Posted tagged ‘public education budget cuts’

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.

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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.

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.

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.

Kids, not cuts!

December 7, 2012

All eyes are on Congress and the important work our federal lawmakers must do before they go home for the holidays. Right now you can add your voice to the millions of calls Association members are making to their members of Congress by calling Colorado’s U.S. Senators:  Mark Udall and Michael Bennett.

Right now – before December 13 –  we are asking CEA members and Friends of Public Eduation to call Sens. Udall and Bennett to ask for their help – and to tell them how the across-the-board cuts would affect Colorado students and schools. You can call our Senators from this web site where you will find a phone number and message. Enter your zip code to be connected to Senator Udall or Senator Bennett where you can leave a brief personal message.

Automatic, across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect on January 2 unless Congress finds a solution. Our Association believes lawmakers should take a balanced approach to this problem, ensuring that funding for national education priorities is not cut (Title I, IDEA, School Improvement, and Rural Education grants).

In Colorado, the across-the-board cuts would result in far fewer federal dollars for what we know are essential public school programs for our students. Our schools and students have already been hit with four years of cuts by the Legislature (already $1 billion), and we know how budget cuts impact real students, real classrooms, and real educators.

Want to learn more about the pending across-the-board cuts to public schools?

Watch a short video by CEA President Kerrie Dallman who went to Washington, DC to lobby Colorado’s Congressional Delegation. National media interviewed Kerrie. She told the Colorado across-the-board cuts story, saying we’d not only get fewer dollars for programs, but the cuts would certainly mean a loss of educator jobs in Colorado.

Take the Kids, Not Cuts Pledge and help Congress make the right choice for our students. Someone needs to stand up for students. That’s YOU and all Association members. US!

Find out about the specific cuts to Colorado students and their public schools that will happen unless we get Congress to change its plan.

Share your story about how federal budget cuts would affect your students.

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.

 

Governor to Legislature: Hold on a second, you’re coming back next week

May 10, 2012

Lawmakers stayed up until midnight last night, wrapping up their 120-day session without wrapping up everything they had been working on.

Some bills that were waiting for second readings got caught in legislative maneuvering over a bill to make civil unions legal in Colorado, while time ran out on the process. Legislators were left to figure out how to amend the best among those bills onto others.

HB 1345, the School Finance Act, was amended twice with language from the school discipline bill and the basic skills testing bill.

The money in JN 1345 stayed the same as it was when the bill was nearly finalized  in the Senate last week. Added to the bill was language from SB 46, the school discipline bill, and SB 47, the basic skills bill. The additions:

  • The law will now include amended statutory grounds for suspending or expelling a student by increasing administration and school board discretion, making expulsion mandatory only if a student brings or possesses a firearm at school. The law requires student conduct and discipline codes to include criteria that distinguish between minor code violations and behavior that will result in a referral to law enforcement officials. It also requires school boards to have specific policies for the prevention of sexual assault in schools.
  • The addition of language from SB 47 provides $1 million from the State Education Fund for districts to administer a basic skills test for students in grades 9-12. Assessment results are to be included in students’ ICAPs and used to guide their coursework in order to avoid the need for remedial classes when students go to college.

Governor Hickenlooper called a special session to begin May 14 to address a number of issues that died on the calendar last night when the House held up the civil unions bill – but there are no public education bills among those the Legislature will review in the special session.