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Publish Date: 9/14/2005

Task force calls for increased school spending


DENVER — The Legislature should significantly increase spending on education and revise the 13-year-old Public School Finance Act that now apportions most of the state and local money school districts use to cover operating expenses, a task force recommended Tuesday.

Moreover, state laws and state funding support for districts’ building repair and construction needs “should ensure that all Colorado students attend school in safe and effective learning environments,” the task force said in its written report.

The 16-person task force — whose members included representatives of school boards, school superintendents, school district financial officers, charter schools, teachers’ unions and parents’ organizations — submitted its recommendations to a legislative committee that is studying the adequacy and fairness of Colorado’s current funding of public schools.

Task force members said “the existing school finance system needs to fundamentally change so that funding is based on a combination of adequate resources to meet local, state and national performance goals and is distributed equitably among all Colorado school districts.”

Several lawmakers on the Interim Committee on School Finance, however, expressed skepticism about whether the state would be able to cover the increased costs that would result from a number of the task force’s proposals.

Earlier Tuesday, the committee learned from the Legislature’s chief economist and the staff director of the Joint Budget Committee that even if voters approve Referendum C, that measure might not provide much money for new or expanded state services and programs.

Instead, much of the projected $3.7 billion the state is asking voters to allow it to keep over the coming five years will be needed “to maintain the levels that services are at today,” said Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder.

Tupa said the budget report told him that state government’s fiscal problems were even worse than he had thought and that they’ll be worse if voters reject Referendum C and a companion bonding measure, Referendum D.

The bulk of the money the state would get to spend under Referendum C is needed “just to continue to fund the services we’re funding right now” and avoid further cuts in programs and services, Tupa said in an interview.

Money to increase or add to current school programs, such as more state support for local districts’ special education expenses, “just won’t be there,” Tupa said.

Boulder Democratic Rep. Jack Pommer said in a separate interview that Referendum C “barely keeps funding at its already reduced level” after state budget cuts over the past several years.

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