DENVER (AP) – Colorado lawmakers started work Monday on what may be the Legislature’s trickiest job of the year: Crafting an education overhaul without $1 billion a year in new taxes.
The House Education Committee heard testimony on two bills that attempt to salvage a school-reform plan that was rejected by voters last year. That plan included an income-tax hike of about $1 billion a year.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed a pared-down education overhaul to try to salvage parts of that rejected reform package. This year’s attempt includes a hefty boost of $100 million to school districts to backfill budget cuts implemented during the recession.
Schools would get more funding for early literacy programs, more money for charter schools and more money for students learning English. They’d also get money to implement a teacher-tenure overhaul taking effect this year and new requirements for pupils struggling to learn to read.
The bill also includes $40 million for school construction from new marijuana taxes.
However, some Republicans and major education groups say the proposal needs a lot of work. They say the bills attach too many strings to the increased school funding and that they’d rather see lawmakers simply direct more money to backfill budget cuts.
Colorado schools were cut about $2.8 billion over the last five years, and the bills aren’t focused solely on filling the hole, argued Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards.
“What this has to be about now is restoring the funding,” Urschel said.
Some Republicans on the committee agreed, questioning a $17 million set-aside to add 5,000 slots for preschool at at-risk kids.
“That seems to me like buying a new car when the old one’s not paid off yet,” said Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida.
Sponsors insisted that focusing the spending is necessary to achieve state education goals.
“If we do zero, we will be going backward in accomplishing our goals,” said Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora.
Votes on the proposals have not been set.
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