House finds more funds for K-12 schools

The Colorado House found a little bit more money Thursday to put toward the state’s public schools next year.

As a result, instead of an anticipated $250 million cut to the $5.19 billion the state plans to spend on K–12 education for the 2011-12 school year, the state will cut it by $160 million.

Initially, Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed a $332 million cut to help offset a $1 billion revenue shortfall.

Lawmakers, however, said they couldn’t guarantee the cut won’t end up being higher because it relies on more state revenues coming in than anticipated by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

This year’s School Finance Act, introduced by Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and chairman of the House Education Committee, calls for the immediate transfer of $22.5 million from the State Education Fund, and an additional $67.5 million from a soon-to-be-created Public School Fund. That new fund will have money, though, only if the next revenue forecast in June comes in higher than expected.

Legislative economists have said sales and income tax revenues do seem to be coming in higher than predicted in their quarterly forecast released in March, but they don’t know by how much.

“Let us be clear, colleagues, this is not a victory either for any of us here or for public schools,” Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster, told lawmakers. “We are not putting more money with this bill into public education. We are simply cutting less.”

Peniston said schools still are faced with doing such things as eliminating full-day kindergarten programs, laying off workers and increasing class sizes.

The cuts to education were part of a budget deal worked out between Senate Democrats, who want to minimize those cuts, and House Republicans, who want to put $140 million into a reserve account and provide tax breaks to businesses.

Beverly Ingle, president of the Colorado Education Association, said she is pleased the Legislature found a way to ease the cut, but she reminded lawmakers they come on top of a $260 million cut to education in the current year’s budget.

“We still need to pursue every angle to reverse the horrible trend of slashing funding from our schools,” Ingle said.

The measure heads back to the Senate for a final vote.


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