Today, the Colorado legislature gaveled out for the final time this year. The 2019 legislative session brought several positives to Colorado’s schools, and we are grateful to all our legislators for the time and effort they put in considering educational policy issues.
The landmark accomplishment of this session will no doubt be the funding of full-day kindergarten in the state. Many times over the years full-day-kindergarten has been put forth by legislators on both sides of the aisle, but the state’s revenue constraints (which are written into the Colorado Constitution) have never made sufficient dollars available for us to achieve this goal.
This year, Governor Polis made full-day-kindergarten the central and signature policy goal and expended the necessary political capital to get it done. Notably, the state’s revenue problem has not been solved – so what this effectively means is that more of the state’s limited resources are going into education, specifically into full-day kindergarten.
For Jeffco, our schools are already offering full-day-kindergarten and are paying for it through tuition fees from parents or from the dollars the school receives for other older students. Now, we will stop collecting tuition checks from parents and schools will all have the resources necessary to offer full-day-kindergarten without cannibalizing other resources. This will be a relief for many of our families and a major boost to equity in programming options across the district.
We are structuring the funding of full-day-kindergarten in Jeffco so that dollars flow into the district, and then we flow them to schools, and so that no school’s overall funding goes in reverse due to lost tuition collections.
Overall school funding also ended on a reasonably positive note this year. All schools in Colorado will receive 2.7% more in funding to keep up with inflation. On top of that, the legislature “bought down” something called the “budget stabilization” (formerly called the negative factor) in the school finance act by an additional 100 million dollars statewide. While the terminology is confusing, the budget stabilization factor was put in place during the great recession to reduce funding from schools to balance the budget. Both annually and cumulatively, it provides a measure of how far off pre-recession funding levels Colorado’s schools are.
For Jeffco, we are down a cumulative total of $703 million versus pre-recession levels including $61 million short this year. In more practical terms that means that Jeffco students are still funded about $753 per student annually below pre-recession levels. The additional funds the legislature are putting toward this problem this year are greatly appreciated, and we still have a ways to go.
Finally, there is also some good news on the special education funding front. Every year, Jeffco has to transfer millions of our state and local funding dollars into special education to deliver federally required services for students with disabilities as required by federal law. The problem is that federal law has never completely funded the costs associated with serving these students. We are glad to support our students with disabilities and want to do all we can to help them succeed. These added state funds will help us in doing just that.
In sum, while we still have tough choices and tradeoffs to make, we are grateful for the work of our legislators and Governor Polis in supporting education in our state and our schools in Colorado. If you see any of our legislators out in the community this spring, be sure and thank them!