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Students at Mrachek Middle School in Aurora work to solve a math problem. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Students at Mrachek Middle School in Aurora work to solve a math problem. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Colorado schools would see funding increase in 2017 under Hickenlooper’s proposed budget

Colorado schools would receive a modest increase in student funding under a proposed budget released Tuesday by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration. But schools still wouldn’t be getting as much money as they should, in part because of a sluggish economy.

On average, schools would receive an average of $7,606 per student for the 2017-18 school year. That’s about $180 more than they’re receiving this year.

If approved by the legislature, the 2.45 percent increase would mark the fifth consecutive year schools saw an increase in per pupil funding since Colorado began to recover from the Great Recession.

But, the proposed increase falls about $50 per student short of keeping up with the state’s student population growth and inflation rate, as outlined in the state’s constitution.

The difference between how much the state should fund its schools and what it actually provides is known as the “negative factor,” which currently sits at about $830 million. Hickenlooper’s proposed budget would increase the shortfall to about $876 million.

To keep the shortfall from growing even more, the governor has proposed shifting $15 million from a school construction grant to the public school fund, which makes up a portion of how schools are paid for.

The governor’s office is required to submit a budget to the legislature by Nov. 1 every year. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and his staff will present his proposal later this month to the Joint Budget Committee. Hickenlooper’s budget is likely to ebb as lawmakers dig into individual line items, and as the state continues to update its economic forecast.

Lawmakers usually finalize the budget in the spring, and the amount going to schools can vary greatly from what the governor has proposed.

Before Tuesday, lawmakers, school leaders and education activists were worried that an economy that is growing but not as quickly as before could mean cuts to the state’s schools.

As a preemptive strike, a group of activists last week sent a letter to Hickenlooper and lawmakers asking them to create a three-year plan to boost funding to schools that would not be subject to negative factor. According to Hickenlooper’s budget, that would require the state come up with an additional $1,000 per student.

Hickenlooper’s proposed budget also sets aside $9.7 million from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund to create a grant to pay for 105 school health professionals to increase substance abuse intervention and mental health programs.