Posted tagged ‘Colorado Legislature’

Educators on board with “future” school finance act

May 8, 2013

Throughout the legislative session which ends tonight, CEA, CASE, and CASB worked together on amendments to SB 213, the Future School Finance Act, and demonstrated their mutual support for the bill that re-writes the 1994 Public School Finance Act.

This redesign work was undertaken two years ago by a broad-based coalition including the School Finance Partnership. The coalition’s effort will likely result in a statewide funding measure on which citizens will vote next November (possible funding measures are still in the ballot titling process and will not be known for some time).

SB 213 calls for financial investments in critical areas of need: preschool programs for at-risk children, full-day kindergarten for all students, and more support for special education students and English language learners.

“This bill is game-changing legislation that we need to fix Colorado’s gaping holes in education funding,” CEA President Kerrie Dallman said. “For too long, we’ve seen class sizes increase for students, fees increase for parents, and demands increase for educators as districts have chopped away at the courses we offer our students and cut back education jobs.”

Dallman observed that the Legislature’s school funding work has greater urgency now because of what educators face beginning in the fall: new statewide academic standards, new student assessments, a new literacy law for K-3 students, and a new educator effectiveness and evaluation system.

“Education in Colorado has been through a seismic upheaval of reform during the same time we’ve been cutting budgets, and we know reforms will fail to meet students’ needs without proper funding,” Dallman said. “For many years, state education laws have passed with little regard for the resources that make them meaningful for student growth and achievement. We’re pleased that SB 213 begins to bridge the funding gaps the Legislature created.”

SB 213 will not go into effect until 2015-16 (the current finance law continues for two more years), and then only if voters approve $1 billion in new revenue that is likely to be on this fall’s ballot. Most education leaders say that while SB 213 is not a perfect bill, it will eventually bring significant new money into our schools and help us implement the new education laws.

Meanwhile, the focus is not entirely on SB 213 as we need a school funding law for the coming school year. This is SB 260 which both legislative chambers passed last week, the theme of which is NO MORE CUTS. The bill increases the statewide average per-pupil funding by $173 above this year’s level, putting it at $6,652 for the 2013-14 school year. Total program – both local and state funding shares – will be $5.508 billion, an estimated increase of about $210 million. Statewide base per pupil funding for next year is $5,954.28, which includes a 1.9 percent increase for inflation.

One of the leftovers of four years of recession is the “negative factor” in the school finance act. It has been used to cut funding by initially increasing the statewide base and applying the three traditional funding factors: district size, cost-of-living in the district, and the number of at-risk students in a district. Then the negative factor is applied against a district’s total program, generating an overall reduction in state funding.

The negative factor did not disappear in SB 260. For 2013-14 it is 15.48 percent. But the funding bill applies $40 million to buy down the negative factor – and that’s an additional improvement in SB 260 which gives districts more money.

Some colleges to offer in-state tuition rates to ASSET students this summer

April 30, 2013

It took 10 years of legislation, but there were smiles all around Monday when Governor John Hickenlooper signed Colorado ASSET (Senate Bill 33) into law on the campus of Metropolitan State University. Some state colleges and universities will begin offering in-state tuition rates to ASSET students this summer, while all public Colorado colleges and universities will offer the rate to eligible undocumented students this fall.

The SB 33 implementation process is fully underway. The Colorado Department of Higher Education has a role in implementing the new law. Colleges and universities have a role in setting up their systems to determine if students are eligible for ASSET after they apply and are accepted.

The best source of information is Colorado ASSET, the home of the Colorado Higher Education Access Alliance (HEAA). Students, parents, college officials, high school teachers and counselors, and members of the public can get information on this site about how ASSET is being implemented.

We hope you will read the historic SB 33 and thank the bill’s sponsors for their work this session. You can find their contact information on the Legislature’s web site directory.

ASSET Implementation

 

 

 

 

Legislators doing double duty on school funding bills this session

April 12, 2013

The Senate Education Committee approved the new Senate Bill 260, the “regular” school finance act bill, on April 11. The bill will fund schools in 2013-14 and is the second school funding bill the Legislature has tackled this year. Its sponsors are Sens. Evie Hudak (D-Arvada) and Pat Steadman (D-Denver), along with Rep. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon).

