Colorado schools would receive an additional $18 per student under mid-year budget adjustments approved Wednesday by the Joint Budget Committee.
Statewide average funding per pupil would be set at $7,312, compared to the $7,294 in the 2015-16 school funding law passed last spring.
The recommendation basically gives districts well less than a fifth of a loaf in terms of what they wanted from the budget adjustments.
The committee’s plan effectively mirrors a proposal by the Hickenlooper administration that also contained an $18 per student boost. The JBC’s recommendation, which requires approval by the full legislature, gets to the same place through a different mechanism.
Mid-year budget tweaks often are routine procedures to adjust school funding to account for actual enrollment and updated local revenues. Projections of those two things, not hard numbers, are used when the annual school funding law is passed every spring.
But this year’s K-12 adjustment has drawn more attention than usual because of a non-binding pledge included in the 2015-16 funding law. In simple terms, that pledge said that if the local tax revenues reported in December were larger than last spring’s estimates, the state wouldn’t reduce its share of school support. Talk last spring was that the increase would be $70 million.
Instead, the JBC’s recommendation is that the state reduce its share of 2015-16 school funding by $133 million, the actual amount of additional local revenue that came in.
Districts would get a little something from the committee’s plan. Because both overall enrollment and the number of at-risk students are lower than originally projected, the legislature could cut school funding by $24 million. But the committee agreed to let schools keep that money, which averages out to the $18 increase per student. Districts that experienced student declines would receive more per student but would lose money overall because they have fewer pupils.
Overall K-12 funding this year would remain the same as originally proposed, about $6.2 billion.
“The total program amount is spread among fewer kids than we thought, so the per-pupil amount goes up,” explained JBC staff analyst Craig Harper.
The committee’s action also affects the negative factor, the amount by which actual school funding falls short of what full support would have been under the state finance formula. The legislature uses the negative factor as a device to balance the overall state budget.
The 2015-16 shortfall was $855 million. The committee’s adjustments would reduce it to $831 million. Members also voted to introduce a bill that would hold the 2016-17 negative factor at the same level.
The Hickenlooper administration has calculated that the shortfall would need to increase by as much as $50 million to balance next year’s budget.
Final decisions on the 2016-17 budget won’t be made until after new state revenue forecasts are issued in March.
Advocates of improved school funding were disappointed by not necessarily surprised by the committee decision.
“We’re disappointed with this action, but we’re appreciative that the $24 million is retained,” said Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger, a leading voice among superintendents on finance issues.
He noted last spring’s pledge by legislators but said, “They didn’t know what this year would look like. … I like to think that if the budget were not in such a difficult place they would have kept that pledge.”
Lisa Weil, executive director of the advocacy group Great Education Colorado, said, “The JBC just decided to use local property taxes raised specifically for schools to balance the state budget, even after stating their intent in last year’s School Finance Act to do the opposite. It’s a sad day when not even these local school dollars are used to help repay the $5 billion debt Colorado owes our students from the past seven years of cuts.”
Committee chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, also recalled the pledge during committee discussion. She noted that the budget situation differs from what lawmakers anticipated last spring and said the $24 million is at least a small nod to the pledge.
Get into the weeds in the briefing paper Harper prepared on the issue.
House Education pulls trigger on parent leave bill
It took two tries, but the House Education Committee on Wednesday voted 6-5 to advance a bill that would resurrect a state law requiring some business to give employees unpaid time off for some school activities.
A parliamentary wrangle over amendments delayed a vote at a meeting last Monday. Things went more smoothly on Wednesday, but panel members spent nearly 45 minutes debating the measure. There’s a partisan divide on the bill, and Democrats voted yes and Republicans no on the motion to send House Bill 16-1002 to the House floor.
The bill would revive a 2009 law that gives employees of companies with more than 50 workers up to 18 hours of unpaid time off a year to attend specified school events, like teacher-parent conferences. That law also gave employers various grounds on which to deny leave.
The law expired in September after an effort to continue it failed during the 2015 session. This year’s bill would reinstate the 2009 provisions, without an expiration clause.
House Democrats are pushing the bill as part of a policy agenda to help families. Republicans oppose it, arguing that it’s not necessary. The main business lobbying group, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, is neutral on the measure. If the bill passes the House it’s expected to die in the GOP-controlled Senate – just like last year.
Get details on the bill in this legislative staff summary.