clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Colorado schools face an uphill battle as lawmakers wrestle with budget

Students line up in the hallway at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver.
Students line up in the hallway at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver.
Nicholas Garcia

Colorado lawmakers learned Friday that balancing the state budget just got about $135 million harder.

That’s the increase in the shortfall between available money and spending obligations according to a new estimate from the governor’s office.

In total, that gap between revenue and demands is nearly $700 million.

The impact on schools is unclear. But a growing consensus from budget officials, lawmakers and observers is that the state’s education funding shortfall will grow — maybe to $1 billion.

That doesn’t mean schools will get less money than they got for the current school year, but it’s clear districts won’t see the increase they say is prescribed in state law to help them keep up with inflation and rising costs.

“The amount of money to fully fund our schools is more than the amount we have available for the entire budget,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, a Frisco Democrat and member of the budget committee.

The state would need to spend $370 million just to meet constitutional and statutory obligations for schools, according to the governor’s office. But lawmakers only have discretion over about $375 million in new revenue for all their priorities including roads and health care.

Officials from the governor’s office pointed to an anticipated drop in the amount of money the state will be able to collect from personal property taxes to fund schools as the main cause of the increasing gap.

Lawmakers also were told Friday they’ll need to save between $135 million and $256 million for taxpayer refunds because the state is expected to collect more money than is allowed by a constitutional amendment known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Hamner said she hopes Friday’s budget news provides lawmakers an opportunity to seriously debate new ways for the state to generate more revenue. A growing list of ideas are circulating the Capitol. They include a bill to recalculate how much revenue the state may collect under TABOR, the governor’s proposal to increase sales tax on recreational marijuana and a budget committee proposal to create a single tax rate on personal property to fund public schools.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders suggested the state will be able to bridge the growing gap.

“As in recent years, the budget gaps facing the state are daunting but not impossible to bridge if we are willing to make some tough calls on priorities in bipartisan fashion,” said budget committee chairman Sen. Kent Lambert, a Colorado Springs Republican. “We just need to keep our spending appetites in check, and our priorities properly ordered.”

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.

Sign up for the newsletter Chalkbeat Colorado

Sign up for our newsletter.