Face the State falsely claimed legislation does not "guarantee ... any additional overall spending on public schools"


The "news" website Face the State falsely claimed in a "Staff Report" that under Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter's education funding measure, "there is no guarantee of any additional overall spending on public schools." But according to figures prepared by the Colorado Legislative Council Staff, the legislation increases projected spending on preschool education and per pupil funding.

In an August 28 Staff Report, the "news" website Face the State falsely asserted that under the Colorado Children's Amendment -- education funding legislation that Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter proposed and enacted as part of Senate Bill 199 -- "there is no guarantee of any additional overall spending on public schools." In fact, the bill's fiscal note, prepared by the nonpartisan Colorado Legislative Council Staff, estimated that because of initiatives mandated by the legislation, SB 199 would increase spending on preschool education by $6.7 million in FY 2007-08 and by $19.1 million in FY 2008-09. Additionally, the bill phases in an increase in minimum per pupil funding above levels mandated by the Colorado Constitution at an additional combined cost for FY 2007-08 and FY 2008-09 of $19.6 million.

Face the State describes itself as "a one-stop-shop for political news affecting Coloradans." On the July 1 broadcast of KTVD Channel 20's Your Show, founder Brad Jones stated that "if ... your [website] content is regularly incorrect you will lose credibility." As Colorado Media Matters has documented repeatedly (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), Face the State frequently publishes misleading headlines on its aggregated news articles, employs the well-established conservative tactic of using the noun "Democrat" as an adjective instead of the grammatically correct "Democratic," and perpetrates other distortions to advance conservative viewpoints and denigrate liberal positions and political figures.

SB 199 has created controversy because of its freeze in mill levy rates -- through which property taxes are assessed -- to shift much of the burden for public school funding from state to local sources. In making its false assertion about public school spending, Face the State suggested that Ritter had sought to deceive the public by advertising the Colorado Children's Amendment as one that would benefit school children.

From Face the State's August 28 Staff Report, "Democrat Tax Increase Faces Heat from Growing Coalition":

Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law a tax increase as part of the school finance bill on May 9. Narrow Democrat majorities in the house and senate pushed the change in the closing days of the legislative session this May, over strong legal objections. According to non-partisan legislative analysts, the policy change will raise an estimated $1.7 billion in new property tax revenue over the next decade. Businesses and homeowners will face different increases based on the school district in which they reside.

The new law shifts some of the burden for school funding to the local level so lawmakers can increase spending on their priorities in the state budget. Though the governor and his allies have promoted the property tax increase under the heading of the "Colorado Children's Amendment," there is no guarantee of any additional overall spending on public schools. [emphases added]

Contrary to Face the State's assertion, beyond redistributing much of the burden of public school funding from state resources to local property taxes, the measure -- consistent with the Colorado Children's Amendment proposal that Ritter announced March 13 -- in fact would increase overall public school funding and would mandate increased spending on specific public school initiatives such as additional preschool slots.

As the Colorado state government website states, "The primary purpose of a fiscal note is to provide the General Assembly with a brief statement of the estimated fiscal impact of a bill or resolution on state and local government revenues and expenditures." According to the final fiscal note for SB 199, the bill enacted May 9 committed the state to adding 5,500 new preschool slots at a total two-year cost of $25.8 million, and a state share of $18 million. This passage of the fiscal note corresponds with Section 11 of the bill, which expands the number of preschool slots. According to the fiscal note:

The bill adds 5,500 new preschool slots over 2 years, including 2,000 in FY 2007-08 and another 3,500 in FY 2008-09. Preschool students are funded at one-half time, so an increase of 5,500 slots equates to 2,750 new full-time pupils. Since the districts that will receive the new slots are not yet known, the costs shown in Table 1 are based on projected statewide average per pupil funding. In FY 2007-08, adding 2,000 preschool slots will require $6.7 million, including $4,655,056 in state costs. Beginning in FY 2008-09, adding another 3,500 slots will require $19.1 million, including $13,377,467 in state costs. [emphases added]

Similarly, following Ritter's proposal to raise funding for 11 local school districts that were "at the state education funding floor," the bill phased in an increase in minimum per pupil funding statewide. Beyond what the fiscal note identified in its summary of the legislation as the constitutionally-mandated increase in per pupil spending of inflation plus 1 percent, over three years the bill increases minimum per pupil funding to 95 percent of the statewide average. The fiscal note reads:

Summary of Legislation

As amended, the bill modifies several laws affecting public schools, including the Public School Finance Act of 1994. Specifically, the bill makes the following changes, which are described in greater detail in the State Expenditures section:

  • increases the statewide "base" per pupil amount by 4.6 percent to match inflation plus 1 percent, as required by the state constitution;
  • freezes the school finance mill levy for many school districts and caps the levy for other districts at 27 mills;
  • adds 2,000 preschool slots in FY 2007-08 and another 3,500 slots in FY 2008-09, bringing the total to 19,860;
  • increases the minimum per pupil funding amount over 3 years to 95 percent of statewide average per pupil funding; and
  • increases funding for the national credential fee assistance by $25,000. [emphases added]

In its section on State Expenditures, the fiscal note elaborated on the bill's per pupil funding mandates:

The school finance act guarantees a minimum per pupil funding amount which is increased under the bill over a 2-year period. In FY 2007-08, the minimum per pupil funding level is set at 94.3 percent of the state average per pupil funding amount excluding funding for on-line pupils, which will increase funding in 11 school districts. Beginning in FY 2008-09, the minimum is set at 95 percent of the statewide average, affecting 14 school districts. On-line pupils would continue to be funded under the existing formula. [emphases added]

The FY 2007-08 and FY 2008-09 entries for "Increase Minimum Per Pupil Funding" on the fiscal note's Table 1, which indicates cost components for the bill, add up to a little more than $19.6 million (click table to enlarge):

The fiscal note's passages on per-pupil funding relate to Section 3 of the bill.

As shown in its Table 2, the fiscal note estimated that, excluding the preschool funding increases, public school spending under the bill in FY 2007-08 would be $319.3 million greater than spending in FY 2006-07. Some portion of this total -- not identified by the fiscal note -- is attributable to the constitutional mandate that per pupil funding increase by inflation plus 1 percent. (click table to enlarge)

In addition to distorting the content of the Colorado Children's Amendment, Face the State's Staff Report repeated its frequent tactic (see here, here, here, and here) of using the word "Democrat" as an adjective instead of the grammatically correct "Democratic." In this instance, Face the State referred to "Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter" and "[n]arrow Democrat majorities in the house and senate."

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