Lawmakers Generously Fund Public Schools

DENVER - Colorado public schools will see record amounts of money flowing their way next year, following Tuesday’s bipartisan approval by the Colorado Senate of a School Finance Act (House Bill-1379) that includes significant across-the-board funding increases, on every metric from total dollars spent to per-pupil allocations to districts.

Total funding to public schools in fiscal years 2018/2019 will top a whopping $7 billion dollars, which is the most ever spent on that budget category. That represents a year-over-year increase of $460 million, or 7 percent. Per-pupil funding will increase to $8,837 and the so-called negative factor will be bought down by $150 million dollars.

“I’m well aware that some in this body will never be satisfied with the levels of funding education gets, until it consumes every dollar in the state budget, to the exclusion of almost everything else, but those of us who recognize the need to balance the state’s budget priorities in light of all the other demands on these dollars, I think this represents an extraordinary and unprecedented level of financial support for public schools,” said Senate Education Chairman and HB-1379 Sponsor Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs). “The state has stepped up and done its part to adequately fund Colorado’s schools, but it’s also now incumbent upon the districts receiving these dollars to ensure that they’re wisely spent and delivering the most bang for the buck in the classroom.”

Republicans repeatedly have fought for K-12 funding increases above what Governor Hickenlooper proposed in recent years, so the funding boost was not an anomaly. Nor were these spending hikes related to recent teacher pay protests staged by unions, which came after most of this year’s budget work was done.

Republicans began this session with an ambitious agenda, despite the political challenges posed by a split legislature, which included backing another funding increase for schools while also striking a deal with Democrats that will direct more general fund dollars to Colorado’s long-neglected roads. And with only hours remaining in the 2018 session, they seem on the brink of scoring a double win this session.

Addressing both funding priorities simultaneously might not be realistic in a normal budget year, when scarcity of funds is often the norm. But an unexpected $1.2 billion windfall the state has enjoyed, thanks to a thriving economy and the trickle-down benefits of Republican tax reforms, presents a rare opportunity to tackle both issues simultaneously, say Republicans.

“There are those in this building who see budget battles as a zero sum game, pitting their pet funding priority against every other and claiming that every dollar not spent on education is a dollar stolen from education, but real-world budgeting requires seeing the state as a whole and striking a balance between all the demands on those dollars,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City). “Folks back home have a hard time understanding why a state with a $30 billion annual budget can’t chew gum and walk at the same time, by simultaneously funding schools and roads, and Republicans understand where they are coming from. We can do both, and we will do both, if we apply a little reason and reject the winner-take-all mentality we too often see in this building.”

House Bill-1379 cleared its final Senate hurdle on a bipartisan vote Tuesday and now goes back to the House. If the House concurs with the Senate version, the Governor’s signature will make it law.


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