By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) A recent report by the financial website Wallet Hub listed the Douglas County School District as one of the least equitable districts in Colorado, ranking at No. 174 out of 178 districts.
Wallet Hub argues that states that provide more equitable funding across their districts help prevent poor students from “lower graduation rates, lower rates of pursuing higher education and smaller future incomes than their wealthy peers.
The report based its ranking on the average household income and public elementary and secondary school expenditures per pupil.
Douglas County’s average income, at $121,393, is higher than any county in Colorado, including Eagle and Pitkin counties, which are home to luxury resort areas Aspen and Vail, according to a 2022 report by Stacker.
Yet, with an average income of 86.8% above the national average, students in DougCo receive less per pupil funding from the state and county than 136 other districts.
How is that possible?
State funding based on fixed formula
Colorado has a fixed amount of money it allocates per pupil. According to House Bill (HB) 22-1390, the base amount for 2022-2023 is $7478.18, a 3.5% increase for inflation over the prior year.
The state then factors additional per-pupil funding based on the cost of living, district size, number of at-risk students, and online and ASCENT students. The state then multiplies this number by the budget stabilization factor (negative factor), which reduces the funding for each school district.
The good news is HB 22-1390 also reduced the budget stabilization factor by $820 million from last year, meaning districts will get more money per pupil than in prior years.
DougCo property taxes reduce state share
To determine what’s called the Total Program or total per-pupil dollar amount, the state factors how much the county makes in property taxes through the district’s mill rate.
Since Douglas County receives a large share of its Total Program through local property taxes, Colorado reduces its share. Colorado will increase its share if a county has very little property wealth to put the districts on equal footing.
The state formula makes funding less equitable
The nonprofit Great Education Colorado argues that Colorado only meets a fraction of the need for students who need additional services, like special education, gifted and talented, and at-risk.
And the school finance formula ensures that taxpayer effort is unequal across counties. State law (TABOR) also makes it so that Colorado can’t increase taxes without a taxpayer vote and the amount of revenue it can collect is limited.
DougCo can increase its per-pupil money through mill levy overrides (MLO), which the state doesn’t factor into the Total Program. The problem is that DougCo voters have only approved one MLO in the past decade, while other districts have successfully passed similar measures more frequently.
DougCo will ask voters to approve a $60 million per year MLO in November, but supporters face an uphill battle. School board conflict, inflation, and high gas prices could make it hard for taxpayers to swallow any tax increase, no matter how small.