DENVER (AP) – Two education bills that are among the biggest-ticket items Colorado lawmakers will consider all year cleared their first hurdle Wednesday.
But there’s a long way to go before the bills to overhaul K-12 public education funding are ready for the governor’s pen.
The first bill would send more than $200 million extra to schools next year, including $100 million to backfill education budget cuts that were enacted during the recent recession.
The second measure upgrades per-pupil funding to keep up with inflation and sets aside more money for preschool and full-day kindergarten.
The education bills are the Legislature’s attempt to cobble together a funding-reform package in the wake of the voter defeat last year of an income tax hike to fund schools. Taking advantage of a rebounding economy, lawmakers want to send much of the state’s reviving tax receipts to schools cut to the bone when budget times were tough.
“This is our very best attempt at making sure we start making progress from some difficult financial years,” said Rep. John Buckner, a Democrat who sponsored one of the bills.
The funding bills have been through exhaustive negotiations because the education money would come with strings attached.
Some of those strings were removed from the bill Wednesday, and an amendment to one of the bills gives schools more flexibility in how they spend money to implement the teacher-tenure law and other mandates passed by lawmakers in recent years.
But educators say there are still some onerous glitches, such as a change to how pupils are counted. Some educators say the change is needless red tape.
The education bills also give schools some $30 million for students learning English and $17 million to pay for more pupils to enroll in subsidized preschool and full-day kindergarten.
Education activists say Colorado’s improving tax collections should enable lawmakers to send even more to schools, which were cut by about $1 billion during the recession. They said to expect more big changes to the bills.
“It’s the best we could get for today,” said Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards.
Even House Speaker Mark Ferrandino says the schools may see more money than the bills currently send them.
“There’s definitely some room to make additional investments in K-12 education” given the latest tax forecasts, Ferrandino said.
The bills face review in another House committee before heading to the full House and then the Senate. The larger state budget, at roughly $20 billion, is the only measure that deals with more money than the education funding bills.
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