Amendment 23 and the “Negative Factor”:  What’s the new lawsuit about?

Dwyer vs. State is the latest lawsuit pending against the State of Colorado concerning education funding.  The suit, filed by several school districts and parents of school-aged children, claims that the State of Colorado is not following Amendment 23, which was passed by voters in 2000.  Amendment 23 requires public K-12 school funding to at least increase by inflation each year, with the goal of restoring education funding to 1998 levels over time.  The basis for the lawsuit is the 2010 implementation of the “negative factor”, used by legislators when they are balancing the budget, and it has been in effect ever since.

You may remember from the GSV video “Bottoms Up”, that education funding from the state comes mostly in two parts: the base funding, which gives the same dollars per student to every district in Colorado, and the factors, which adds dollars per student to adjust for differences in school districts, such as size, number of at risk students, and cost of living.   Lawmakers have argued that Amendment 23 applies only to the base per pupil funding, and not the factors.  When the budget is determined, the base is calculated, then the factors, and finally the negative factor reduces the total amount by a certain percentage.   For a mental picture, imagine the base plus factors as a pie, and then reduce the size of the whole pie to see the effect of the negative factor.

Locally, the St. Vrain Valley School District receives $34 million less each year than it would have received under Amendment 23, due to the cuts and reinterpretation by the State Legislature.  The negative factor essentially has allowed education spending to decrease over the years, and attorneys for Dwyer vs. State argue that this is certainly not the intent of the voters when the amendment was passed.  Amendment 23 was supposed to increase, not decrease education funding, particularly in times of surplus such as in the current year.

LegNegFactorChart626214  Source Chalkbeat Colorado

The Colorado Supreme Court has elected to hear the case at an early juncture, although the date has not been determined yet.   Many entities are coming forward to file Amicus Briefs, or “friend of the court” briefs in support of the plaintiffs.  GSV has recently met with Kathy Gebhardt, one of the lead attorneys in the lawsuit, in order to learn more about this case, and we will keep you updated as it unfolds.

About Grassroots St. Vrain

GSV is an independent, non profit organization whose vision is a St. Vrain Valley community that is informed about education funding in Colorado and empowered to take action for the benefit of our schools.
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