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School Funding Overhaul Moves Through Colorado House

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – An ambitious overhaul to how Colorado handles its biggest-ticket budget priority – K-12 education – advanced another step in the state Legislature Monday.

The House Education Committee started work Monday on the sweeping overhaul to address years of unequal pupil funding and a school-finance system that doesn’t accommodate education overhauls made in recent years.

The sponsor of the measure, Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, said Colorado’s school approach has been like a race to adopt the latest fashion in education research while wearing clothes from the 1980s and 1990s.

“It completely redesigns the funding formula” used to send state money to schools, Hamner said of the bill.

The bill has already passed the Senate, and legislative leaders in the House say they expect the funding overhaul will make it to the governor’s desk. But there are big questions about whether the funding overhaul will take effect.

The bill hinges on approval by voters of a hefty hike in state income taxes, somewhere around $1 billion. A smaller tax hike for schools was rejected by voters in 2011.

The main pieces of the complex funding overhaul aim to rectify Colorado out-of-whack school funding system, which every year drives more and more of the burden for school funding to state coffers.

The bill would bring full-day kindergarten to all districts, and send more money to districts with high numbers of students considered more expensive to educate, students learning English or students with learning disabilities.

The bill would also set aside money to finance big-ticket overhauls approved by lawmakers in recent years, including a requirement that students show proficiency in reading by fourth grade.

The bill “addresses equity in a way the school has never attempted before,” said Ranelle Lang, superintendent of a district in Weld County.

Many educators supported the idea of a revised school-funding scheme. However, the changes are so complex that extensive changes were anticipated. The Senate dramatically altered the bill by setting a “floor” of funding to protect districts from losing state school support. More changes were likely in the House.

Some wanted more funding for charter schools; others argued that the bill doesn’t do enough to change how schools are run.

An opponent from Denver’s wealthy southern suburbs argued that the funding changes could hurt successful districts and don’t go far enough to untangle Colorado’s complex school-funding process.

“It would require our communities to subsidize education in historically underperforming districts, to the detriment of higher-performing districts,” argued Patrick Pratt of the South Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Sponsors of the funding overhaul were braced for a long few weeks ahead to work out differences in the complicated bill before lawmakers leave for the year. If approved by lawmakers and voters, the funding changes wouldn’t take effect until the school year starting in 2014. A separate bill to finance schools next year awaits a vote in the Senate.

LINK: Senate Bill 213

- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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