School-Finance Bill Gets Airing in Colo. Legislature

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Lawmakers in Colorado last week mounted a new attempt to approve a compromise school-finance bill that would at last complete their longrunning attempt to solve funding problems this year.

Worked out between leaders of the Republican-majority legislature and the Democratic Governor, Roy Romer, the new school-finance bill last week cleared the Senate and the House Finance Committee.

The bill then moved to the House floor, where debate was scheduled to spill over into Friday morning. Observers said they were not sure whether the measure would survive a floor vote.

While the legislative drama moved toward a climax, observers said the latest plan was the best option for education yet considered by lawmakers during their two months of work on the issue.

The debate began anew last week in the wake of a veto by Governor Romer of a plan that had been passed in an earlier special session of the legislature.

In his veto message, Mr. Romer criticized the bill as "credit-card spending." He argued that the bill withdrew too much state support from local schools as officials attempt to move the school-funding cycle from its present calendar-year arrangement to one in line with the state budget year, which begins in July.

Recognizing that they did not have the votes to override the veto, legislative leaders began negotiating with the Governor early last week and drafted a new bill, which was then introduced in another special session.

The bill would allow districts to freeze local property-tax revenues at this year's levels, rather than continuing a rollback. It also differs from previous bills by including a higher inflation factor, and by requiring wealthy school districts to rely on local funding as the state attempts to shore up a shortfall in its school-finance program without raising taxes.

Observers said last week that they were hesitant to judge the bill because its fate was so uncertain. But Deborah Fallin, a spokesman for the Colorado Education Association, argued that the debate seemed to be headed in the right direction.

"Nobody is really thrilled about this, but we're getting the legislators to do more than they've been able to do before," she said.

Observers added that, even though the bill seems to be improving for education, officials have yet to determine how the finance changes would affect local school budgets, which are now being put together.

"Nobody really knows how it all shakes out," Ms. Fallin said.

Vol. 11, Issue 11, Page 16

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