Slim pickings

Colorado schools likely won’t see big increase in revenue as once hoped

It’s become increasingly apparent in recent weeks that the state’s schools would receive only a modest funding increase next year, and that fact was underlined with Tuesday’s introduction of the annual school finance bill.

The measure proposes only a $25 million reduction in the state’s school funding shortfall, commonly known as the negative factor. The shortfall currently is about $880 million.

“That’s our starting point,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon. She’s the House prime sponsor and a member of the Joint Budget Committee.

The $25 million is a far cry from the $200 million one-year cut in the negative factor originally proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It’s also far below the additional $70 million urged by the state’s superintendents for at-risk students and rural districts.

The bill would set what’s called total program funding at $6.23 billion next year, up from $5.93 million in the current school year. (Total program is the combination of state and local revenues used to fund basic classroom and administrative functions.)

Senate Bill 15-267 was introduced late Monday and is the second piece of legislation needed to provide annual school funding. Base support, including constitutionally required increases to cover inflation and enrollment growth, is contained in the annual state budget, Senate Bill 15-254.

In past years the school finance bill has been used to enrich school funding beyond the amount in the state budget, but it doesn’t look like that will happen this year.

Hopes for a bigger cut in the negative factor have been blighted by the state’s paradoxical financial situation. A healthy economy is driving higher state tax collections and other revenues, but that income has pushed the state above the annual spending limit imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. That triggers refunds to taxpayers.

Introduction of the finance bill disappointed but didn’t surprise education interest groups. Some lobbyists feel schools are lucky to get the $25 million while others want the legislature to try to do more for districts.

Hamner said she hopes some additional funds can be found so “we can do some one-time spending” on education needs. “There could be some changes,” she said, acknowledging that the bill probably won’t see any big increases.

The legislature has some options for freeing up revenue that could be used for schools, but the odds of that happening may be long, given that only three weeks remain in the 2015 session.

Both tax collections and income from various fees drive state revenues above the TABOR limit. One large source of cash funds called the hospital provider fee generates money for Medicaid programs. There’s been talk of redefining those revenues so that they don’t count in the TABOR formula, but no such bill has been introduced yet.

“There are still pieces in motion that could affect” school finance, Hamner said.

See the link on this page for a spreadsheet listing how SB 15-267 would affect individual school districts. Read the bill here.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

Indiana lawmakers OK up to $100 million to address funding shortage for schools

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Indiana lawmakers agreed to dip into reserves to make up a shortfall to get public schools the money they were promised — and they’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to approve the final plan in House Bill 1001. The bill now heads to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.

Rep. Tim Brown, a co-author of the bill and chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, said it was necessary to take the uncommon step and have the state to use reserve funds to make up the gap, but in the next budget year making up that difference will be a priority. Brown said he, other lawmakers, and the Legislative Services Agency will work to make sure projections are more accurate going forward.

“Do procedures need to be changed?” Brown said. “We’re going to be asking those questions” during the next budget cycle.

Estimates on the size of the shortfall have ranged widely this year, beginning around $9 million and growing as new information and student counts came in. Projections from the Legislative Services Agency reported by the Indianapolis Star had the gap at $22 million this year and almost $60 million next year.

The final bill requires the state to transfer money from reserves if public school enrollment is higher than expected, as well as to make up any shortages for students with disabilities or students pursuing career and technical education. The state budget director would have to sign off first. Transfers from reserves are already allowed if more voucher students enroll in private schools than projected, or if state revenue is less than expected.

The budget shortfall, discovered late last year, resulted from miscalculations in how many students were expected to attend public schools over the next two years. Lawmakers proposed two bills to address the shortfall, and the House made it its highest legislative priority. The compromise bill would set aside up to $25 million for this year and up to $75 million next year. The money would be transferred from reserve funds to the state general fund and then distributed to districts.

The bill also takes into account two other programs that lawmakers think could be contributing to underestimated public school enrollment: virtual education programs and kids who repeat kindergarten.

District-based virtual education programs would be required to report to the state by October of each year on virtual program enrollment, total district enrollment, what grades the virtual students are in, where they live, and how much of their day is spent in a virtual learning program. These programs, unlike virtual charter schools, are not separate schools, so it can be hard for state officials and the public to know they even exist.

The report will help lawmakers understand how the programs are growing and how much they might cost, but it won’t include information about whether students in the programs are learning or graduating. Virtual charter schools in the state have typically posted poor academic results, and Holcomb has called for more information and action, though legislative efforts have failed.

Finally, the bill changes how kindergarteners are counted for state funding. The state changed the cut-off age for kindergarten to 5 years old by Aug. 1 — if students are younger than that, they can still enroll, but the district won’t receive state dollars for them. Some districts were allowing 4-year-olds to enroll in kindergarten early, Sen. Ryan Mishler said earlier this month. Then those same students would enroll in kindergarten again the next year.

Despite increases passed last year to boost the total education budget, many school leaders have said they struggle to pay salaries and maintain buildings, which is why funding shortfalls — even small ones — matter. This year’s unexpected shortfall was particularly problematic because districts had already made plans based on the state budget.

Find all of Chalkbeat’s 2018 legislative coverage here.

let the games begin

Assembly pushes for $1.5 billion boost to education spending

PHOTO: Photo by Jonathan Fickies for UFT
UFT President Michael Mulgrew interviews New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

In a tight budget year, New York State’s Democratic-led Assembly wants to increase education spending by $1.5 billion, officials announced late Monday night.

The proposed increase  which would bring total education spending to $27.1 billion  is significantly more than the governor’s suggested $769 million increase. Still, the amount is a slightly smaller boost than the Assembly backed last year, which is likely a reflection of a difficult fiscal situation faced by the state this year.

State officials are fighting against a budget deficit, a federal tax plan that could harm New York, and the threat of further federal cuts. The potential lack of funding could be the only sticking point in an otherwise quiet budget year for education matters.

As part of its education agenda, the Assembly backed a number of programs it has in the past. The plan supports the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which is designed to help boys and young men of color reach their potential, and “community schools,” which act as service hubs that provide healthcare and afterschool programs.

The release of this plan kicks off the final stretch of the state’s budget process. The governor has already outlined his proposals and the Senate will likely follow soon, setting up the state’s annual last-minute haggling.

The budget is due by April 1, but could always be resolved later similar to last year.