State legislature approves school-finance bill

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DENVER (AP) The Legislature on Thursday sent Gov. Bill Owens an education-finance bill that some lawmakers said gave everybody something to hate, but the governor said it was good enough for him to sign.

Sen. Bill Thiebaut, D-Pueblo, who sponsored the measure in the Senate, said everybody also could find something to like in Senate Bill 129, which would send an average of $5,445 per pupil to each school in the state's 178 districts.

''This is the best that could come out of this unique situation,'' he said, referring to the fact that Democrats and Republicans each control one house of the Legislature for the first time since 1976.

A House-Senate conference committee debated for several days to work out a compromise between the two chambers' versions.

Owens said he was pleased the final bill contained funding for charter school buildings and financial incentives for low-performing schools.

Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, voted against the compromise, saying it is loaded with programs outside basic education and would force reductions in spending elsewhere.

She blamed voter approval of Amendment 23, which requires lawmakers to increase education funding by at least the rate of inflation plus one percentage point through 2011, for what she called improper additions to the bill.

''If we were still funding at barely reaching inflation, I probably would look at these programs more favorably,'' she said. ''(State Treasurer) Mike Coffman was right when he said when Amendment 23 passed, legislators will be spending like drunken sailors. Well, he was right, and we are.''

Thiebaut urged lawmakers not to sacrifice the whole measure over a few provisions. He said the bill would improve education for Colorado children.

The measure had to be passed by Thursday to clear the way for the introduction Friday of the $13.2 billion main state budget bill.

The Senate wanted a 6 percent increase in education funding from the tax-supported General Fund next year, which would have meant about $10 million more in spending than the Joint Budget Committee wanted. The compromise settled at 5.92 percent.

House members of the Joint Budget Committee reminded colleagues the measure would make budget decisions this year and next year even more difficult.

''It will create a $10 million hole when we start next year's budget process,'' said Rep. Todd Saliman, D-Boulder.

He said the bill outlines an overall increase in education spending of 8.3 percent from last year, well above the average in past years of about 5.7 percent.

''This will affect lots of our budget decisions in the future,'' said Rep. Gayle Berry, R-Grand Junction.

Six senators, all Republicans, voted against the bill. The only House member to vote against the bill was Rep. Mark Paschall, R-Arvada, who said it was too expensive.

''I believe the minimum constitutional requirement under Amendment 23 is the more responsible approach,'' he said.

In total, the measure would spend $80 million from the sales tax-supported Education Trust Fund created by Amendment 23, some of which would help fund the basic per-pupil education formula and some for other programs included in the bill.

The bill overall would send about $3.8 billion, or $5,445 per pupil, to schools next year, including $2.1 billion from state sources. The remainder comes from local sources, funded mostly by property taxes. Last year's education-finance bill provided about $3.6 billion, or $5,168 per pupil.

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