The proposal includes about $5.5 billion in total program funding for school districts, some $200 million above what is in the current year budget. SB 260 funds inflation at 1.9% plus projected student enrollment growth, and “buys down” the negative factor.

This is the factor which has reduced each school district’s total program dollars and, overall in four years, reduced statewide school funding by more than $1 billion. Buying down this factor means districts would get more money next year, as the factor would be smaller than it is now. SB 260 cuts the negative factor by about $35 million.

The bill also includes increased categorical funding for special education; funding for all National Board Certified teachers to get a stipend; and increased slots for at-risk preschool students.

District-by-district numbers for SB 260 have not been released yet – maybe Monday.

The “future” school finance act, SB 213, is also in the mix, but has slowed from the initial plan of quick passage by both chambers. Sponsored by Sen. Michael Johnston (D-Denver), the bill was amended in the Senate before final passage April 2. The House Education Committee is scheduled to see it April 15.

Assuming SB 213 passes, its implementation is based on passage of a statewide ballot measure to increase state revenues for K-12 funding. If the voters approve the ballot measure (in the initiative titling process right now), SB 213 will take effect in 2015-16.

CEA has no position on SB 260 at this time and an “Amend” position on SB 213.

Lawmakers tackle State Budget in better economic climate

March 27, 2013

Legislators have begun reviewing SB 230, the state budget bill called the “Long Bill,” as the state’s economy continues to improve. Next year’s state budget will be about $1 billion larger than the current year’s because of increased tax revenues. State officials say job growth is strong, though the unemployment rate is not declining as rapidly as desired and more than $1 billion in across-the-board federal government cuts are expected to negatively impact our state’s economic growth.

Unlike states where the Governor initiates the state budget bill,  this is the job of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee (JBC) in Colorado. The bipartisan committee’s six members create the annual appropriations bill for state government operations. JBC members include three from the Senate Appropriations Committee and three from the House Appropriations Committee.

This year’s JBC members are Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), Sen. Mary Hodge (D-Brighton), Sen. Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs), Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder), Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Denver), and Rep. Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen). Sen. Steadman chairs the JBC; Rep. Levy is the vice-chair.

The Long Bill review should not be as painful as the same review was in each of the last four years when state tax revenues tanked during the recession and the Legislature had to slash budgets. The state’s improved fiscal health means more money for many state programs. P-12 could see an increase of about three percent, though this is far short of the money needed to fully apply Amendment 23, the constitutional provision requiring annual increases for education.

The Long Bill includes about $30 million more in support for Colorado’s public colleges and universities, bringing the state’s support up to about one-quarter of total higher education spending, most of which is funded through student tuition. It appears there will be more money for higher education construction and maintenance, as well.

The Senate deals with the Long Bill this week, followed by consideration by the House the week of April 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

State revenues, school funding: The good news, the complicated news

March 20, 2013

Colorado’s official March Revenue Forecast is “brighter days ahead.” According to state officials, our economy continues to recover from the 2008 recession with an anticipated increase in revenue for the 2013-14 state budget, somewhere between $194M and $256M.

Will that mean an increase to K-12 schools? We don’t know yet. First, we have to have a school finance bill, and this year there are two.

Lawmakers learned about one such bill, called the Future School Finance Act (Senate Bill 213), through presentations and testimony that went into the late evening Monday. CEA Executive Director Tony Salazar spoke on behalf of CEA members, saying that Association leaders and staff are studying how the bill will address the “gaping holes” in public education funding.

The Legislature’s $1 billion in school funding cuts over the last four years have resulted in job losses, bigger classes, more fees for families, and reduced courses offerings and opportunities for students, at the same time as educators are required to implement unfunded state mandates.

The Lobato school funding lawsuit outlines the state’s longtime school funding problems. The Colorado Supreme Court heard oral argument March 7 in the landmark case in which the trial court judge found no rational relationship between the outcomes the state expects from K-12 and how it funds schools. Some estimates, including those of the CEA-backed Colorado School Finance Project (COSFP), are that Colorado’s K-12 system needs more than $4 billion to meet current resource needs.

