The Colorado Senate has passed two bills that would increase funding and expand programs for K-12 education. Moffat County School District Superintendent Dr. Joe Petrone supports both bills because of the potential for added preschool slots and increased reimbursement from the state for special education programs.

Photo by Joe Moylan

The Colorado Senate has passed two bills that would increase funding and expand programs for K-12 education. Moffat County School District Superintendent Dr. Joe Petrone supports both bills because of the potential for added preschool slots and increased reimbursement from the state for special education programs.

Colorado lawmakers debating several education bills

Moffat County School District could see increased funding for preschool, special education

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“Nothing would please us more than additional funding for student services. Currently the reimbursement we receive from the state is not sufficient to offset the costs.”

Moffat County School District Superintendent Dr. Joe Petrone about Colorado Senate legislation that would increase the number of slots in Colorado’s Preschool Program.

— Colorado senators passed a bill Friday that would modify the Public School Finance Act of 1994.

Senate Bill 13-260, sponsored by District 19 Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, and District 31 Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, would change K-12 public school financing for fiscal year 2013-14 by increasing base per pupil funding to $5,954.28 to reflect a 1.9 percent inflation rate.

The bill also includes a $200 million increase in program funding, including $20 million for Tier B special education programs in addition to adding 3,200 slots to the Colorado Preschool Program.

The measure, which passed late Friday night, 23-12, now goes to the Colorado House of Representatives for consideration.

Moffat County School District Superintendent Dr. Joe Petrone is hopeful the legislation makes it to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk for signature, particularly because of the proposed increases to preschool programs.

“We believe the legislation will add slots for preschoolers in Moffat County,” Petrone said. “As a board, we have already decided to add to our preschool programs regardless of what they do in Denver.”

Petrone also is hopeful the bill will pass because of proposed increases in state reimbursement for special education programs, known in Colorado as student services programs.

Special education programs only are partially reimbursed by the state, Petrone said.

“Nothing would please us more than additional funding for student services,” Petrone said. “Currently, the reimbursement we receive from the state is not sufficient to offset the costs.”

But how the state plans to fund the $200 million in program increases is not yet known and depends on the “negative factor,” according to the bill.

That uncertainty motivated District 8 Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Cowdrey, to oppose the legislation.

“The entire formula has changed, some things were taken out, some things were included in,” Baumgardner said. “The thing I hate about this bill the most is the fiscal note will be revised when total program funding levels are included, which means until we see those numbers, we have no idea how much this will really cost.”

SB 13-260 is separate from another education bill that also passed through the Senate earlier this month.

SB 13-213 proposes a complete school finance overhaul and calls for $1 billion in funding for K-12 education.

The $1 billion in funding would require increased taxes, and regardless of its passage in the Colorado General Assembly, voters will have the final say in the form of a ballot question during the next election.

Increases in taxes require approval from voters in accordance with the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Petrone said he also is watching SB 13-213 closely. If approved, Moffat County School District could receive an estimated $2 million of the $1 billion pot, Petrone said.

Colorado House District 57 Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, was vocal throughout his campaign last summer about the need for educational reform. He plans to oppose SB 13-213 when it comes to a vote in the House.

“This bill will only be implemented after a $1 billion tax increase, dollars that are not adequately tied to reform and better outcomes for our kids,” Rankin said. “Furthermore, the bill does not direct a large portion of funding to kids, does not hold districts accountable for their results and does nothing to address systemic problems with the way Colorado educates students.

Joe Moylan can be reached at 970-875-1794 or jmoylan@craigdailypress.com.

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