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Education Bill Advances, But Schools Still Wary

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) — A hefty education overhaul described as the marquee Colorado schools bill of the year advanced toward a vote Friday — but not before some big amendments to address schools’ complaints about the bill.

The measure attempts to backfill school budgets that were decimated during the latest recession. It also seeks to revive parts of a school-funding overhaul rejected by voters last year.

But the measure has been beset by complaints that the money comes with too many strings attached, some of which schools say aren’t necessary.

The House Appropriations Committee advanced the bill Friday after amending it four times to address some of the schools’ complaints. Lawmakers added more money to start refilling school coffers, from $100 million this year to $110 million next year.

The bill was also amended to give more money to charter schools and to cut a requirement that school districts change the way they count their pupils to qualify for school funding.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Republican Rep. Carole Murray of Castle Rock, said sponsors have been negotiating for months now with teachers and school districts unhappy with the proposal.

Lawmakers are “trying to honor their requests while still being sure that taxpayer dollars are being spent appropriately,” Murray said.

The bill now awaits a vote by the full House, expected early next week.

Jane Urschel, head of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said that school budgets were cut about $1 billion during the recession and that lawmakers need to keep working to increase school funding.

“We believe there is more money that we can put in,” said Urschel, whose group wants the funding boosted to $200 million this year.

The bill still includes about $20 million for pupils struggling to learn to read. It also gives school districts more money to implement a teacher-tenure overhaul adopted four years ago.

The bill comes after voters last year rejected an income-tax hike to pay for a slate of education upgrades. The tax, which would have raised about $1 billion a year, came along with many of the provisions included in this year’s education overhaul.

Democrats say this year’s effort is the best they can do without a new tax. Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said during a Senate budget debate that Colorado’s schools will always be on shaky financial ground until Coloradans approve a tax hike devoted to schools.

Talking about the overall budget, which increases per-pupil funding for school districts, Heath said, “It’s a token commitment when it comes to what we need to do.”

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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