School funding measure draws bipartisan support
DENVER — With the state’s economy recovering and additional money pouring into state coffers from marijuana taxes, Colorado is poised to direct an additional $300 million in state funding to K-12 education.
A proposal on how to do that, allocating that new funding for kindergarten, literacy programs, English-language learners, charter schools and improved technology, nearly drew bipartisan support from the House Education Committee on Wednesday.
House Bill 1292, dubbed the “Student Success Act”, passed out of the committee on an 11-1 vote after a number of small changes to the bill were approved.
But the state’s largest teacher’s union and one of the most conservative Republicans at the Capitol — strange political bedfellows, to be sure — aren’t on board yet, both pushing for more more of the money to be directed to school districts without directives from the state about how it should be spent.
“This is not the answer we’re looking for,” said Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, who argued that lawmakers could be setting a dangerous precedent of backfilling deep cuts to schools by telling schools how to spend the new money.
Of the $300 million, $100 million will go to districts to spend however they choose — to offest what’s known as “the negative factor”, the sum of the cuts made since the recession began.
“What we’d like to see is the districts that had to cut their own funding to be able to restore the funding for the programs and people that matter to them,” said Bruce Caughey, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives.
“There’s been a billion dollars cut out of school district budgets across Colorado. If we’re going to restore that funding, it needs to come at the local level, not for specific programs or labor-intensive or cost-intensive activities.”
The sponsors, Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, both insist they’ve listened to school districts.
“We have been listening very carefully to our school boards, our superintendents and teachers, parents, taxpayers and a wide variety of education advocacy groups,” Rep. Hamner said.”We’re committed to achieving the broadest possible consensus around improving opportunities and outcomes for Colorado schoolkids.”
“Education is the best investment we can make and I am pleased to see my Democrat colleagues agree to support funding to restore these cuts,” Murray added. “The broad, bipartisan support is a testament to our work engaging all stakeholders, including teachers and parents, to help draft the best bill possible.”