Hick proposes big K-12 spending increase – for a year

Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing a $380 million increase in state K-12 spending in 2015-16, but about half of that would be one-time money that the legislature wouldn’t be required to continue providing in future years.

Higher education would receive a 14.1 percent increase under the proposed 2015-16 state budget released by the governor’s office Monday afternoon.

The fate of the K-12 proposal is difficult to predict – regardless of whether Hickenlooper keeps his job in Tuesday’s election.

State law requires the governor to submit a proposed budget to the legislature by Nov. 1 (or the next business day) regardless of whether the chief executive is in the middle of a term, about to leave office or in danger of losing his office.

The deadline is needed so that the legislative Joint Budget Committee and its staff have enough time to analyze the governor’s proposal and start making their own budget plans before the full legislature convenes next Jan. 7. The committee starts that work on Nov. 12 with an in-person briefing on the governor’s budget.

The governor’s K-12 plan

Hickenlooper is proposing 2015-16 Total Program Funding of $6.4 billion, up from the current $5.9 billion. Total program is the combination of state funds and local property tax revenues used to support basic district operations.

The plan would raise the current statewide average per-pupil funding of $7,020 to $7,496 in the upcoming budget year, an increase of $475 a student.

However, only $233 of that increase would be generated by the annual inflation and enrollment increases required by the state constitution. The other $242 per student would be paid for with a one-time appropriation of $200 million from the State Education Fund, a dedicated account used to supplement state school support.

That money would go to districts on a per-pupil basis but wouldn’t go into the constitutionally required base that is used when school funding is calculated every year.

So the Hickenlooper plan wouldn’t make a significant permanent reduction in the negative factor, the formula the legislature uses to fit annual state school spending into the overall budget. The current size of the negative factor is estimated at about $900 million below what school funding otherwise would be.

Reduction of the negative factor was a major fight during the 2014 legislative session. Hickenlooper’s initial plan for the 2014-15 budget year, released a year ago, didn’t propose any reductions in the negative factor. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for full background on the issue and on what the 2014 legislature did.)

What they’re saying

Reaction to Hickenlooper’s budget was cautiously optimistic.

“I think it’s very positive that Colorado revenues are up and really encouraging that the governor would increase the percent of K-12 funding,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards.

But Urschel added, “One of the things I know our members have as a priority is continued restoration of dollars on a permanent basis.”

The plan is “a step in the right direction,” said Bruce Caughey, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives. “It’s always the case that the governor’s budget is a starting point. … We’re starting at a better place with the budget than we were a year ago.”

Caughey also said that he likes the fact that the $200 million could be spent as districts choose, and that it’s not earmarked for specific programs.

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, said the additional $200 million “will make a difference for students and school districts still recovering from past budget cuts.”

But, she added, “There is much more still to be done to repair the damage caused by the budget cuts of the Great Recession.”

Higher education plan a placeholder

The governor’s plan for state colleges and universities proposes a 14.1 percent increase, or about $107 million. Some $30 million of that would go to the new College Opportunity Scholarship program and $75.6 million to institutions.

The budget plan doesn’t divvy up the money among campuses. The Department of Higher Education is in the middle of developing the details of the new funding formula required by a 2014 law, and that will determine which colleges get how much funding. (Get more details on that in this story and on the DHE website.)

Where the budget goes from here

Even if Hickenlooper is re-elected, his budget plan likely will be changed by the 2015 legislature, which holds the primary budget power in Colorado.

Last session lawmakers made considerable changes in his K-12 funding plans, although they largely accepted the governor’s proposal for higher education.

If Republican candidates Bob Beauprez wins on Tuesday, he’ll have the opportunity to make changes in Hickenlooper’s plan.

Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who chose not to run for re-election in 2010, submitted a budget on that Nov. 1. Hickenlooper didn’t propose a revised budget until Feb. 15, 2011, well into that year’s legislative session.

The makeup of the JBC also is awaiting the results of the election. The panel currently has four Democrats and two Republicans because Democrats control both houses. A Republican Senate takeover – the party needs to gain only one seat – would shift the budget committee to 3-3.

Regardless of the membership, the committee has 25 days of budget briefings and hearings with departments scheduled through early January. The briefing for the Department of Education and K-12 funding will be Dec. 10, with the hearing on Dec. 18. The briefing for DHE will be Dec. 4, with hearings 15-17. During briefings JBC staff analysts present details and options to the committee. At hearings department executives answer committee questions.