Archive for the ‘State Budget’ category

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Legislators back at work for 2013 session

January 9, 2013

The Colorado Legislature opened its 2013 session today with nearly one-third newly elected, first-time state lawmakers. They are led by Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver). These top leaders took over from Sen. Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont), who was term-limited, and Rep. Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch), who relinquished his party’s control as the result of the November elections. Sen. Bill Cadman (R) and Rep. Mark Waller (R), both of Colorado Springs, lead the minority party.

After Governor Hickenlooper’s State of the State speech tomorrow morning (Thursday, January 10), legislators will get down to business.

CEA is a partner in the Higher Education Access Alliance (HEAA), the coalition that will try again to pass ASSET legislation offering reduced tuition rates to undocumented students. The Legislature rejected the last two versions of this important legislation. Colorado ASSET will create a new category of public college/university tuition, called standard-rate, for undocumented students who meet specific criteria, such as attending and graduating from a Colorado high school or obtaining a Colorado GED. ASSET is a key element in ensuring Colorado’s economic recovery by offering more students the opportunity to attend college and increasing revenues to higher education institutions.

Through the Colorado School Finance Partnership, CEA and other organizations are working with legislators on a revision of the 1994 School Finance Act. Many in education and the Legislature believe the law is outdated and must be rewritten to enable the Legislature to provide more resources while supporting what voters say they want: safe neighborhood schools with excellent teachers who ensure that each student has the opportunity for a quality education. The finance law revision must also provide adequate resources without creating “winners and losers” among districts, as we already have this situation.

A new school finance law is one of several approaches* to achieving resources our schools need, but it alone will not solve the PreK-12 funding problem. However, if it is written well and widely accepted, a new finance act could be the vehicle to implement funding from a future tax increase.

As always, the dollar amount of school funding will be a big issue this year. Governor Hickenlooper said last fall that he does not want to make any more K-12 cuts, though he thinks the state will be able to make only a modest school funding increase for FY 2013-14.

CEA President Kerrie Dallman said, “The Governor is correct to point out that the projected increase ($31.7 million after accounting for inflation and higher student enrollment) repairs very little of the damage caused by massive state budget cuts over the last five years. Our K-12 investment is more than $1 billion behind the funding level Colorado voters said they wanted more than a decade ago. Districts have made painful, unpopular budget cuts, resulting in larger class sizes, fewer curriculum offerings, and increased fees for families. State leaders still need to address this serious situation.”

*Note: We expect a decision from the State Supreme Court in the Lobato lawsuit by summer, but likely not in time for legislators to consider the ruling before adjourning in May. Last year a lower court said the State is not providing a thorough and uniform public education system, that Colorado’s public school funding system is “irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded” and violates the State Constitution. CEA Dallman recently spoke to Colorado Public Radio listeners about the lawsuit.

Election victories will lead to positive changes for many P-12 students

November 7, 2012

School districts put 38 ballot issues before Colorado voters yesterday and, based on preliminary results, just three lost in bids for a combined total of more than a billion dollars in bond issues and property tax increases. Unheard of? Yes. Local school district funding elections usually don’t win this big.

Voters clearly saw the fix districts are in after consecutive years of funding cuts. During the last four years, the state has cut aid to K-12 education by more than a billion dollars. Districts have been forced to cut budgets, draw down their reserves, and increase class sizes. This school year districts are getting the same amount of state school funding as in 2011-12 with only a slight increase for student enrollment increases. All this is on top of a poorly-funded education system that must be changed if we are ever to have long term, sustainable K-12 funding. But we digress…

Here’s what some of the winning districts will be able to do with the additional revenue the voters okayed yesterday:

BOND ISSUES (no tax increase)
Genoa-Hugo, a consolidated district south of I-70 east of Denver, will build a new elementary and high school, connecting the two new additions to the existing middle school. Greeley (Weld County 6) will rebuild a middle school in Evans. Cortez in SW Colorado will replace a high school. Otis in Northeast Colorado will replace a P-12 school. Salida will replace an elementary school. Dolores School District in the southwest part of Colorado will beef up its safety and security systems in school.

Some districts will get matching funds from the State under the BEST program (Building Excellent Schools Today).

MILL LEVY OVERRIDES (property tax increase)
Del Norte in the San Luis Valley will buy books and computers. Denver will expand music, PE, and classes in the arts, as well as increase full-day preschool and kindergarten programs. Plateau Valley on the Western Slope will renovate or replace worn-out heating and cooling equipment and purchase new textbooks. St. Vrain Valley in Longmont will maintain reasonable class sizes and expand early childhood programs. Jefferson County, the state’s largest district, will stave off $43 million in cuts. Weld County RE-1, south of Greeley, will restore remedial reading, counselors, and other programs lost to recent budget cuts.

