Colorado Lawmakers Kill Tax-Hike Plans
Colorado lawmakers, who had been called into special session to address a crisis in education funding, appeared last week to have decided to put off any major action on the issue until their next regular session in January.
"At this point, there is no finance bill--good, bad or indifferent," Deborah Fallin, a spokesman for the Colorado Education Association, said late last week.
Education groups and Gov. Roy Romer have been urging lawmakers to raise taxes to overcome a state budget shortfall that is expected to total more than $200 million in the next fiscal year.
Any hopes that legislators would agree with that idea were dashed on Sept. 18, however, when the House Finance Committee killed three bills that would have increased taxes or otherwise enhanced state revenues.
Aid Cut Backed
Instead, the committee and the full House passed a bill that called for altering the "instructional funding unit" in the state's school-finance law to match the reduced amount of revenue currently available for education.
The result would be an increase in the pupil-teacher ratio and, effectively, a decrease in funding to most school districts, according to critics.
"We all went nuts over that bill," Ms. Fallin said, referring tea coalition of the teachers' organization and other education groups in the state that has been urging lawmakers to deal with the fiscal shortfall.
These include the C.E.A., the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado School Boards Association, and the state P.T.A, which have united as the Coalition for Great Schools.
Last week, members of the Senate Education Committee rejected the House financing bill on a 7-to-O vote.
That action left the legislature without a school-finance measure, and legislative leaders have said they would like to wrap up the special session perhaps by the end of this week.
Ms. Fallin predicted that lawmakers would adopt stopgap measures aimed at postponing facing the financial shortfall until the regular legislative session.
One such measure would hold property-tax rates steady, instead of allowing them to go down as they are scheduled to do at the end of the year.
"It's just another Band Aid" approach, Ms. Fallin said.
Flurry of Reforms
But while they have delayed action on finance, lawmakers have used the special session to introduce a flurry of other education bills, most in the name of school reform.
Because of the quick pace of the session, some bills have been introduced and voted on in a matter of a day or two, often without serious deliberation on their merits, critics charge.
The C.E.A. and other education groups have opposed most of these bills because they have diverted the attention of lawmakers away from the funding issue.
Perhaps the most controversial measure called for amending the state constitution to provide vouchers to parents to send their children to private schools.
Introduced by Representative Pat Miller, a Republican from Arvada, the voucher resolution passed the House Finance Committee on Sept. 13. It was rejected a few days later, however, by the full House, where it required a two-thirds vote for approval to go before voters.
A separate Senate bill would have authorized the state education department to create a pilot voucher program. It was rejected by the Senate Education Committee on Sept. 19.
In addition, the House has passed and sent to the Senate bills that would: . Mandate merit-pay plans for teachers in every school district. The bill provides no funds for merit-pay increases. . Allow teachers to transfer between districts and negotiate their own salaries and benefits. . Allow school districts to establish differing salary schedules for teachers depending on the subjects taught. . Require school districts to cut an equal percentage of teachers and administrators when they make budgetary staff cuts.
Ms. Fallin said that many of these bills will face a tougher time in the Senate, especially the ones that have been referred to the Senate Education Committee.
"They are a very responsible bunch," she said of the committee members.
Vol. 11, Issue 05, Page 20