Colorado to use federal stimulus for education
DENVER, Colorado ” Gov. Bill Ritter has proposed spending $487 million to shore up public education and another $135 million to support higher education using the state’s portion of federal stimulus funds, according to a letter to state budget officials obtained by The Associated Press.
Todd Saliman, the governor’s budget director, confirmed the letter and said the money will keep education funding at this year’s levels for the next three years.
“This is part of our commitment to education,” said Saliman.
The proposal includes the use of federal funds to restore $30 million in cuts for the current year for higher education and provide $52 million over the next two years to avoid tuition increases and fees for instate students. Colleges and universities would be barred for using the money for buildings and improvements.
Lawmakers had been concerned that funding for higher education would be left out of the governor’s plan because it is not protected by the constitution or federal mandates like the state’s other big-ticket items.
Under the stimulus package, the governor gets to decide how the money is spent, and the state is not required to protect higher education.
Lawmakers welcomed the proposal, which must still be approved by the U.S. Department of Education to ensure the package meets strict federal guidelines. However, they warned it only postpones the cuts needed to balance the state budget for two or three years unless the economy improves dramatically, which is not likely.
“I’m glad we’re protecting higher education, but it’s still not enough. What happens in two years when the federal money dries up?” asked Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial.
Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, said the federal money will allow schools to concentrate on real reform for the next two years and develop programs that work.
“We’re excited about the amount of money we’re getting to really reform K-12 and fund higher education. The important thing is to not just shove money into the system, but encourage efficiency,” Romer said.
The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, signed by President Barack Obama, created the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which will provide $760 million to Colorado. Of that amount, $622 million was set aside to support and restore elementary, secondary and higher education, along with early childhood programs and services.
Saliman told lawmakers he was providing the list to help the Joint Budget Committee, which is finishing up $756 million in cuts this year before beginning next year’s budget.
Saliman warned the list is only preliminary and could change.