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Senate's Defeat of School-Finance Measure Throws Colorado Educators Into Disarray

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Colorado legislators are grappling with a complex school-finance puzzle following the defeat of a measure that would have funded education in the state through 1993.

Major education groups, from the teachers' union to the school-boards association, are urging lawmakers to make a major financial commitment to finishing school-finance reform and providing Colorado schools with increased revenue.

At the same time, however, the state is facing a costly surge in enrollment, state budget shortfalls, and an unexpected decline in property-tax revenues, all of which are playing havoc with school-finance plans.

"We're trying to work with the teachers' association and school executives to encourage the legislature to look at the big picture," said Lauren Kingsberry, legal counsel of the Colorado Association of School Boards. "But they are more concerned with getting through this year and the transitional fiscal year. I don't think we expect to see anything this year that will satisfy us."

The transitional fiscal year is the upcoming six-month period from Jan. 1 to July 1, 1992. Legislators created it last year to bring the school fiscal year in line with the state fiscal year, which begins July 1.

By creating a six-month fiscal interregnum, sponsors of the 1990 bill reasoned, school systems could pay for their operations out of their property-tax incomes, which normally make up about half of all revenues. The state, meanwhile, would have some financial leeway to complete the phasing-in of a 1988 school-finance act, which is aimed at equalizing per-pupil spending throughout the state.

But the plan is in trouble because student enrollment jumped in 1990 by at least 12,000 students, and is expected to continue to increase by at least 10,000 students a year for the next four years, according to state education department projections.

Also, a decline in property values due to the recession meant that tax revenues from real estate fell to about $990 million, from the $1.1 billion anticipated.

Last month, the Senate gave extensive consideration to a complex school-finance bill that would have boosted funding for the six-month fiscal period by $50 million and provided a spending increase for the 1992-93 fiscal year as well.

But the bill, which one opponent called a "shell game," was defeated by the Senate on April 19. Unless another school-finance measure is adopted by the end of the session next week, legislators will face a $232-million gap in funding by next year, analysts estimate.--mw

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