School Finance in Colorado: An Introduction

Written by: Leslie Colwell
Date Posted: August 17, 2018

We say this a lot at the Colorado Children’s Campaign: the first and most fundamental step to ensuring that all students have the educational opportunities they need to succeed in school and life is adequate, equitable and sustainable pre-K through 12th grade funding.

As we noted in our 2018 KIDS COUNT in Colorado! Report (see page 56), much about Colorado kids, families and communities has changed since the early 1990s. One thing that hasn’t changed in nearly 25 years? Colorado’s system for funding its schools. What are the ways in which our current funding system is holding us back? How many more of our students would reach their full potential if we collected and allocated dollars in fundamentally different ways to support them? We’ll answer those questions and many more in a multiple-part series in coming weeks.

Last week, we brought you a story about why the Children’s Campaign supports Amendment 73, the initiative that will appear on your statewide ballot this fall to restructure our antiquated and inequitable school finance system. Next week, we’ll have the first installment of a multi-part series explaining school finance in Colorado: a detailed breakdown of the basics on the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and the Gallagher Amendment, and the ways these two Constitutional provisions interact to produce severe unintended consequences for how the state funds students. In subsequent posts, we’ll address the following questions:

  • How does Colorado rely on local property tax to fund education?
  • How do mill levy overrides and bonds passed in local elections impact school finance?
  • What are the basics of Colorado’s school funding formula, such as base per pupil funding, weights/factors, and categoricals?
  • How does Colorado meet the requirements of Amendment 23 (which requires an annual increase in education spending) while the budget stabilization factor makes annual cuts to education spending?
  • How does Colorado’s spending on pre-K-12 education compare to other states?
  • What does teacher compensation look like across Colorado districts?
  • How does Colorado’s educator pension system impact school finance? What did SB18-200 do to make the pension system more sustainable?
  • How can I better understand how my own school or school district is allocating and spending its school finance dollars?
  • What does a growing base of research say about investments that hold promise for improving student outcomes?

To change our current system, it helps to first understand the ways in which its design creates structural barriers to opportunity for certain children in our state. Our goal is to make school finance a less complicated, mystifying, weedy topic so you’ll have the information you need to advocate for public schools. Are there any specific school finance topics you’d like us to highlight in this series? Please reach out to Leslie Colwell at leslie@coloradokids.org with your ideas!

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.