Lawmakers still have decisions to make about school funding

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 - 3:30pm

Funding decisions hinge on March economic forecast

The 2018 Colorado Legislature has passed the halfway point of its 120-day session with no significant action thus far on major issues.

That’s not unusual – lawmakers traditionally leave the big decisions to the end. But legislators have been hard at work advancing routine measures and also eliminating lots of bills, including several related to education.

It’s been a slower-than-usual session for education, with fewer bills introduced than in past sessions and no big policy issues on the education agenda. More than a fifth of the 41 education bills have died, as compared to only about 15 percent of all introduced bills have died.

There’s a common pattern behind the defeats of many bills. Republican-sponsored measures often don’t do well in the Democratic-controlled House, and the same is true for Democratic bills in the GOP-majority Senate.

Two issues remain that the Legislature must tackle this session. The first is the passage of the annual School Finance Act and the decision about how much money the General Assembly approves for the buy down of the budget stabilization factor. Starting in 2009, in order to make across-the-board cuts from all districts, the Legislature added a new “budget stabilization” or “negative factor” to the School Finance Act formula. The Governor has for his part called for a $100 million buy down of the budget stabilization in his Fiscal Year 2017-18 budget request for K-12 education.

Lastly, legislators are working on a proposal to get PERA, the state’s pension system, on the path to solvency and achieve 100 percent funded status for all divisions in the next 30 years or less. In order for them to achieve this goal, it will require sacrifice from current employees, employers and existing retirees. All are being asked to increase contributions and to keep an open mind on key policies in the bill. School district employees and teachers across the state participate in PERA as part of their benefits package. The schools division has the largest shortfall. A proposed increase in the employer cost for all schools in Colorado is estimated at around $162.4 million. That’s the additional dollar amount that employers would be required to contribute should the Legislature require a 2 percent contribution for employers. The PERA bill was introduced in the Senate in early March.

Take Action: You can share your values and priorities for funding by contacting your legislator at the state capitol.