Ritter signs bill to seek U.S. education funding | AspenTimes.com

Ritter signs bill to seek U.S. education funding

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – Over the objections of the state teachers union, Colorado lawmakers moved quickly Friday to deny $130 million in funding to public schools, a first step in tackling a $1.5 billion state budget shortfall.

The Senate measure would cut $110 million conditionally given to school districts last year and another $20 million that would have paid for new students.

In setting the $4.7 billion annual school budget, the state estimates how many students will enroll based on the previous year’s count. In normal times, the state provides schools more money for additional students but this is the second straight year it hasn’t done that.

Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said he regretted the move and hoped the Legislature can eventually restore funding.

“It doesn’t help, however, that a kid is only in 5th grade once, only in preschool once, and they are the ones who are suffering,” Heath said.

Last year, lawmakers voted to give school districts the $110 million but required them to set it aside in case the economy continued to decline.

Lawmakers gave themselves until Jan. 29 to decide whether to take the money back. On Friday, the Senate Appropriations Committee and then the full Senate backed rescinding the money (Senate Bill 65) with little debate.

A final Senate vote is expected next week. The House would then take it up.

The teachers’ union, the Colorado Education Association, argued that the $110 million won’t help other parts of the state budget because it is being parked in Colorado’s education savings account, or the state education fund. Lawmakers say they need the money to prevent the fund from drying up this year.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, said failing to hold the $110 million this year would mean schools will face a larger hit next budget year.

Also Friday, Gov. Bill Ritter signed fast-track legislation to help Colorado’s chances of winning federal grant money to pay for education reforms. The state plans to ask for at least $300 million when it submits its “Race to the Top” bid Tuesday.

The bill, passed by the House on Friday, calls for the state to better monitor the performance of public school teachers and principals. Backers say it addresses U.S. bid requirements for producing better teachers and school leaders.

The state is already preparing to track how effective teachers and principals are in improving the progress of their students under a bill passed last year.

The new law (Senate Bill 36) requires the state keep track of schools or programs where educators are trained and report to those programs so they know how effective their graduates are.

According to the Education Commission of the States, at least one other state, Illinois, tracks where principals and teachers went to school and reports back to those institutions. Louisiana currently tracks that information for teachers but not principals.

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