Almost every November, there is an education funding initiative on the ballot in Colorado. Some are statewide initiatives, and many more are local school districts’ attempts to increase funding locally through property taxes, called mill levy overrides.
So why are they always asking?
- Colorado, although it is one of the wealthier states in the country with a booming economy, does not fund its public schools as much as most other states. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics states that only nine states spend less per student than we do.
- Education Week gives Colorado a “D” score, ranking us 40th in the nation for school finance.
- Since Colorado passed the Gallagher Amendment in 1982, our residential property tax assessment rates have dropped ten times, from 21% to 7.2% of market value. These reductions bring in less property tax revenue, which used to fund around 55% of our schools’ budgets. Today, local property taxes only cover about 36%. That causes a bigger strain on our state budget, which is limited in growth by another constitutional amendment, called TABOR.
- When the state budget was hit during the recession and cuts had to be made, the Colorado legislature introduced the Budget Stabilization Factor, formerly known as the Negative Factor. This balancing tool cut funding to schools by hundreds of millions of dollars, starting in 2010. Even though we are now out of the recession, the “B.S. Factor” remains….to the tune of $822 million dollars less in funding than what schools would otherwise have. And that’s just for this year. This reduction in funding has been in place for eight years now.
We know that Colorado funds its schools over $2,000 less per pupil than the United States average. In response, many school districts have passed mill levy overrides (MLOs) in order to prevent cuts, retain teachers, and maintain educational programs, including the St. Vrain Valley School District. But many Colorado districts are unable to pass an MLO. Another surprising fact: over 40% of Colorado’s school districts are now on a four day school week.
How can we solve this issue, and ensure that all of Colorado students have excellent educational opportunities, despite their zip code? One group is working towards a solution that may be on our statewide ballot this fall, and it is the best proposed solution that Grassroots St. Vrain has seen to date. It’s called Great Schools Thriving Communities, and we will be sharing more information about it in our next post.