From the Statehouse

State Ed Fund headed towards $1.6 billion

As voters prepare to decide whether to approve a $950 million tax increase for K-12 schools, new revenue forecasts released by state economists Thursday project a large windfall for a supplemental fund for public schools.

Colorado CapitolThe State Education Fund (SEF), an account dedicated to K-12 spending, will receive a $1.1 billion infusion after the current budget year ends on June 30, according to both legislative and executive branch economists. That, combined with other revenue, means the fund will have a balance of $1.6 billion in the upcoming 2013-14 budget year.

A prominent supporter of the ballot measure that would increase K-12 funding says he’s not too concerned that voters will question a tax increase when the state has so much education cash in the bank.

“These are one-time funds,” said Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder. “This is just the aberrations of the economy. … You can explain it that way very easily.”

The size of the SEF was an issue during legislative debates earlier this year over Senate Bill 13-213, co-sponsored by Heath and the brainchild of Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver. That new law proposes substantial changes in the state’s school funding system, including more money for preschool, kindergarten and at-risk students. But the new system won’t kick in unless voters approve a tax increase to pay for it.

State Education Fund chart
Click to open larger varsion.

As SB 13-213 was moving through the legislature, some Republicans argued that money from the growing SEF should be used to fund K-12 improvements before asking the voters for new revenue. Legislative Democrats supported Johnston’s plan, but some were unhappy that more SEF money wasn’t used to further increase school funding in the upcoming 2013-14 school year.

Legislative leaders, the Joint Budget Committee and the Hickenlooper administration successfully resisted those efforts, arguing that the SEF should be used as a cushion to supplement school spending over several years and to help avoid too much education pressure on the General Fund, the state’s main account.

Henry Sobanet, director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, made that point Thursday. He said that stockpiling money in the SEF “has solidified the financial situation for the whole state of Colorado in a significant way. … That policy decision I believe will pay dividends for many years into the future.”

Heath and state economists are correct in saying the SEF is volatile. The fund was below $600 million a year from 2007-08 until this year, and the balance is expected to drop to $827 million in 2014-15.

Concerned about the state of the SEF, the 2012 legislature decided that any excess state revenues at the end of 2012-13 budget year should be rolled into the fund. (Another, smaller rollover was ordered during the 2013 session.) Each of the five sets of revenue forecasts made since the 2012 session adjourned have shown growth in state revenues, meaning that the income to the SEF now is considerably larger than envisioned when the rollover plan was laid.

The fund also receives a mandated one-third of 1 percent of state income tax revenues, estimated at $484 million next year.

The economy’s improving, but …

Economists from Sobanet’s OSPB and from the staff of the Legislative Council make revenue forecasts to the budget committee every June, September, December and March, providing key baseline information to the governor and lawmakers at various steps in the annual budget cycle.

The two sets of forecasts often agree on overall trends but disagree on specific numbers. But in the latest documents both agreed that the SEF would receive the $1.1 billion rollover.

Natalie Mullis, chief legislative economist, told lawmakers, “We have seen the economy firm up better than we expected.” The revenue figure “was significantly higher than we expected it to be.”

But, Mullis warned, about half of the higher revenues were driven by capital gain taxes on taxpayers interested in taking gains before federal tax law changes kick in. “We don’t expect that to continue.”

Sobanet agreed with that analysis, and both forecasts expects state revenues to grow more slowly in 2013-14 than they did in 2012-13.

“Even though it feels like the economy is strong and moving forward, it’s still very fragile,” Mullis said.

Committee members had plenty of questions about the economy and other issues, but no one raised the matter of the SEF and future education spending.

power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: House Speaker Brian Bosma

PHOTO: Sarah Glen

Find more entries on education power players as they publish here.

Vitals: Republican representing District 88, covering parts of Marion, Hancock and Hamilton counties. So far, has served 31 years in the legislature, 9 of those as Speaker of the House. Bosma is a lawyer at the firm Kroger, Gardis & Regas.

