Denver Post Highlights Colorado’s Inequitable PreK-12 Revenue System

Written by: Leslie Colwell
Date Posted: January 11, 2019

This week Denver Post reporters Anna Staver and Chris Osher drew attention to an important and growing challenge for Colorado’s school finance system. The article examines several issues we published in a multi-part series on school finance that illuminated challenges created by the intersection of TABOR and Gallagher, total program mill levy inequity, and mill levy override inequity.

The Post article provides tangible examples of the ways our property tax system places a disproportionately high burden on certain taxpayers in our state compared to their neighbors, for no good policy reason. In Primero School District, for example, homeowners pay the lowest property tax rates in the state toward the mandated minimum per-pupil cost of education: $42 on a $348,900 home. The graphic below shows how the Primero taxpayer’s contributions compare on a house with the exact same value with five other school districts.

On top of this base of inequity, Colorado’s system allows local school districts to ask taxpayers to approve mill levy overrides, which provide additional local property tax funding without impacting the amount the district receives from the state. These local funding solutions create even more disparity in the amounts of funding available to support the education of students. Littleton Public Schools, for example, has passed every bond and mill levy override question ever put before voters, resulting in an extra $2,000 per student in addition to $298 million in bonding capacity approved in the 2018 election. Pueblo School District, with about 2,000 more students than Littleton and a much higher percentage of students living in poverty, is the largest school district in Colorado without any additional mill levy override funding; Pueblo recently switched to four-day weeks, and has aging and underfunded school buildings.

The Denver Post article also mentions possible solutions that lawmakers are discussing, including delivering extra state aid to poorer districts without additional mill levy override funding, directing districts to adopt a consistent property tax rate that would contribute to the minimum per-pupil funding level, or asking voters to consider a uniform tax rate on a statewide ballot initiative. We’re hopeful that the legislature will continue robust discussion on these solutions and others that would restore equity and adequacy to school funding. What do you think of these proposed ideas? Are there other solutions that legislators should be discussing? Get in touch to let us know!

Leslie Colwell

About Leslie Colwell

Leslie Colwell serves as the Vice President of K-12 Education Initiatives, leading the Campaign’s work to improve education in the state of Colorado. Before joining the Children’s Campaign in August of 2014, Leslie worked to facilitate partnerships and produce policy agreements, especially in the area of education as an Associate at The Keystone Center. Her professional experience includes working as Legislative Director for State Senator Mike Johnston, managing his education policy portfolio (including his office’s work on HB12-1238, Colorado’s READ Act, and SB13-033, ASSET), and directing a policy fellowship for educators for three summers. Leslie has also worked on Teach For America’s alumni team, and before that taught 6th grade Math and Earth Science as a TFA corps member at Mary McLeod Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles. She currently serves on the board of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research Organization (CLLARO) and on the steering committee of the Colorado Afterschool Partnership.