The West Steps: Now is the time to correct Colorado’s inequitable school funding system
Welcome back to The West Steps! Today, we return to a highly complex and often misunderstood topic: Colorado’s school funding system, and specifically local “mill levy override” funding. Leslie Colwell, Vice President for Education Initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign; and George Welsh, former superintendent of Cañon City School District, join us to help make sense of this complicated component of our education and tax system. Our guests explain the ways property tax resources school districts, how it creates and widens inequities, and the impact this has on students.
Access to a high-quality education should not be determined by zip code, yet in Colorado, that is overwhelmingly the case. Our state’s school finance system – the ways we resource schools with revenue and our allocation formula – is complicated to understand and highly inequitable. Supplemental revenue can be raised through local mill levy overrides, which require voter approval to increase the amount of mills residents pay for property tax. However, not all property is valued at the same rate, allowing some communities to raise more funds than others. Currently, 64 school districts in the state have zero local overrides to support students. Especially with educational inequities widening as a result of the pandemic, it is essential that our policymakers work to correct this longstanding barrier to student success.
This year, SB22-202 hopes to begin addressing these problems by establishing a state-funded Mill Levy Override Match Fund. This fund intends to level the playing field for schools in low-wealth communities who otherwise constantly struggle for adequate resources to meet student’s needs. While this bill will not solve Colorado’s school finance woes, it is one step toward improving school funding so that a student’s access to educational opportunity is not limited by their zip code. To learn more about this bill and its journey through the legislature, click here.