Initial vote gives schools $300 million boost

DENVER — Now that the latest revenue forecast is in and money to the state hasn’t decreased, lawmakers are going ahead with a plan to restore funding to K-12 education.

On a nearly unanimous vote, the House Education Committee approved HB1292 Wednesday to increase funding to public schools by about $300 million over what it got this year.

Rep. Millie Hamner, the Dillon Democrat whose district includes Delta County, said lawmakers had hoped to increase that amount, but just aren’t yet able to do so.

“One of the challenges that we’ve had to deal with ... the budget forecast wasn’t quite as optimistic as we were kind of hoping for,” said Hamner, who introduced that bill with Castle Rock Republican Rep. Carole Murray. “We just always have to balance these needs with what the state budget can really commit to over a period of years.”

But not all lawmakers were in agreement.

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said the plan places too many restrictions on the state’s 178 school districts, saying it doesn’t give them enough flexibility to put the extra money wherever administrators see fit.

Part of Holbert’s issue stems from cuts the Legislature made to public schools during the recent recession.
 By law, the Legislature is required to increase K-12 funding by inflation and population growth. But when the state lost billions of dollars in revenues over a four-year period, it changed the way it interprets that law.

Instead of increasing funding to K-12 school based on the prior year’s total funding, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agreed that the additional money school districts receive each year for such factors as school size and cost of living shouldn’t be included as the base for future funding.

They called that “the negative factor” because it is the opposite of those positive factors.

Hamner said her bill attempts to make up for that change, but because it’s now reached about $1 billion, she said the state can’t afford to restore it all at once.

Her bill provides for $100 million to restore those dollars, with a plan to continue to do so over the next 10 years.

Holbert said that’s just too long, and the bill doesn’t address how the Legislature will deal with future cuts to public education.

“This year we have the particularly important responsibility (of) setting the precedent of how will the negative factor be treated in the future,” he said. “I’d like to restore the negative factor to the best of our ability with no strings attached, no new mandates. That has been the clear message from our school districts.”

The bill heads to the House Appropriates Committee for more discussion.


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