The Colorado School Finance Project (CSFP), a CEA partner organization, has a comprehensive list of the school funding elections on its web site. On this list, you’ll see that school districts plan to use the money the voters approved to “keep going” – to save programs, keep class sizes low, provide preventive maintenance, and help offset state budget cuts.

Thank you to Colorado voters for investing in our public schools.

 

Pass HB 1345, the K-12 school funding bill

May 3, 2012

As the Legislature approaches the end of its session, the School Funding Bill (HB 1345) is only halfway through the legislative process. The Senate Education Committee has the bill on its to-do list this afternoon.

As passed by the House, HB 1345 maintains the average per-student spending at the current level of $6,474.

School funding is complicated. Calculations include a “negative factor,” ironically used to cut funding by increasing the statewide per-student base dollar amount and applying three other factors (district student population, cost of living in a district’s geographic area, and the number of at-risk students in a district). The result is a “negative factor,” then applied against a district’s total program dollars to generate a reduction in state funding.

The bottom line is that Colorado K-12 funding is a billion dollars less than where it should be under Amendment 23.

We need look no further than the facts about our K-12 student population to understand the significance of chronic underfunding:
– Since 2001, Colorado’s student population has grown nearly 12 percent per year. This year 854,265 students attend our public schools.
– Almost half of Colorado’s students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, but the State provides funding for only those eligible for free lunch under federal guidelines.
– The number of K-12 English language learners has steadily increased over the last decade.

Add the cost of implementing new K-12 laws passed in the last five years and the underfunding of Colorado’s public schools is staggering. The state study on the implementation of “CAP4K,” the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, estimates its overall cost at $206 million, from one-time preparation costs to ongoing implementation.

That’s just one new law. What will the cost be to implement SB 191, the teacher and principal effectiveness law, in 178 school districts?

We urge the Senate Education Committee to keep the funding in HB 1345. The bill is a first step in filling the terrible $1 billion gap and shoring up our failed funding system, as we work to find a more sustainable funding system for the future.

Our students depend on us to invest in them today – so they can succeed in school and become the citizens and the workforce Colorado needs.

Lawmakers pass state budget, school funding hung up in House

April 22, 2012

 Both chambers of the State Legislature have passed the state budget bill (HB 1335). The House approved it 64-1, and the Senate, 30-5. As the two versions of the budget differ, the bill now goes to a conference committee to be finalized. Then both chambers will vote on the bill before the Governor can sign it.

The school finance bill, HB 1345, is still in the House. The bill would essentially fund K-12 next year at the same level it funds K-12 this year, though this will not result in all school districts avoiding program and staff cuts for the 2012-13 school year.

The school finance bill and the state budget bill usually move through the Legislature at the same time. But HB 1345 is apparently staying in the House until lawmakers see if there is a way to provide some funding for HB 1238, the literacy bill. The Senate State Affairs Committee will hear the literacy bill Wednesday, April 25.

Last week EdNews Colorado posted a story about the controversy around the literacy bill’s lack of funding. It’s worth a read.

The bottom line is that we must invest in our students: in teaching them to read and become lifelong readers and learners, and in every aspect of their education. While it’s good news that state revenues are increasing and balancing the state budget was much easier for legislators this year, Colorado is a billion dollars behind in K-12 funding. You can’t get around that.

Calling K-3 teachers: Update on HB 1238

March 27, 2012

The House passed HB 1238 last week after approval from its Education and Appropriations Committees. The final House vote was 51-12. The bill has been extensively amended, though not with any additional dollars, and it’s worth a read over a couple of cups of coffee, especially for K-3 teachers.

The sponsors are now Reps. Massey and Hamner (original sponsors) plus Reps. Casso, Fields, Gerou, Lee, Murray, Pace, Pabon, Priola, Sonnenberg, and Swerdfeger; and Sens. Johnston and Spence (original sponsors) plus Sens. Bacon, Giron, Jahn, and Newell. As you can see, the bill has bipartisan sponsors.

When you read the bill, you’ll see a couple of nice additions to the legislative declaration, which reflects the Legislature’s intent behind the bill, but which is not part of the law.

 The House amended the definition of a “reading deficiency” to clarify specific areas of reading competency: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency including oral skills, and reading comprehension.

