Posted: Jan 25, 2011 8:28 PM by Andy Koen
Updated: Jan 26, 2011 4:03 AM
An advisor to former Democratic Governor Bill Ritter admitted that he was ultimately responsible for the funding flub that will end up costing school districts in Colorado $124,000 this year to continue providing free breakfast to certain students.
Ritter's budget director Todd Saliman told the Denver Post and other media outlets this week that he denied the supplemental funding request from the Colorado Department of Education that was needed to fund the Smart Start program through the rest of the school year.
Smart Start buys a free breakfast for students who live in families that earn too much money to qualify for federal free lunch status, but still make less than $40,000 a year.
A staffer from the Joint Budget Committee actually noticed that the funding would run out and brought it up before the committee last week to request an extension. The committee's Republican members voted against it because as they explain it, the governor's office didn't want it.
"It's not our business to fix cash flow problems in the governor's office, especially if they don't recognize the request," said Senator Ken Lambert of Colorado Springs.
Lambert and the other committee's two Republican's have been strongly criticized this week because of the decision, attacks that he calls "a different kind of strange."
"This is unreasonable and shrill and not helpful," Lambert said.
But Democrats at the state capitol argue that Smart Start had already been appropriated $750,000 for the year and that the JBC shouldn't hold up the remaining $124,000.
"These are the kids that are trying to bridge the achievement gap," said Representative Pete Lee of Colorado Springs. "We need them to come to school ready to eat and ready to learn."
Democrats have since introduced legislation to provide the supplemental funding. Lambert says he would be open to considering the original request if Governor Hickenlooper's office wants to recognize it.
In the meantime, schools across Southern Colorado are expecting to simply absorb the cut. Harrison School District 2 spokesperson Jennifer Sprague estimates their loss to amount to around $1,500 a month. Even then, she says it's a wash because of other federal nutrition funding the district receives and outside funding that comes from their catering program.
Other districts tell News First 5 that the dollar amounts are not significant enough to warrant changing lunchroom policy this year to begin charging students the $0.30 a day.