The Children’s Campaign supports Cherry Creek School District measure that would improve school funding equity statewide

Written by: Leslie Colwell
Date Posted: October 9, 2020

The Children’s Campaign is endorsing a number of statewide ballot initiatives that support Colorado’s kids and families – Proposition EE and Amendment B among them. This week our Board voted to also support a local school district measure because its passage would stop the erosion of CCSD’s local property tax revenue that funds education and improve equity in our school funding system overall. 

Measure 4A is a mill levy override question approved by the Cherry Creek Schools Board of Education for the November 2020 ballot. It would raise $35 million in operating funds for the district to keep teachers, maintain class sizes, provide registered nurses and mental health professionals in every school and update technology – all of the things that school districts struggle to do in a tightening fiscal environment. Importantly, the measure also includes language that would officially “de-Bruce” the district, so their base property tax rate could not continue to decline as it has over many years. 

For several years, the Children’s Campaign has been raising awareness of and proposing solutions to a fundamental unfairness in our property tax system that funds education. An unintended consequence of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) is that we have a patchwork of base property tax rates (called total program mill levies) across the state, requiring property owners in certain school districts to shoulder a higher responsibility for funding K-12 education. Most school districts in the state have had the same property tax rate since 2007, when the legislature froze total program mill levies in place. However, this is not the case for four school districts that never “de-Bruced,” including Cherry Creek School District (CCSD). 

Between 1994 and 2002, nearly every school district (174 of 178) held “de-Brucing” elections, where voters approved broad language authorizing districts to retain and spend all revenue above the TABOR revenue limit (“de-Brucing” is a play on the name of Douglas Bruce, the proponent behind the passage of TABOR, which enacted revenue limits). In CCSD, where a de-Brucing election was never held, a cap still exists on revenue that can be collected. When assessed value of property increases in CCSD, which has happened steadily over time, the district’s total program mill levy is forced down, which means the state is on the hook to backfill lost revenue. This backfill comes from the state General Fund, which means an increasingly larger share of state revenue must be devoted to CCSD, to the detriment of other school districts that experience a larger cut than they would otherwise.  

De-Brucing all 178 school districts is a critical piece of the school funding equity puzzle in Colorado. We support Cherry Creek’s effort to right this historic inequity and encourage residents of the school district to vote yes. 

The language for Measure 4A can be accessed at: https://www.citizensforcherrycreekschools.com. 

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.