Speedy School Finance Bill Could Innovate, Punish "Sore Loser" Districts

This morning brings an important committee hearing at the State Capitol, as the Democrats in charge try to speed through some serious changes to the School Finance Act:

Legislators and lobbyists Tuesday were hurriedly conferring about and drafting possible amendments to Senate Bill 09-256, the 2008-09 school finance bill that was introduced Monday.

The bill currently is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, considered on the Senate floor Thursday and is set for final passage on Friday.

That leaves little time for crafting language for a complex bill that takes several new directions with the overall goal of funneling more money to at-risk students and polishing up Colorado’s chances to win competitive federal stimulus grants for education innovation. [Link to bill PDF added]

Very little time has been given to analysis of this proposal thus far, so I can’t comment much yet. It does look like some innovative proposals may be included, but then as the Denver Post‘s Jessica Fender reports, something bad could be in store for certain school districts that want to honor taxpayer protections — if House Democrats get their way:

School districts that lower local property taxes — and thereby reduce the shares that they pay of their own education budgets — might not have the state funding to make up the difference.

Lawmakers are trying to block end runs around a mill levy freeze recently upheld by the state Supreme Court in what today promises to ignite a political conflagration over school financing.

The freeze keeps property-tax rates from falling as home values rise, raises revenue for local districts and increases the level at which they can fund their schools. The state pays whatever tab is left over, so less local tax money means that state costs soar.

Mesa County commissioners, who joined the failed lawsuit to fight the freeze, have been pushing their school district to give voters a shot at opting out of it.

It’s exactly the type of local rebellion that lawmakers like Rep. Jack Pommer are trying to prevent with a newly introduced draft of the School Finance Act.

“They’re sore losers,” Pommer, D-Boulder, said. “And they’re trying to scam us on the theory that they can get more money from the state without paying more themselves.”

Sore losers, huh? Kind of like when I beat my friend on Gameboy Advance. He gets pretty sore. But the legislature doesn’t try to threaten him with taking away his share of taxpayer funds. I guess they could try, but they haven’t so far.

Seriously, though, my friends in the Education Policy Center will be watching this bill closely. Stay tuned for more.