Democrats and Republicans offer education spending proposal

The sponsors of the Student Success Act address the media at the Capitol Thursday. From left to right: Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock; Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon; Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver.

The sponsors of the Student Success Act address the media at the Capitol Thursday. From left to right: Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock; Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon; Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver.

DENVER — School districts aren’t going to be getting the funding boost they would have if voters had approved an income tax hike last November, but Democrats and Republicans Thursday introduced a plan to begin restoring some of education funding after several years of deep cuts.

The “Student Success Act” proposes to spread $80 million across the state’s 178 school districts, which would be able to spend that money in any area they choose: teacher training, technology upgrades, expansion of certain programs.

“Our school districts are in very different places,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, one of the bill’s sponsors. “By investing $80 million in the ‘negative factor’, we’re giving school districts a lot of flexibility.”

There’s also a number of commitments to fund specific programs, those for English-language learners, literacy efforts under the READ Act, support for new teacher evaluation programs and a new transparency website that will reveal how every school district spends its money.

The proposal also allocates $13 million for charter school construction.

Full-day kindergarten, which would have been implemented statewide had voters approved the $950 million annual income tax hike last fall as part of Amendment 66, is not part of the proposal.

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, isn’t happy so much of the money is tied to specific programs.

“We appreciate that lawmakers allocated some money to help revive struggling districts, but the proposed $80 million is inadequate to schools and classrooms that lost more than $1 billion in just five years,” said CEA President Kerrie Dallman.

“We also have great concern that the majority of the funding in the proposal comes with mandates on how to use, or is one-time money. This hampers a school’s ability to make the best decisions for how to meet the needs of their students and ensure a high-quality education.”

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, an education reform advocate who is often at odds with the teachers union, disagreed, noting that the proposal offers districts real flexibility to spend the additional dollars while providing taxpayers with transparency about public schools.

He also acknowledged that the funding proposal is just a start.

“When we are as deep in the funding hole as we are now, we are not going to solve it,” Johnston said. “But the point today is: let us begin the progress of trying to make this reinvestment to make sure schools and communities have some of the resources they need most urgently to make some of the impacts they most urgently want to make on the young people that are in their classrooms.”

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