The state Senate on Friday approved a bipartisan education bill to increase funding for schools helping at-risk students and perhaps gain access to as much as $500 million from the federal government.
Colorado legislators hope the state will be one of about 10 to receive a share of $4.35 billion in federal stimulus grants from the "Race to the Top" fund.
Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Summit Cove, is one of the bill's sponsors in the state house. She said the legislation " Senate Bill 256 " could be "a tool" for the stimulus money.
"Quite candidly, we feel like we have a really good chance at getting some of those dollars," Scanlan said. "That would be a huge difference."
The federal grants are to be awarded in fall 2009 and spring 2010 to states aiming to improve: teaching effectiveness, progress-tracking data systems, college- and career-ready standards and support toward improving schools identified for corrective action, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
In an economic recession with slumping state revenues, the stimulus money could save 1,000 teacher jobs, according to a report on indenvertimes.com.
Colorado's 2009 School Finance Act moved quickly through the senate since it was introduced on Monday; it is expected to go before the state house Monday.
The bill includes $4.5 million per year to reward schools helping their at-risk populations " students on free and reduced lunch programs.
Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Arapahoe County, said in a media teleconference Friday that the bill will "provide funding and opportunities to focus on those children who are the most vulnerable in Colorado."
Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, said the bill, which he's sponsoring, sets up the state's "own (President) Obama-like policies."
"It's absolutely the ticket to a world-class work force," he said.
For the first time, a school finance act will reward schools with high populations of at-risk students "who have extraordinary growth," Romer said.
The bill also includes an amendment to register ninth-grade students online with colleges in Colorado. Scanlan said she's heard this amendment will be adjusted to also help students get on-track toward other post-secondary options such as vocational schools.
"We know you need at least two years of additional education," she said. "A high-school diploma is not going to be enough."
Scanlan said she aims for the bill to put "dollars on the ground at the local level, being put into action helping kids."
The School Finance Act is intended to eliminate what's known as the Colorado paradox: Though the state attracts some of the nation's most intelligent transplants, its state-born students are ranked 45th nationwide in attainment of a bachelor's degree or higher for residents aged 25 to 64.
At 23 percent, the state's average is far below the United States average of 42 percent, according to 2005 statistics from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.
Colorado schools next year expect to have 789,000 students " an increase of more than 10,000. The school budget will be $5.7 billion, averaging $7,231 per pupil, according to a report in the Durango Herald.
Robert Allen can be contacted
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