill amended in effort to save two grant programs

Under the dome, Colorado State Capitol
Under the dome, Colorado State Capitol
Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat

P.E. aficionados will find something to like about the Public School Finance Act, after it picked up a couple of amendments.

The House on Wednesday evening added a small grant program for physical education and another to help reduce the dropout rate to Senate Bill 246.

Both grant programs are described in separate bills already approved by the House and waiting for Senate consideration. But with time running out on the 2019 session, lawmakers are looking for ways to ensure certain measures become law. The ninth-grade success program, for example, is a priority for Democratic Gov. Jared Polis. And the physical education grants are championed by state Rep. Jim Wilson, a Salida Republican and co-sponsor of the school finance bill.

“Those are two things that are definitely connected with learning, and we thought rather than let those good bills just die for lack of time, we could get those onto the finance act,” Wilson said.

The $7.4 billion school finance bill calls for average per pupil funding under the measure is $8,476, up about 4.3 percent from the current year. The measure also includes $100 million to pay down money owed to districts after recession-era budget cuts, $22 million to increase funding for special education students, and a $20 million special allocation for rural districts.

Wilson acknowledged he hasn’t seen this kind of piggy-backing on the school finance act in his seven years in the House.

But longtime Capitol observers say it’s happened in the past when time is of the essence. On Thursday afternoon, the House debated inserting other bills into legislation renewing the Public Utilities Commission.

Despite working on Saturday for the first time in years, the Senate calendar remains packed with House bills for debate. Many are controversial, and Republicans, new to the minority, have employed a variety of techniques to slow the action down.

In March, GOP senators won a lawsuit against Democrats over reading bills in their entirety. Republicans are also holding lengthy floor debates, even on bills with bipartisan support.

The House must adopt the school finance act on a final vote before sending the amendments to the Senate for either adoption or a conference committee to work out differences. The 2019 legislative session ends Friday at midnight, and lawmakers must adopt a school finance bill before then.

Wilson said House members didn’t consult with the Senate before adding the amendments.

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