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Deal To Add $90M to Colorado Schools Advances In House

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(credit: AP)

(credit: AP)

DENVER (AP) – A plan aimed at reducing next year’s Colorado school cuts by $90 million advanced Thursday, part of an effort to ease the pain by sending better-than-expected tax revenues to an area of the budget that consistently is the biggest target for reductions.

The proposed deal got initial approval in the state House with ease, a rare show of bipartisanship during a session in which lawmakers have bickered over budget details and new congressional districts.

Lawmakers applauded Republican Rep. Tom Massey, the sponsor of the school spending bill, when he thanked them after a preliminary voice.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but we couldn’t have done it without everyone’s collaboration, so thank you,” he said.

The deal still faces a final House vote before the Senate considers it.

Rep. Sal Pace, the Democratic leader in the House, said his party worked with Massey for weeks on the deal, which became a condition for Democrats to vote in support of a proposed budget they lambasted because it included millions of dollars in tax breaks for businesses while cutting $250 million to education.

Pace said lessening the cut to education will help school districts facing tough choices.

“This is bipartisan compromise at its best, working across the aisle to make difference in class sizes, preventing more schools from going to four-day school weeks,” he said.

Lawmakers said they can spend the extra money because preliminary revenue forecasts are higher than expected.

Under the bill, called the school finance act, lawmakers would restore $22.5 million to schools next year by transferring surplus money from the state’s education fund, a sort of savings account for education funded by income taxes.

The second part of the deal, which safeguards $67.5 million to prevent future cuts, is dependent on the revenue forecast due out in June. That money will be disbursed in the fall to neediest schools based on enrollment and other factors.

Over the years, school funding is often the first place lawmakers look for cuts because it’s a big part of the budget. This year was no exception as lawmakers try to close a shortfall of about $500 million. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper initially proposed a $332 million cut to education funding next year but some lawmakers said that figure was too high and reduced it to $250 million. The proposed deal seeks to further reduce that cut.

Hickenlooper warned that the lawmakers’ proposal may be a short-term solution. He said “a lot of that is one-time money. You don’t want to create a cliff.”

Democratic Rep. Cherylin Peniston was one of a few lawmakers who said schools are still hurting because of the cuts.

“Let us be clear colleagues, this is not a victory, either for any of us here or for public schools,” she said. “It is simply cutting the devastating effects on our classrooms into small pieces. We are not putting more money with this bill into public education, we are simply cutting less.”

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer (AP writer Steven K. Paulson contributed to this report)

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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