K-12 public schools in Colorado are primarily funded through a combination of local property taxes and state revenues. Historically, local property taxes have made up the majority of funding. However, since property taxes have decreased and will continue to do so based on the impact of the constitutional Gallagher Amendment (see TABOR/Gallagher FAQs as well as the Mill Levy Stabilization FAQ), the state has been required to fill in the amount that property taxes used to cover. During the post 9/11 economic downturn, state revenues fell dramatically and the state contributed the bare minimum legally required by Amendment 23 (Colorado spends $1,397 less per pupil than the national average.). Until 2011, the amount of funding Colorado’s public schools receive is based on the formula: inflation + 1%. The intention of this formula is to allow K-12 schools to keep up with price increases (inflation) while adding the 1% to slowly bring the funding level up toward the amount we spent in 1989 (inflation-adjusted) and toward the national average. This modest formula was an integral piece of Amendment 23, approved by Colorado voters in 2000.
Annual State Funding Increases: 2005-06: 1.1% | 2006-07: 3.1% | 2007-08: 4.6% | 2008-09: 3.2%
The Consumer Price Index upon which Amendment 23 is based does not adequately take into account some of the items that are most important to school districts such as: energy costs for gasoline or electricity, pensions and health care insurance—which have experienced double-digit inflation for the last few years. Just like it is more expensive to heat our homes or pay for family health insurance, schools have to deal with these skyrocketing costs, while receiving low, single-digit increases in funding (Even these modest increases are now in jeopardy).
How do schools cope? Since they must provide transportation for kids, heat the buildings, and provide benefits to their employees, most school districts are forced to make cuts that affect the classroom: cutting programs and course offerings, increasing class sizes, deferring text book purchases, letting teachers and/or paraprofessionals go, and freezing their pay. To hear first-hand how schools are coping, explore Great Ed’s Interactive School Stories Map.