This year seems to have been a series of one high-intensity bill after another under the Golden Dome. This past week has been no exception. SB 19-246 (Concerning the Financing of Public Schools) has taken the spotlight. Education funding encompasses over $6 billion in the state budget, surpassed only by health care.
The School Finance Bill started in the Senate this session and will quickly come to the House where House Education Chair McLachlan (D – Durango) and I will carry it through the House hearings. This will make the second year in a row that I have been the House Republican on the bill.
Nothing is ever simple at the Capitol when big bucks are involved. Initially, the School Finance Bill was to be rather straightforward. By statute, the legislature has to increase school funding by student growth plus inflation.
In addition, the Governor’s Office had recommended paying down the Budget Stabilization Factor (also known as the “Negative Factor”) by $77 million.
There was no additional money available to give rural schools an additional $30 million, as had occurred in the past two years. It seemed as if the School Finance Bill was pretty well a done deal, but then came the surprise.
Miraculously, someone in the catacombs of the Joint Budget Committee building, turned over a couch cushion and discovered another $99 million in unappropriated funds. Suddenly, the buzzards started circling the roadkill, trying to stake a claim to the discovered funds.
One JBC member wanted millions for the BS factor (above), another wanted millions for Special Education and a third JBC member wanted millions for the State Education Fund
And one of the Senate sponsors staked a claim for millions to go to rural schools. The stage was set for an epic showdown as the bill was heard in the Senate Education Committee last Thursday.
When the smoke cleared in the Senate Education Committee, the battle lines were a little clearer.
The amendment that was “kind of” agreed upon before the hearing to address the aforementioned interests went down on a 3-2 vote.
What could have been a minor scuffle evolved into a major battle. The current status has $20 million going to rural schools, an additional $23 million to the BS Factor, $22 million slated to go to special education on a floor amendment and the remainder, allocated for reserves in the State Education Fund.
There’s a lot to be done before the bill comes to the House. Trust me, on this one, school finance will be in the papers and on TV.
Thursday, April 18 was Sportsmen’s Day at the Capitol. Rep. Jeni Arndt and I were recognized for our work in sponsoring the Sportsmen’s Caucus for Legislators. All Legislators and Capitol staff were fed wild game supplied by Steve’s Meat Market in Arvada and hot dogs from Scanga Meats in Salida.
Representatives from Coloradoans for Responsible Wildlife Management, the National Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, North American Falconers Association, Colorado Hawking Club, Colorado Sportsmen’s Roundtable and the National Wild Turkey Foundation were among the groups represented at the picnic on the East Capitol lawn.
In a session that has racked up a bunch of firsts, the list continues to grow. According to staff, this was the first year in decades Good Friday was not observed by the Legislature.
Between the majority’s efforts at religious sterility when it comes to government and their backlogged bill calendar, Easter weekend was a little short for legislators.