Colorado will take back $77 million from school districts this year, but part of that money likely will stay in education rather than going to the general fund, where it could be spent for any purpose.
The Joint Budget Committee, acting as a conference committee on Senate Bill 128, unanimously approved that compromise with no discussion on Monday. The bill still must return to the Senate and the House for final approval.
The money is returning to the state because many school districts reaped more money than expected through property taxes, creating an imbalance in the school funding formula. Student enrollment — which would have justified additional education spending — didn’t increase as much as projected.
So the budget committee proposed returning $77 million to the state’s general fund, where it can be used next year.
But the House amended the bill to keep $12.9 million — the amount resulting from lower enrollment — with the school districts.
The Senate rejected that amendment last week, resulting in the conference committee.
The budget committee compromise puts the $12.9 million in the state’s education fund instead of sending it to schools. The rest of the money returns to the general fund.
The $77 million may seem like a drop in the $7 billion K-12 funding bucket. But saving that $77 million for next year, no matter which fund it’s in, could put a serious dent in the $227 million Gov. Jared Polis needs to pay for his top priority of launching universal full-day kindergarten.
The budget committee is working to finalize its budget recommendation this month. It will discuss funding for the Department of Education Wednesday. On March 15, the committee will receive the latest revenue forecast from legislative and executive branch economists.
The budget is likely to be introduced in the full Senate on March 25.