Reductions in state support for K-12 schools in 2010-11 may be larger than previously proposed, based on new state revenue predictions issued Friday.

Additional cuts could be between $65 and $70 million.

Gov. Bill Ritter’s previously announced K-12 spending plan would cut aid by 4.56 percent, or $260 million, from the amount of school aid in the current 2009-10 budget. But, the proposed cut would be $374.1 million, or 6.12 percent, when calculated against the full amount school districts would otherwise have expected to receive in 2010-11.

The $65-$70 million figure is derived from a grid of options prepared by Todd Herreid, a legislative finance analyst. The grid lists possible K-12 cuts based on different increases or decreases in state general fund support.

Todd Saliman, director of the State Office of Planning and Budgeting, told EdNews Friday that Herreid’s estimate of an additional $67 million cut is probably in the ballpark. Speaking earlier to lawmakers, Saliman said, “I suspect our model will produce a similar result” to what Herreid concluded.

But, Saliman and his boss, the governor, both stressed Friday that the executive branch needs to carefully study the latest revenue forecasts before adjusting its 2010-11 budget-cutting proposals.

“We have no sense [yet] what role K-12 will play” in an adjusted budget plan, Ritter told reporters Friday afternoon.

“We have more tough choices to make,” Ritter said, even as he found some hope in the conclusion by legislative economists that the recession in Colorado is over – but that recovery will be long and slow.

Earlier in the day, legislative chief economist Natalie Mullis told legislative leaders, budget committee members and other lawmakers, “In Colorado the recession is over; the recovery is beginning.” But, she added, “The end of the recession does not mean the end of troubles.”

Mullis and her colleagues now estimate that state tax revenue available to spending in 2010-11 will be $1.5 billion less than what’s budgeted to be spent in the current, 2009-10 budget.

That estimate is difficult to translate into possible specific cuts, because it doesn’t take into account the governor’s proposed reductions nor any changes in inflation or caseloads such as school enrollment, prison inmates or Medicaid patients.

The recession and declining state revenues have set school districts up for a potential triple financial whammy.

  • Lawmakers are expected to cut current school aid by $110 million (a little under 2 percent) after they convene next month.
  • Overall enrollment and enrollment of at-risk students has risen faster than was predicted when school funding was set last spring. In a “normal” budget year, the legislature would reimburse districts for such increases with a mid-year budget addition. But, there are fears the legislature won’t do that this year. Saliman told EdNews that the administration hasn’t yet decided what to recommend on the growth issue.
  • And, 2010-11 spending could be cut by 6 percent or more, depending on what lawmakers decide to do with Ritter’s plan. Cuts of that magnitude are unprecedented and would rely on a narrow interpretation of Amendment 23. Many education interest groups disagree with Ritter’s interpretation but see little or no way to avoid using it. School boards around the state already are looking at budget cuts for the 2010-11 school year. The situation has worrisome implications for class sizes, teacher pay and even the length of the school year.

The revenue forecasts sparked some black humor by legislators Friday.

“I think we’re going to take the entire state budget to Black Hawk and put it on No. 7,” joked Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, a member of the Joint Budget Committee.

“We haven’t decided on 7 yet,” replied Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder and JBC chair.

Do your homework