With no debate, the House voted 65-0 Monday evening to repass the compromise version of Senate Bill 09-256, the 2009-10 school finance act.
The key issue before the bill went to conference committee last week was whether there should be a $110 million reduction in the overall increase in state aid to K-12 schools next year. The Senate proposed a $150 million cut, to help preserve the solvency of the State Education Fund. An early House version proposed a $110 million cut, but that was stripped on the floor.
The conference committee proposed giving school districts the $110 million – but to tell them it can’t be spent until Jan. 6, 2010, after the Joint Budget Committee has reviewed December revenue forecasts and decides if further state budget cuts are needed.
The committee proposal also includes funding for a boarding school for at-risk students – if a Department of Education study decides it’s a workable idea and comes up with a plan – and gives charter schools a small victory on facilities funding. The proposal accepts the House’s modest proposal for at-risk incentive funding (in contrast to the Senate’s original, expansive plan) and wouldn’t tinker with school funding formulas, which the original Senate version did, to the advantage of some school districts and the disadvantage of others.
The “escrow” proposal for the $110 million has a number of political advantages for the legislature and advocacy groups interested in the debate.
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– It lets the legislature avoid for now the issue of possibly violating Amendment 23 by trimming the increase in overall education spending. But, it also gives the legislature the option of taking back the money later – before it’s been spent – if the state’s revenue situation deteriorates further.
– It gives school districts the full amount of funding they feel A23 calls for – but allows them to keep that money off the table when setting or negotiating salaries for next school year. (Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver and conference committee chair, made clear during the conference committee meeting, “Districts should be on warning … districts should not put this in employment contracts.”
The committee proposal also includes a provision that would require the $5 million in charter school facilities funding be paid in 12 installments. There’s been endless debate over that issue since the $10 million in charter facilities funding originally in the 2008-09 budget was cut earlier this session.
The legislature could have to face further cuts, perhaps including in school spending, well before next January. The next formal state revenue forecast will be issued in late May, and it’s widely felt that bad numbers could trigger the need for a special legislative session this summer to cut the budget further.