Bill increasing school funds advances at state Capitol

DENVER – A public school funding bill advanced at the Capitol on Wednesday, even though school districts are still clamoring for more money than legislators are willing to provide.

School districts have faced $1 billion in cuts since the beginning of the recession, and they want an extra $200 million next year to start to make up for the bad years. Legislators, however, are offering only half that.

Lawmakers learned Tuesday that they will have an extra $75 million for the state budget they will vote on next week. Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino said Wednesday he thinks some of that money can go to schools, but he will be careful about sending schools too much, because every dollar spent next year creates an obligation for the same amount in future years.

“It definitely has to be done in a way that lives within budget realities, both in the short-term and the long-term,” said Ferrandino, D-Denver.

He thinks legislators should know by next week exactly how much they can devote to schools.

Meanwhile, the House Education Committee advanced the Student Success Act, a bill that has provoked a revolt among Colorado school boards, superintendents and teachers.

The bill is a sort of Plan B after voters rejected a $1 billion tax increase and package of school reforms last November. The Student Success Act attempts to enact many of the reforms the Legislature presented to voters last fall, but without raising taxes. Instead, legislators would use $100 million the state has reaped from a rising economy to increase school funding.

School districts are still pushing to double the funding, and some of them object to other reforms in the bill.

One point of contention is the way schools count students. Currently, attendance from a single day is used to determine the school’s official enrollment. The Student Success Act would spend about $10 million to create a more accurate way of counting kids. But some school districts say it’s a waste of money when classroom funding has been cut so much.

Legislators did make several changes to give school districts more authority over how to spend their money. The sponsor, Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, promised more changes in the coming weeks.

“I want to make sure that everyone knows there is more work to be done,” she said.

The House Education Committee approved the bill on an 11-1 vote. Now, the House Appropriations Committee has to decide how much the state can afford to spend on the bill.