Colorado has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine the potential of our education system and our children

Written by: Children's Campaign
Date Posted: October 2, 2018

Every student deserves access to the resources they need to receive a high-quality education. It takes more than funding to create a great school. However, without adequate funding that is distributed in equitable and targeted ways, it is nearly impossible to provide resources kids need to learn. These include dedicated and skilled teachers, engaging classroom materials, school counselors and social workers, or music and art classes.

Our current system for funding Colorado’s schools is inadequate and inequitable. This is true for both how we collect revenue (the inputs) and how those dollars are allocated through our complex funding formula (the outputs).

Our current system for funding Colorado’s schools is inadequate and inequitable, both in how we collect revenue (the inputs) and how those dollars are allocated through our complex funding formula (the outputs).

  • Our PreK-12 system is unique because revenue not raised at the local level must be backfilled by the state. Education is funded by local property taxes and other types of revenue from the state General Fund, such as income tax. If local revenues fall, the state must backfill the difference.
  • Over the last 30 years we’ve seen a dramatic shift in paying for education to the state. Local revenues make up less and less of overall funding – they’re now at 36 percent of total, and 30 years ago that was closer to 60 percent.
  • This has meant significantly more pressure on the state budget over time. If something is not done to address certain aspects of TABOR and Gallagher in the coming years, this imbalance will only get worse.

increasing state share in school funding

  • Property taxpayers across the state contribute widely disproportionate amounts to what is then available for PreK-12 education in the state.
  • On the same median value home ($312,400), a taxpayer in Primero, Colorado contributes $38 to the PreK-12 system, a taxpayer in Eagle pays $262, and taxpayers in Greeley, Alamosa and 37 other school districts contribute $611. Voters and school districts have no control over their total program mill levy.
  • In every instance, the state looks at what is raised with local tax revenue and then backfills the difference to ensure every student has the same base per pupil investment.
  • On top of this system, we layer mill levy override inequities. With voter approval, communities have the ability to raise and spend property taxes over and above what they receive through the School Finance Act. 121 districts in Colorado have passed mill levy overrides, raising an additional $1.1 billion, and 57 have not.

Formula Inequity and Inadequacy

A comparison of total amounts spent through our current formula for 2017-18:

  • Cost-of-living factor: $1.1 billion
  • At-risk students factor: $341  million
  • District size factor: $317 million
  • Special Education categorical: $172 million
  • English Learner (EL) students categorical: $20 million
  • Gifted and Talented students categorical: $12 million
  • Budget Stabilization Factor: -$830 million

Questions for Candidates

Here are questions you might ask candidates to learn more about their positions on issues affecting Colorado kids. Whether you ask in person, online or by phone, these questions are designed to help you educate candidates while learning more about whether they are making kids a priority in their platform:

  1. Because of the interaction of provisions in TABOR and Gallagher, during the past 30 years there’s been a dramatic shift in the burden for K-12 funding from local districts to the on the state. This has increased pressure on the state budget every year. The residential assessment rate is at 7.2 percent this year, and is projected to decrease to 6.1 percent in 2019. What action do you think is needed to make school finance and other state budget priorities sustainable long-term?
  2. Colorado’s School Finance Act hasn’t been comprehensively revised since 1994. What changes do you think are needed in our school funding formula to improve outcomes for kids?
  3. Despite evidence that high quality preschool and full-day kindergarten help young learners build a strong foundation for academic success, access is limited to both of these by state funding constraints. Fewer than 1 in 4 four-year-olds have access to the Colorado Preschool Program and 3 in 4 kindergarteners are enrolled in a full day program. What steps would you take to expand access to preschool and full-day kindergarten?
  4. Research has consistently shown that high-quality, dedicated educators are the most important in-school factor for student success. In 2017-2018, the average pay for teachers in Colorado is $52,728, but we know that salaries vary significantly across the state from $29,356 in Woodlin to $75,220 in Boulder. We also know that the cost of living has increased dramatically across the state, and that when comparing Colorado’s teacher wage competitiveness to other states, Colorado ranks dead last. How would you ensure that every school district in Colorado has the ability to offer a living wage to educators?

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About Children's Campaign

The Colorado Children’s Campaign is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization committed since 1985 to realizing every chance for every child in Colorado. We advocate for the development and implementation of data-driven public policies that improve child wellbeing in health, education and early childhood. We do this by providing Coloradans with trusted data and research on child wellbeing and organizing an extensive state-wide network of dedicated child advocates. For more information, please visit www.coloradokids.org.