Updated: Success Act gets some important tweaks

Updated 11:45 a.m. – The House Appropriations Committee Friday approved the Student Success Act on a 13-0 vote after adding key amendments, including a $110 million reduction in the negative factor.

The vote clears the measure for House floor debate, which is expected to come Monday, according to prime sponsor Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock.

The measure, House Bill 14-1292, is the 2014 session’s key piece of K-12 finance legislation and has been the focus of intense lobbying and controversy. (Get background here.)

Negotiations since the bill was passed by the House Education Committee on March 19 produced the amendments approved by appropriations. They include:

  • The $110 million reduction in the $1 billion negative factor. The previous version of the bill proposed $100 million.
  • Elimination of $40 million in aid to districts for implementation of reform laws.
  • Removal of $30.5 million in funding for English language learner programs, funding that will be moved into the 2014-15 School Finance Act, House Bill 14-l298. That measure is awaiting appropriations committee action. (The current combined price tag on the two measures now is about $450 million.)
  • Elimination of the bill section that would have required the state switch to the average daily membership system of enrollment counting. Instead the Department of Education would be required to study new ways of counting enrollment.
  • Modification of a section providing $13 million of per-pupil funding for charter school facilities. Now half the money in the first year would go to a reserve fund that backs charter borrowing.

Remaining in the bill is $20 million in additional support for school districts to implement the READ Act.

Some differences remain unresolved

Asked about support for the amended bill, prime sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, said, “This has been a work in progress … we’re not finished. … We have built a lot of support. Are we there yet? Probably not.”

Any talk of full compromise is premature, given that differences remain between sponsors and bill critics on two key issues.

The first is the bill’s proposal that $40 million in projected marijuana tax revenues be used for kindergarten classroom construction, school technology grants and charter facilities funding. BEST advocates want that money to go the program’s main account for use by the Capital Construction Assistance Board. A floor amendment to do that is expected in the House. Lobbyists also believe they have support for the change in the Senate.

The other contentious issue is HB 14-1292’s proposal to spend $5 million for creation of a website that would report school-level data on spending, including total salaries and benefits. School districts and unions have pushed back on that, arguing it would be burdensome and duplicate information already available to the public. But the so-called transparency provision is a priority for the governor’s office.

And, districts still would like to have a larger reduction in the negative factor. The odds of that happening may be long, given concern on the part of legislative leaders about the long-term financial impact of doing that.