Despite being billed by Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration as 4.6 percent, the full impact of cuts to basic state support of K-12 education in 2010-11 is 6.12 percent, Colorado school districts learned Tuesday.

CapRitter111009Ritter and budget director Todd Saliman unveiled the budget plans to reporters last Friday and formally submitted it to the legislative Joint Budget Committee during a packed hearing Tuesday afternoon.

In both forums, and in documents presented both days, the K-12 cut is listed as 4.56 percent, or $260 million. That’s calculated against the amount of school aid in the current 2009-10 budget.

The full proposed cut is $374.1 million, or 6.12 percent, according to a Department of Education spreadsheet distributed to all school districts Tuesday afternoon. That cut is calculated against the full amount school districts would otherwise have expected to receive in 2010-11.

The cuts for the state’s 10 largest districts are significant. Here’s a rundown:

  • Adams 12 – $18.2 million
  • Aurora – $15.9 million
  • Boulder Valley – $12.1 million
  • Cherry Creek – $22.4 million
  • Colorado Springs 11 – $12.9 million
  • Denver – $33.8 million
  • Douglas County – $25.2 million
  • Jefferson – $35 million
  • Poudre –  $10.7 million
  • St. Vrain Valley – $10.9 million

Other major districts and their proposed cuts include: Academy ($9 million), Brighton ($6.5 million), Commerce City ($3 million), Eagle ($3 million), Greeley ($8.2 million), Lewis-Palmer ($6 million), Littleton ($6.4 million), Mesa ($9.6 million), Mapleton ($2.4 million), Pueblo City ($7.5 million), Pueblo County ($3.6 million), Thompson ($6.3 million) and Westminster ($4.5 million).

The cuts are in total program funding, which is enrollment multiplied by a per-pupil base amount and then adjusted district-by-district by what are called the “factors” – such things as cost of living, district size and at-risk students. The largest factor is cost of living, which is what the administration proposes to trim to achieve the budget cuts it needs. The budget proposes a new “equity” factor, which is a calculation used to ensure that every district gets the same percentage cut.

Lobbyists, bureaucrats and others packed the JBC hearing room during the governor's budget briefing Nov, 10.
Lobbyists, bureaucrats and others packed the JBC hearing room during the governor's budget briefing Nov, 10.

On top of the $260 million being cut from the factors, the governor is proposing to not spend an additional $94.7 million that otherwise would have been added to school spending in 2010-11, bringing the total cut to $354 million from an original estimate of $5.8 billion in spending for that year. Part of the overall cut is  $110 million that originally was part of the 2009-10 education budget but which lawmakers are expected to pull back in January. When that happens, districts will receive about 2 percent less than they originally expected this school year.

A separate pot of state school aid called categorical funding isn’t affected by the proposed cuts. That money is used to support transportation, special education, gifted and talented and some other programs and totals about $492 million in the current, 2009-10 budget year. The governor’s office also proposes to basically hold funding steady for full-day kindergarten and the Colorado Preschool Program.

However the reductions are calculated, the reduced funding could be felt at the school level in larger class sizes, staff layoffs, flat or reduced salaries and other service reductions.

But, lots can happen before the final amounts of state aid are determined. Changing enrollment patterns could hurt some districts and help others Quarterly state revenue forecasts in December and March could change the budget picture for good or ill. And, while the governor starts the bidding every year with his proposed budget, the final budget is written and approved by the legislature.

And, the proposed cuts at some point may fall under a legal cloud, because same education advocates believe the governor is too narrowly interpreting Amendment 23, the constitutional provision that mandates annual increases in K-12 spending if enrollment and inflation rise – and then tacks a 1 percent bonus on top. In the past the legislature basically has applied each year’s A23 multiplier to all K-12 spending. Ritter in essence is proposing it be applied only to part.

Some advocates will push to blunt education cuts by raising state revenues. Ritter is proposing raising about $130 million in revenue for the 2010-11 budget but ending about a dozen tax credits and exemptions, including the sales tax exemption on candy and soft drinks.

Some interests may lobby for more, but it’s also possible that the legislature won’t approve the full Ritter revenue menu, meaning deeper spending cuts would have to be made. Spending on K-12 schools, which consumes about 44 percent of the state’s general fund, is a large target.

For higher education, Ritter’s budget anticipates a decline in state and federal stimulus support from the current $706 million to $650 million. But, total college and university spending would grow slightly to about $1.98 billion, because the governor is proposing another 9 percent tuition increase for Colorado resident students.

Other features of Ritter’s proposed $7.1 billion general fund budget include a 2.5 percent pay cut for about 25,000 state employees, another suspension of the senior homestead exemption, a $28 million cut in Medicaid, transfer of $26 million in tobacco settlement money into the general fund and a delay in the opening the state’s new maximum security prison.

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