Classroom spending bill introduced

Legislation counters 65 percent proposal for schools

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A bill that counters a proposed ballot measure about K-12 education spending is moving through the legislative process at the Capitol in Denver.

State Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, has introduced House Bill 1283, largely in response to a petition filed in February with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office by First Class Education, a national nonprofit organization.

The petition, with more than 100,000 signatures, seeks a November ballot measure that, if approved by voters, would amend the state constitution to require all state public school districts to spend 65 percent of their annual operating budgets on classroom instruction. As defined by the petition, classroom instruction includes educational materials and salaries for teachers and classroom staff.

The proposal is backed by numerous prominent Colorado Republicans, including Gov. Bill Owens, U.S. Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, former University of Denver president and gubernatorial candidate Marc Holtzman and state Rep. Joe Stengel.

Critics of the 65 percent proposal include the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus, which is led by former Steamboat Springs School Board President Paula Stephenson. Stephenson has said that the 115 rural school districts that make up the caucus often face funding challenges that include small budgets and high transportation and utility costs.

The House Education Committee, led by Merrifield, passed his bill last week. HB 1283 would increase the required classroom instruction funding to 75 percent but would widen the definition of classroom instruction funding to include the salaries of school counselors and principals and food service costs.

Stephenson attended last week's House Education Com--mittee hearing.

"The general consensus was that neither the 65 percent scheme nor the proposed 75 percent resolution were good ideas," she wrote in an update to Rural Schools Caucus members. "In fact, many committee members stated they believed that school district budgets should be left to school boards to decide upon."

At a March 16 meeting of the South Routt School Board, district Superintendent Kelly Reed spoke strongly against the 65 percent proposal.

"For small districts, it could really, really hurt," said Reed, who also is on the Rural School Caucus' steering committee. "It's one more nail in the coffin to local control."

First Class Education already has engineered the passage of 65 percent mandates in Louisiana, Kansas, Texas and Georgia.

HB 1283 next will be heard by the House Committee on Appropriations.

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