Colorado lawmakers will take $7 million in “extra” education money they’ve been wrangling over and put it toward bills that improve school safety.
The money isn’t officially designated for a specific bill, but $7 million happens to be the amount of money that state Sen. Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, has requested in a bill that would provide grants to schools that want to buy radio technology that allows them to communicate more directly with emergency responders. Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat, is a co-sponsor of the bill.
At a Senate Education Committee hearing last month, administrators from rural school districts that already use the hand-held radios said they would be an immense help in a school shooting, but they also get daily use for more mundane problems, like dealing with broken-down buses and irate parents.
The bill calls for the Department of Public Safety to make $7 million in annual grants available to schools for five years. Grant recipients would be able to use the money to provide training in how to communicate effectively with first responders in an emergency, to update school crisis management plans, and to make improvements in their communications systems.
The bill doesn’t identify a specific funding source. The compromise reached late last week allows the money to go toward a range of school safety needs, not just the radio technology bill.
Republicans in the Senate and Democrats in the House had been fighting over how to adjust the 2017-18 appropriation for K-12 education after roughly 900 fewer students enrolled in Colorado schools than had been forecast.
Democrats had wanted to keep total spending the same and give schools a little bit extra per student. Republicans wanted to keep per-pupil spending the same and put the extra money into the general fund.
The debate over an amount that represents less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the state’s $6.6 billion education budget was symbolic of the larger budget debate hanging over this legislative session.
State Rep. Brittany Pettersen, the Lakewood Democrat who chairs the House Education Committee, had pushed for more money to go to schools, but she said this week that the deal is a reasonable compromise.
“It keeps the money in schools and supports schools in ways that they’re really struggling,” she said.
The state Senate and House have both signed off on the compromise proposal, which comes as the Joint Budget Committee prepares to discuss the 2018-19 education budget.