Legislature restores some funding for K-12 education

Thursday, May 10, 2018 - 12:15pm

Plan to shore up retirement system passes

The second regular session of the 71st General Assembly adjourned on May 9. Colorado school districts are on track for their most significant funding increase in years as the Legislature finished work on education finance bills for 2018-19.

Total program funding, the amount of state and local revenues allocated for basic school operating costs, is projected to be $7.08 billion in 2018-19, a $460.9 million increase over the $6.62 billion figure for the current, 2017-18 budget.

That includes a $150 million reduction in the Budget Stabilization (BS) Factor – the term lawmakers now use for what used to be called the Negative Factor. That would bring the BS Factor to $672 million in 2018-19, a new low.

The BS/negative factor represents the difference between what full K-12 funding would be under the Amendment 23 formula previously passed by voters and what the Legislature decides school funding actually will be in a given year. Since 2010, when the negative factor was first imposed, Colorado school districts have received $6.6 billion less than they would have otherwise.

The scope of next year’s funding increase also is illustrated by average per-pupil funding, a common benchmark in school finance, even though it doesn’t necessarily reflect the situation for individual districts.

The funding plan would translate to an average per-pupil figure of $8,137, a $475 increase over the current year. That may be the largest increase since the Negative Factor was created. The largest previous figure was an increase of $344 per student in 2014-15 over the previous year.

A strong economy, rising state revenues and pressure to restore some school funding all have contributed to the larger increases proposed for next year.

House Bill 18-1322, the main state budget bill, was signed by the Governor on April 30. It sets the foundation for school funding, based on the inflation and enrollment increases dictated by Amendment 23.

The second piece of school funding legislation, House Bill 18-1379, has passed in both chambers. The bill is this year’s version of the annual school finance act and sets the size of the BS factor and contains some other provisions.

Among other things, the bill includes an additional $30 million in funding for rural school districts. That provision would supply an additional $291 per student for small rural school districts (those with fewer than 1,000 students) and an additional $171 per student for larger rural districts (up to 6,500 students).

Other education funding contained in various bills this year includes:

  • An additional 1,000 slots that school districts can use for preschool or kindergarten students.
  • $8 million to the Department of Education for teacher preparation programs, plus $1.5 million for teacher retention grants.
  • $5.5 million for state Charter School Institute schools to “compensate” them for mill levy override revenues that neighboring district schools receive.
  • $35 million in one-time funding for school safety.
  • $225 million in General Fund to get the state’s pension system, PERA, on the path to solvency. In addition to this ongoing appropriation from the state, additional details include a 2 percent increase in the employee contribution, and a .25 percent increase in the employer share that will be phased in over time. The retirement age for future employees was also raised to 64.