By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) Colorado’s state legislature is set to give its 178 school districts more money based on proposed amendments to the school finance bill making its way through the state legislature. The bill increases K-12 funding to over $9 billion, up from $8.4 billion in 2022-2023.
Should the bill (SB23-287) pass as written, Colorado would increase the base amount of money it allots per student by $598.25 to $8076.41, an 8% inflation increase. While the state constitution requires per pupil funding to increase yearly by at least the inflation rate plus population, Colorado hasn’t met this requirement in over a decade.
School finance in Colorado is complicated, and not all districts receive the same amount. Factors like district size, cost of living, number of at-risk students, and share of local funding (property taxes) change the outcome.
Because Douglas County has a lot of property wealth, local taxpayers contribute 53% of its yearly budget. The state’s share is 39%, and the federal share is 7%.
Districts unable to raise as much locally contribute far less and get a more significant percentage from the state to make up the difference.
Colleen Doan, budget director for the district, shared in her budget projections that DougCo schools will likely get $924 more per student next year, putting its total revenue at more than $10,000 per student for the first time in the district’s history.
With the added dollars and next year’s projected student count, DouCo’s total budget will increase by $54.1 million.
DougCo school board president Mike Peterson said he was happy for state legislators' steps to increase school district budgets.
“However, that is a rising tide that lifts all ships. Everyone across Colorado is going to see that, so it does nothing to close the pay gap with our surrounding districts,” said Peterson.
Increase to special education budget
Doan estimated that the district would also get an additional $2.9 million based on a 2023 law that allots $6,000 for each higher-needs student, in addition to $1750 per student with an individualized education plan. Colorado set this amount in 2006 but never met it.
“While this is extremely favorable for us, we still largely subsidize the cost of special education,” said Doan. The district pays more than $100 million for special education services outside of what the federal government provides.
The end of the B.S. factor
The bill also includes a provision setting the state on a path toward fully funding education by the 2024-2025 school year. Since 2009, Colorado has withheld more than $10 billion from its schools to pay for other budget priorities hurt by the economic recession – known as the budget stabilization factor (or B.S. factor).
According to a report by Chalkbeat, Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer pleaded with the Joint Budget Committee to provide more money to schools than initially planned.
“It’s time for the state Senate and this General Assembly to let the governor and the rest of the state know, no more B.S., no more balancing the budget on the backs of students,” she said. “We’re going to set a priority, and it’s called education.”
This year, Colorado withheld $321 million from schools, about 3.7% of base funding. Next year, the state would withhold $171 million, a difference of $150 million.
Chalkbeat also reported that Joint Budget Committee Chair Rachel Zenzinger plans to request an amendment to eliminate withholding next year. Gov. Jared Polis had called for a three-year plan.