Senate gives final approval to school finance bill

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DENVER (AP) The Senate gave final approval Friday to a school finance bill that increases state spending to more than $2.2 billion and implements an education fund approved by voters.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Thiebaut, D-Pueblo, added amendments that increase state funding for the Colorado Preschool Program, allowing 1,000 additional preschool slots. That brought the total number funded by the school finance act to 10,050.

Thiebaut also added $1 million for summer school reading programs, new state money for school lunch programs to match the national school lunch program, and allowing school districts to issue bonds to cover the costs of teacher housing.

Five Senate Republicans joined the majority Democrats to pass the bill.

Sen. Dave Owen, a member of the Joint Budget Committee, said an amendment to raise to the increase in public education spending from Colorado's tax-supported general fund to 6 percent could put a serious strain on this year's budget if it passes.

Owen, R-Greeley, wanted 5.5 percent and asked Senate Democrats to tell him which programs they want to cut if their plan passes.

Members of the House already are preparing for a fight over the budget that was sent their way Friday.

House Speaker Doug Dean, R-Colorado Springs, who is the House sponsor of the education finance bill, asked House Republicans to stick with him.

He said amendments added in the Democrat-controlled Senate could increase the cost of the bill beyond what the state can afford in this lean budget year, and the final version of the bill will be hammered out in a House-Senate conference committee late in the session.

''I don't want to see members commit to things that may be a budget-buster,'' Dean said, citing teacher housing as one item.

The Senate also gave tentative approval to Senate Bill 73, continuing the state's tobacco enforcement program in the Department of Revenue's liquor enforcement division.

Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, said the state risks losing federal block grants for state alcohol and drug prevention and treatment programs unless it has an effective statewide tobacco enforcement program.

Owen tried unsuccessfully to add an amendment that would have required enforcement officers to provide 24 hours notice to an establishment targeted for a sting operation.

Owen said the state already gives advance notice for photo radar speed zones and said no business should face stiff fines for being tricked into selling tobacco to minors.

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