Why he’s a power player: Bosma was House Speaker in 2011, when the state passed its large education reform package, creating the first voucher program for students from low-income families. Along with Rep. Bob Behning, Bosma helped develop the state’s voucher program bill as well as the bill that expanded charter school efforts that year. As a party and chamber leader, he plays a major role in setting House Republicans’ legislative agendas.

On toeing the party line: With the debate over state-funded preschool front and center during this year’s session, Bosma has expressed far more enthusiasm than his fellow Republicans for expanding the state’s program. Indeed, Bosma has long been a supporter of state-sponsored preschool. Currently, low-income families in five counties can apply for vouchers to use at high-quality preschool providers. Bosma has said he’d like to see that number triple, if not more.

Recent action: In 2016, Bosma ushered through one of the few teacher-focused bills that became law in the wake of news that some districts in the state were struggling to hire teachers. The bill created a state scholarship fund for prospective teachers, and began awarding money to students this year.

A perhaps little-known fact: In the late 1980s, Bosma worked at the Indiana Department of Education as the legislative adviser to H. Dean Evans, the state superintendent at that time. Then, as with this year’s House Bill 1005, lawmakers advocated to make the state superintendent an appointed position, a bill Bosma is carrying this year.

Who supports him: In past elections, Bosma has received campaign contributions from Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; Stand for Children, a national organization that supports education reform and helps parents to organize; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country.

Conversely, given his support for choice-based reform, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Bosma an “F” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.

Legislative highlights via Chalkbeat:

Bills in past years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Also check out our list of bills to watch this year.

getting to know you

Colorado Sen. Nancy Todd is making up for all the times she was quiet in school

PHOTO: Sarah Glen

Throughout the legislative session, Chalkbeat is asking members of the House and Senate education committees to share a little bit about themselves — and their legislative priorities. In this installment, meet Sen. Nancy Todd.

Nancy Todd, an Aurora Democrat, is a former social studies teacher who has spent her retirement — if you want to call it that — at the Capitol helping shape education policy.

Since 2005, Todd has played a role supporting — and opposing — some of the state’s most ambitious education policies as a member of both the state House and Senate.

One of her earlier bills created a stipend for teachers who earned National Board certification, a rigorous and widely respected training program for educators. More recently, Todd has been focused on reducing standardized testing and curbing the state’s teacher shortage.

Todd was a vocal opponent of Senate Bill 191, the state’s controversial 2010 teacher evaluation law. She has regularly supported reversing provisions of the law, including a failed attempt this year to create more flexibility in how student data is used to evaluate teachers.

Get to know a little more about Todd here:

What is your favorite memory from school?

PHOTO: Nancy Todd
State Sen. Todd in the first grade.

I think one of my favorite memories was my fifth grade teacher. He was my first male teacher, and he inspired me to be creative and think outside the box. Being the daughter of a superintendent, I always appreciated those teachers who treated me as an individual, not their “boss’s daughter.”

Were you the teacher’s pet or class clown?
Neither. I was actually pretty quiet and followed the rules. Guess I’m making up for it now.

What was your favorite subject and why?
I loved American Government because I had a great teacher who was unconventional and allowed different views and lively discussions. He taught me a lot about respecting others’ opinions and how different leaders of our country were all instrumental in doing good for our citizens, using different approaches.

If you could give yourself one high school superlative it would be:
I was considered “Miss Priss” because I didn’t wear jeans like some of my friends did. I was kidded for being “prim and proper.”

What clubs or sports did you participate in high school?
Pep club, journalism, Quill & Scroll, girls sports

What would your perfect school look like?
An ideal school is where there is a high level of innovation, creativity, opportunity for teachers and students to interact with authentic and respectful relationships. Where learning is based on relevant learning environment and a balance of technology, live role models teachers who are highly qualified and LOVE working with students.

What are you legislative priorities?
Resolve ninth-grade testing question; expand counseling; reasonable school finance proposal.