COLORADO SPRINGS — With more funding headed toward K-12 education following the passage of a bill to raise local school district taxes, Colorado lawmakers are proposing major changes to how the state spends its education dollars.
On a 60-5 vote, the House passed the 2021 School Finance Act which makes changes to the school finance formula to direct additional resources to schools that serve higher populations of at-risk students and English language learners. It also restores reductions to K-12 funding that the legislature made last year in the wake of dire budget forecasts that predicted significant revenue declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Compared to actual funding levels in the current school year, the bill increases total program funding by $750.8 million. With the permanent changes to the school finance formula, total program funding will increase by another $623.8 million in the 2022-23 school year.
Another bill advancing through the state legislature is also focused on improving the school finance formula. House Bill 1325 would expand the definition of children living in poverty and qualifying for additional funding and, for the first time, give districts more money for every English language learner enrolled in their schools.
"All they do is come up with another mess and then say it justifies their next theft," said Douglas Bruce.
As the author of Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights, Bruce opposes the legislation. He says the decision to raise property taxes without voter approval was illegal and the funds shouldn't be allocated to providing more funding to low-income and English language learning students.
"They think it is okay to steal as long as you're stealing for the right people," said Bruce.
By increasing funding for students who are economically disadvantaged or who are English language learners, proponents say it'll help provide each child in the state with a high-quality education.
“This year’s school finance act puts students and teachers first by significantly increasing funding for K-12 education,” said Education Committee Chair Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, a former teacher. “Everyone in the education community has been through so much the last year. I’m proud that we were able to come together to support our students, provide districts with the resources they need, and strengthen our school finance formula.”
"We have created an education system that creates better educational outcomes and classrooms for those who have money and means," said Rep. Leslie Herod (D) Denver.
To create a more equitable system, they're proposing a special legislative committee that would examine the public school funding system and recommend improvements.
"Our interim committee will look at ways we can help lower wealth communities, raise more local funding maybe by offering a state match for their efforts," said Rep. Julie McCluskie.
The School Finance Act also restores funding to grant programs that were cut last year. These grant programs offer a number of critical services such as dropout prevention, literacy attainment, access to advanced placement courses, special education, bullying prevention, and behavioral health support.