Next Steps to Funding Education

Shortly after the Denver teacher strike came to a close, The Colorado Sun published this article: The Denver teacher strike is over. Now lawmakers are trying to solve Colorado’s chronic education funding problem.

You might ask, what exactly is meant by: “Now lawmakers are trying to solve Colorado’s chronic education funding problem.”

Does this mean our legislators plan to increase revenue – you know, “Grow the Pie”? Would they do this with a referred ballot measure that would do something similar to what Amendment 73 would have done? How exactly are they looking to “solve” Colorado’s chronic educating funding problem? Because we definitely have a problem; one that public education advocates have been working on for years.

Before we all get too excited, let’s call a time-out. Because of TABOR, state legislators cannot raise taxes or create new taxes without a vote of the people. Under TABOR, the Legislature is required to refer a measure to the ballot to increase any taxes for state voters to decide. So two options the Legislature is considering would be a statutory solution, instead, and doesn’t raise any state taxes. You can read more on how TABOR works here:

Let’s review what the “chronic education funding problem” looks like so we can fully understand (and appreciate) just how grand a challenge our state legislators may be taking on:

Our state has a Budget Stabilization Factor aka Negative Factor – dollars owed to our public schools of $672 million per year. ($7.3 Billion since 2009.) We are still significantly below the national average in per pupil funding – over $2 Billion just to reach the National Average.

Depending on the source, per pupil funding in Colorado ranges between:

  • $2,147 less than National Average – U.S. Census
  • $2,222 less than National Average – National Center for Education Statistics
  • $2,793 less than National Average – Ed Week Quality Counts

If the Colorado Legislature is going to address “Colorado’s chronic educating funding problem,” we can only assume this would mean finding some way to increase per pupil funding, eliminate the B.S. Factor of $672 million, and/or raise $2 Billion to bring Colorado up to the National Average.  A heavy lift for sure.

Two options on the table that our legislators are considering as per a February 19 presentation by Craig Harper, Joint Budget Committee Staff:

“The Joint Budget Committee is currently considering two potentially complementary proposals to improve both taxpayer equity and educational equity in the school finance system.

  • Uniform Mill Levy: Amend the School Finance Act to effectively return the State to a “uniform” (statewide) total program mill levy with each school district’s total program mill levy set at the lesser of the statewide mill levy or the mill levy necessary to fully fund the district’s total program with local revenues.
  • Override Equalization: Provide a State match for mill levy override revenues raised in districts with lower property values (per pupil) to increase equity in mill levy overrides for lower-property-wealth districts. Matching system could be added to the uniform mill levy.
  • Note: The JBC has approved drafting both bills but has not yet reviewed bill drafts. Many important details remain unsettled.”

Here is how this relates to Jeffco (as per a CASB presentation provided to school board members last week):

*SPECIFICS FOR: Jefferson County R-1

  • Current School Mill Levy: 26.252 mills (in the School Finance Act)
  • Current Mill Levy Override: 12.076 mills (outside the School Finance Act)
  • Additional Mills Needed to Meet a 27 mill levy requirement: 0.748 mills
  • Amount Raised by 1 Mill: $9,415,338 (based on 2017-18 data)
  • Additional amount required to be raised locally: $8,030,426 (based on 2019-20 data)
  • Additional amount provided through state share: $32,050,612 (based on 2019-20 data)

*Numbers are subject to change due to changes in the Residential Assessment Rate and if attempting to meet a state/local contribution goal. The state/local contribution balance is impacted by changes in RAR or by the amount of budget stabilization factor buydown).

*These numbers do not include the increase from the November 2018 Mill Levy Override and Bond which will be in effect for FY 2019 ( this June 30).
26.252M – Total Program Mills
15.484 MLO
7.382 Bond
49.118 total mills

Districts, school board members, and public education advocates are all asking much the same question: Will this solve school funding issues in Colorado?

CASB presented this question to their members just recently:

Will this solve school funding issues in Colorado?

With a price tag of over $2 billion dollars to bring Colorado to the national average in school funding, the short answer is no, this proposal would not solve school funding. There are two proposals being debated according to a recent Colorado Sun article. Depending on which option and the guardrails adopted, the proposals range from being revenue neutral to buying down the Negative Factor as much as $450 million once fully implemented. Uniform school mill-levy rate at 22.6: Revenue neutral proposal (does not raise any additional revenue for educating students statewide.) Uniform school mill-levy rate at 27: Raises an additional $450 million locally and has the potential to be used to buy down the Budget Stabilization factor.

Support Jeffco Kids is a proud member of the Great Schools, Thriving Communities Coalition. The coalition’s policy statements include:

GSTC will continue to fight to improve our public schools, and ensure that the all-too-scarce public dollars allocated to P-12 education are only used for public schools.

  • We will measure future bills and policies against whether or not they provide additional funding towards an adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding solution.
  • For P-12 education, this coalition will support ALL proposals and/or legislation that increase P-12 education funding, as long as they generate additional allocations — and the funds do not take away from an existing program serving other students.

So, in our own words, and in line with the GSTC Coalition policy statements, SJK would encourage our Jeffco legislators to consider these points as they review the funding proposals:

  • Public dollars allocated to P-12 education are only used for public schools.
  • Additional funding needs to be an adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding solution.
  • Consider the route to generate additional funding.
  • Make sure the funds do not take away from an existing program serving other students.

Taking steps to actually generate additional funding is something our state legislature has long been hesitant to do. It would be a brave step forward in helping to solve one of the many pieces that contributes to our funding issues. We hope you will join us in supporting our legislators willing to take on this challenge, all while remembering this does not fix the problem, but it would be a bold and much needed step in the right direction.