School budget bill gains backing in Colorado

School budget bill gains backing in Colorado

(Colo.) Next year’s school funding budget would exceed $7 billion for Colorado’s K-12 schools, representing an increase of 2.7 percent in per-pupil spending to $6,951.

Under legislation pending before the state Senate’s Committee on Appropriations, lawmakers would give rural schools more state support while also providing more money to improve educational services to students with disabilities.

The Legislature is also considering a $175 million allocation in a separate bill that would fund all-day kindergarten.

Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Auroa, who is a co-sponsor of the bill as well as chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the proposed budget is a good start but schools will still need more.

“This year is when we can invest some additional money, and then we need to come back and say, is this really the best approach?” said Todd, a retired teacher, in an interview earlier this month with Chalkbeat, a web-based news organization. “Are there other ways we can address these needs and give additional support to districts?”

Colorado is one of a growing number of states where education funding—especially teacher salaries—have become a critical political issue. Earlier this year, teachers working at Denver Public Schools walked off the job for three days before winning an 11 percent pay raise.

The additional money included by Todd in the proposed budget drew praise from the Colorado Education Association, which it called a “first step toward reversing the chronic underfunding of Colorado public schools over the last decade.”

As currently drafted, the budget bill would provide $20 million in additional funds for rural school districts. The money, at least so far, carries few restrictions on its use except that schools receiving the funds must report back to the Colorado Department of Education on how the money was used to “improve student learning and the educational environment.”

To qualify, districts must be classified as rural or small rural by CDE and have a funded pupil count less than 6,500. The department has identified 147 districts that meet the eligibility requirements.

Lawmakers have also earmarked an additional $22 million for special education programs that will be distributed on a per-pupil basis. If approved, the money would result in an increase of $951 per student, according to a state analysis. This would come in addition to $27 million set aside for professional development under a separate bill.

The full-day kindergarten bill has wide support, having cleared the state Senate last week without dissent. As proposed, districts would not be required to offer the extended service nor would parents be compelled to enroll their children.

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