School officials not happy with education funding bill
DENVER — While it’s all very nice that state lawmakers want to increase funding to K-12 education, don’t do it with strings attached, school superintendents told the House Education Committee on Monday.
That was the strongest message the superintendents gave lawmakers as they debated two education funding bills, one that attempts to help restore a fraction of the $1 billion in cuts made to school funding during the recent recession, and the other that provides for normal K-12 spending.
Colorado’s economy is improving, the lawmakers say, just not enough to restore all of that loss. As a result, a bipartisan group of legislators is proposing doing so over time, saying it will take years to get there.
Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, whose district includes part of Delta County, and Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, introduced HB1292 to allocate an additional $300 million to the $6 billion the state spends on public schools.
But for some school superintendents, it isn’t so much that it isn’t enough — which it isn’t, they said — it’s more about how the money would come to them.
Under Amendment 23 approved by voters in 2000, the Legislature is required to increase K-12 funding by inflation regardless of how good or bad the economy is. In 2009, when the state lost billions of dollars in tax revenue, the Legislature changed the way it interpreted that amendment.
Lawmakers decided the amendment applied only to base per-pupil funding and stopped including other factors, such as school size, cost of living conditions and the number of at-risk students schools have. Lawmakers called that change “the negative factor.”
The bill calls for restoring some of that money, but only about $100 million. Lawmakers said their hope is to continue restoring that negative factor over the next decade.
The bill, however, also calls for increasing funding to other programs, such as $13 million for charter school construction, $15 million for implementing financial transparency, $20 million for reading programs, $35 million for English proficiency and $40 million to comply with testing assessments.
Superintendents said if lawmakers really wanted to help, they would focus first on restoring that negative factor.
“We need the General Assembly to put kids before payday changes, we need the General Assembly to put kids before regrowing a reserve, we need the General Assembly to put the negative factor ahead of other pet projects with strings attached,” said Bret Miles, superintendent of the Holyoke School District on the Eastern Plains. “We need the General Assembly to fight for teachers and for students now, not on a 10-year plan.”
Superintendents in the San Luis Valley reiterated those comments, saying the school districts know better than lawmakers where that money should go.
That prompted a scolding from one lawmaker.
“The bill is an attempt by these sponsors and many of us that have signed on as co-sponsors to do more,” said Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver. “We will evaluate what we can do, and it will be beyond what the School Finance Act requires. This is our attempt to do as much as we possibly can with the limited dollars we have, with all the other constraints on our budget.”