Despite what you may have read in news accounts, there is no mandatory retention in HB 1238. Instead, the bill requires the teacher to notify parents of a student with a diagnosed “significant reading deficiency” that state law recommends the student advance to the next grade level only if the student, despite his reading problems, is likely to maintain academic progress in the next grade level. Then the teacher, parents, other school staff members such as a reading interventionist or literacy coach, perhaps the principal, meet to make the decision about retention. If the student is completing third grade, the school’s decision goes to the superintendent who has the authority, under the current bill, to make the final decision.

To get a sense for where the Colorado business community is on HB 1238, read this column by Tim Taylor, president of Colorado Succeeds, and Kelly Brough, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

A teacher responded to the Taylor-Brough column on EdNews Colorado by saying, “Additional reading programs can have impact but it is highly-qualified teachers and reading interventionists who can make the difference. Rather than regressing to decades old practices, like retention, there seems to be more creative, collaborative, engaging solutions to these problems especially for the poor communities which are affected greatly by the lack of resources, voice and access. Even after only 6 years of teaching, I have seen reading interventionists completely cut from my district. Summer school has been cut. Our yearly schedule does not support low-income kids to sustain, develop and flourish in their reading skills throughout the summer. Kindergarten is not mandatory. Pre-school is available to some. Though the authors of this article claim that the bill is no silver-bullet, I even would go further to say that this complicated issue needs a smarter approach.

“A literacy bill sounds great to everyone. But who will it really affect in the end? Is this all about the bottom line of business? That is a piece of the puzzle, but before we go ahead and shame families through retention and throw another policy at school districts, let’s take some time to find the root causes and ramifications. I would love for the authors of this bill to visit my classroom and try to visualize what this legislation would do. Is there funding for rigorous interventions?”

We’d like to hear from K-3 teachers, or any other teachers, about HB 1238. Please comment on this post or send us an email.

You can’t talk about teaching reading (or anything) without talking about money

March 19, 2012

Two legislative committees have approved HB 1238, Ensuring Early Literacy. The bill is in the House today at 10:00 a.m. for a second reading vote.

 The House Education Committee passed the bill March 12 after a late-night hearing. The vote was 10-3: Yes by Reps. Massey, Beezley, Hamner, A. Kerr, Murray, Holbert, Summers, Joshi, Ramirez, and Schafer; NO by Reps. Solano, Peniston, and Todd.

 The House Appropriations Committee passed the bill March 14 after a requisite financial review. The vote was 12-1. Rep. Judy Solano was the only No vote in an important discussion in which the main topic should have been where the Legislature will find the resources to fund a stronger focus on early grade literacy.

The House Education Committee amended the bill. CEA worked with other groups on an extensive amendment that made some changes, but did not fundamentally alter the bill. Rep. Don Beezley amended the bill’s legislative declaration to emphasize the importance of parents helping their children learn to read and of providing classroom teachers with literacy resources. Rep. Carole Murray’s amendment clarified that districts may use reading assessments beyond those approved by the state. (We won’t see these amendments printed in the bill until after the House vote.)

These amendments are insignificant when you connect the imperative to improve students’ reading skills to the reality that there is no additional funding for the increased focus on reading in the early elementary grades.

Everyone knows district budgets have been dramatically cut for the last two years. In districts which have had to lay off classroom teachers, there are bigger classes and fewer people to help students who need the most help in learning to read. Districts have a tough time investing in preschool and full-day kindergarten, both of which would help improve reading, when their financial resources are diminished.

One district which studied HB 1238 cites potential cost increases for the new bill, including an increase in teacher costs even if it hires no more teachers. For example, if the READ Plan takes more time than the Individual Literacy Plan (ILP) in current law or the district’s RTI intervention plan, teachers will need more time. This is true if more professional development is needed for early grade teachers and training on reading intervention skills is needed for grades 4-12 teachers.

This district computed additional costs for the K-3 developmental reading assessment it already uses if its assessment is not in the new CDE resource bank, plus the cost of “incidentals,” such as mailing READ notices and plans to parents who do not participate when asked.

The district noted that K-3 teachers in schools with 70-80 percent English Language Learners will be required to write and implement a READ plan for nearly every student.

Talking about the need for funding for HB 1238 is not a smokescreen. Teachers understand better than anyone that a child’s reading skills are the foundation of all learning and a major indicator of whether a child will succeed in school. Teachers strive to ensure that all children to learn to read – and read well so they succeed in life. Teaching reading, like teaching every school subject, takes money.