Colorado's long-underfunded public school system would receive an additional $300 million in funding and increased per-pupil dollars, under a pair of school finance bills that cleared a House committee on March 19.
However, the battle over how …
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However, the battle over how those dollars are to be managed — and whether the funding will be enough to appease vocal superintendents — is just getting started, as the education budget process began to play out at the Capitol last week.
This year's K-12 school funding efforts seek to provide a badly needed infusion of resources to school districts across the state, through a bipartisan education funding bill and the annual School Finance Act.
“This is our very best attempt at making sure we start making progress from some very difficult financial years,” Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, told the House Education committee.
The School Finance Act would increase per-pupil funding by 2.8 percent, which would allow that funding to keep up with inflation. The bill also provides $17 million for preschool and full-day kindergarten.
Immediately before the bill received committee approval, the same committee gave the go-ahead for a separate, bipartisan school funding measure.
The Student Success Act would provide millions of dollars for school programs and would replace some of the education funding that had been a casualty of budget cuts in recent years.
The bill — which received House sponsorship from Reps. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock — would give schools $200 million in additional funding. That sum includes $20 million for reading programs and about $30 million for programs designed for English language learners.
“They are some of our most vulnerable and neediest populations of students,” Hamner said.
The money would also buy down the so-called education funding “negative factor” —recession era education funding cuts that total about $1 billion. The bill would provide $100 million for the purpose of backfilling some of those cuts.
The bills are a way for the Legislature to provide more money for schools on the heels of last year's failed school finance tax measure, which voters soundly rejected in November.
An increase in education funding is a top priority for lawmakers and Gov. John Hickenlooper, given the state's upbeat economic forecast, which was recently presented to the Joint Budget Committee.
But this year's K-12 funding efforts are not going to please everyone.
School superintendents and other education advocates are asking for more money for the negative factor buydown than what the Legislature expects to provide.
School district leaders have also voiced displeasure over an area in the Student Success Act that seeks to change how pupils are counted for the purposes of a school's official enrollment — something that districts say is a waste of time and money.
And there have been arguments over school districts' lack of autonomy over how the money will be spent. The funding will have stings attached, which doesn't please opponents who say that the Legislature shouldn't dictate how districts use that money.
“I'd like to restore the negative factor to the best of our ability with no strings attached,” said Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, the only member of the House Education Committee to vote against the Student Success Act. “I think that has been a clear message from our school districts.”
Hamner acknowledged those concerns, but said that it's important to realize that the state can't get in over its head.
“We just have to balance all these needs with what the state budget can really commit to over a period of years,” she said.
The bills now head to the House Appropriations Committee, prior to receiving full votes in the House.
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