Funding an “ideal” K-12 education system could cost nearly $9 billion a year, compared to the $6.1 billion currently spent.
That’s what Department of Education officials told the Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission Thursday.
The panel devoted much of its meeting to a discussion of school finance. Among other things, the group had asked CDE to provide an estimate of what an “ideal” system would cost.
The answer was about $2.8 billion a year more than the approximately $6.1 billion spent from state aid, federal grants and local property taxes.
What makes up that $2.8 billion? Here’s how Vody Herrmann, CDE school finance director, broke it down, if it were in place for the current school year:
- $1.2 billion – Bring current spending to national per-pupil average.
- $269.5 million – Raise teacher salaries to national average.
- $151 million – Institute full-day kindergarten for all students.
- $174.6 million – Provide half-day preschool for all 4-year-olds.
- $123.8 million – Pay for dual high school/college enrollment for one-third of 12th graders.
- $1.13 billion – Increase time in school by 20 percent.
- $74.6 million – Hike in categorical spending required by increased school time. (Categoricals are funds earmarked for transportation, special education and other specific programs.)
- $65.1 million – Extra kindergarten and preschool costs required by increased school time.
“We know $2.8 billion in this environment is … pie in the sky,” said commission chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder. But, he asked education Commissioner Dwight Jones to comment on what he thought about the “ideal” system.
Heath’s reference to the environment meant the state’s continuing revenue and budget crisis probably will mean state aid to school districts will be trimmed nearly 2 percent in the current, 2009-10 budget year, according to CDE.
Noting carefully that the commission had asked CDE to develop the estimate, Jones said, “In no way is this a budget I’m suggesting or a dollar amount I’m recommending.”
But, he went on to make these comments about specific ideas:
- Teacher pay: “A quality teacher makes a significant difference. … We also know we have to stay competitive in the state in terms of teacher salaries.”
- Longer school days and years: “We’d be asleep at the wheel” to ignore growing national discussions about this idea. But, Jones said, “Time alone does not guarantee you anything. … It’s how we shape that day.”
- Preschool and kindergarten: At-risk kids particularly need “that solid foundation,” Jones said, adding, “Kids need to on grade level [in reading] by 1st grade.”
- Dual enrollment: Referring to high school dropout rates and college attendance rates, Jones noted, “I would say right now we’re not doing that very well.”
“Those are big ideas that we really have to grapple with … in some cases it is going to take more money; it is going to take more time,” Jones said.
The commission is trying to come up with proposals to better ensure the long-term stability of state finances, which have been battered by the recession and by Colorado’s conflicting constitutional provisions.
The panel is in the middle of lengthy briefings and discussions about the big-ticket areas of state spending – K-12, transportation, corrections, health care and higher education, which is on Friday’s commission agenda.
There are six legislators and 10 citizen members on the commission. The citizen members range across the ideological spectrum, and some observers have low expectations about what agreements the commission can reach.
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