Especially during this time of year, as Englewood Schools prepares to finalize the budget for 2016-2017, we get questions related to school finance and how Colorado schools are funded. For that reason, we've provided some answers to frequently asked questions about school finance.
Q: How are public schools funded in Colorado?
A: K-12 public schools are primarily funded through a combination of local property taxes and state revenues. As a state total, 34% of school funding comes from local sources, while the state makes up the remaining 66%. The school finance formula for each district is meant to take into account differences in property wealth across districts as well as cost of living, district size and at-risk populations. Local school districts can hold local elections if they wish to raise their property taxes in order to better fund their schools.
Q: Where does Colorado rank in the nation for per pupil funding?
A: Colorado's funding for K-12 education ranks among the lowest in the country. Colorado is currently 40th among states, spending $2,053 less per student than the national average.
Q: We keep hearing that schools have less funding, but didn't tax payers vote to raise the amount of funding schools receive?
A: Yes. Amendment 23 was a constitutional change passed in 2000 to reverse a decade of budget cuts experienced by Colorado school districts throughout the 1990s. Amendment 23 required K-12 funding to increase by inflation plus 1% from 2001-2011 and then by inflation after that.
Unfortunately, because of the economic downturn and Colorado's resulting budget crisis, Amendment 23 was not fully implemented. Seeking ways to cope with falling revenues, the legislature reinterpreted Amendment 23 in a way that "allowed" them to cut education funding through a mechanism called the negative factor. In the years since the negative factor was implemented, schools in Colorado have been denied over $5.1 billion in funding. Englewood Schools in particular has been denied over $20 million since the negative factor was implemented in 2010-2011.
Q: Now that the economy is better, are schools being fully funded?
A: No. Because of TABOR and Gallagher, the state is limited in the amount of funds it can collect and keep. This means that school funding is still falling short. The legislature is still denying funding through the negative factor, and has no plans to pay back what it owes to the schools.
Q: What happened to the marijuana money?
A: When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, there was talk about that money going to help schools. A 15% excise tax on marijuana purchases does provide millions of dollars for schools, but this money has been designated specifically for school construction. Marijuana's contribution to school construction last year was $24 million. It funded 25 school construction projects in a state with more than 1,800 schools.