Educators on board with “future” school finance act

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.

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