Salazar told the Senate Education Committee that CEA has worked in the Colorado School Finance Partnership to craft a new school finance act, one that would replace the 1994 finance act currently in use. He said, “We are examining SB 213 to see how it will impact the growth and achievement of students across Colorado and the vitality of the education profession. We agree with much of the bill’s premise and components, but believe there is room to improve it to properly address education funding.”

Salazar said the bill is potentially a game-changer for funding, but that it should not pit districts against each other. “It’s not just policy debate for us because we will live though the human implications of the bill’s provisions every single day. We need to get this bill right,” Salazar stated.

Lawmakers expect to see numerous amendments to SB 213 beginning today. We anticipate that the bill will move swiftly through the legislative process. Its implementation, however, is conditional, based on passage of a statewide ballot measure to increase state revenues for K-12 funding. If the voters do not approve the ballot measure, being developed separately from the legislation, SB 213 will not be the law – another “regular” school funding bill will go into effect instead.

This is why legislators will see two funding bills this session. Lawmakers have not introduced the regular bill yet, though they will do so soon. They will be doing double duty between now and the May 8 end of the legislative session, juggling two school funding bills that will both directly affect the lives of Colorado students and their families, teachers, support staff, school administrators, and school boards.

As SB 213 is discussed at the Capitol, we will cover aspects of it here and review the regular school funding bill too.

Thank you, Colorado Legislators, for passing SB 33 and helping more students attend college

March 9, 2013

On Friday, the House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 33, the legislation that will make it possible for an undocumented student to attend college in Colorado at the in-state tuition rate. The House was the last stop for the bill before it lands on Governor Hickenlooper’s desk for his signature.

All the Democrats in the both the Senate and the House voted for the bill, along with six Republicans. We ask CEA members to thank all the legislators who voted for the bill, with special appreciation to these Republicans: Sens. Larry Crowder (Alamosa), Owen Hill (Colorado Springs), and Greg Brophy (Wray); Reps. Cheri Gerou (Evergreen), Kevin Priola (Henderson), and Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff (Pueblo). You can find all legislators’ email addresses and web sites in the General Assembly’s Legislative Directory.

Watch for news about Governor Hickenlooper’s plans for signing SB 33.

Thursday’s Supreme Court hearing on school funding may lead to legislative action on long term problem

March 8, 2013

On March 7, The Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the State’s appeal of the December 2011 decision that Colorado’s public school funding system is unconstitutional. CEA and other public school funding advocates hope the Court’s decision in the Lobato lawsuit will be the turning point in a decades-long effort to achieve adequate, sustainable K-12 education funding.

In the state’s highest court this week, attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Lobato case – students, parents, and school districts – argued that the December 2011 Denver District Court ruling be upheld. The State of Colorado argued that the Supreme Court should reject the ruling and, in essence, leave school funding just as it is today.

In the lower court, Judge Sheila Rappaport found, after a lengthy trial, that Colorado’s public school funding system is “irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded” and violates the State Constitution. Key findings in her decision are on the Children’s Voices web site.

Judge Rappaport ordered the State to design, fund, and implement a system of public school funding which guarantees that all students graduate with the knowledge and skills they need for citizenship, postsecondary education, and the workforce. This work falls to the Colorado Legislature.

Kathy Gebhardt, plaintiffs’ legal counsel, said, “This case has been ongoing for eight years. During that time, the violation of Colorado children’s constitutional rights has continued: school budgets have been cut, mandates added, class sizes increased, school hours decreased, student populations increased, and the number of teachers decreased. The trial court, after hearing evidence for five weeks, found that the current system of school finance is not only unconstitutional, but unconscionable.”

CEA and other education organizations have helped fund the plaintiffs’ legal work through the non-profit Children’s Voices. It’s worth your time to look at the Children’s Voices site, where you can follow the case for changing Colorado’s system of school funding.

The Supreme Court will likely issue its decision by the end of 2013.


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