House Passes School Finance Act, Adjusts Formula to Better Serve At-Risk Students

DENVER, CO– The House today passed the 2021 School Finance Act, annual legislation that sets funding levels for all of Colorado’s school districts and charter schools, by a vote of 60-5. 

“This year’s school finance act puts students and teachers first by significantly increasing funding for K-12 education,” said Education Committee Chair Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, a former teacher. “Everyone in the education community has been through so much the last year. I’m proud that we were able to come together to support our students, provide districts with the resources they need, and strengthen our school finance formula.” 

“Last year was difficult for students, teachers, and parents alike, but we’re turning the corner and making significant investments in K-12 education that will help Colorado build back stronger from the pandemic,” said JBC Vice Chair Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon. “Grant programs, such as dropout prevention or literacy attainment initiatives, that we had to suspend last year are going to get the funding they need once again. We’re also making monumental changes to the school finance formula so that schools that enroll higher numbers of at-risk students and English language learners will receive more funding, making our school finance system more equitable and student-focused.”

“I’m excited to see our years of work to make the school finance formula more equitable reflected in this year’s school funding bill,” said JBC Member Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver. “We’re making important changes that will make school funding more equitable and student-focused. We have to do more to support the schools who are serving our most vulnerable students, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. By focusing on equity and directing additional resources to districts that serve more at-risk students, we can provide more children in Colorado access to the education they need to thrive.” 

SB21-268 makes changes to the school finance formula to direct additional resources to schools that serve higher populations of at-risk students and English language learners. It restores reductions to K-12 funding that the legislature made last year in the wake of dire budget forecasts that predicted significant revenue declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to actual funding levels in the current school year, the bill increases total program funding by $750.8 million. With the permanent changes to the school finance formula, total program funding will increase by another $623.8 million in the 2022-23 school year.

Lawmakers last year were forced to increase the Budget Stabilization Factor due to pandemic-related revenue losses. Some of the impact of these reductions was blunted by the distribution of federal stimulus resources directly to school districts. This year’s School Finance Act restores the Budget Stabilization Factor to where it was before the devastation of the pandemic. By reducing the Budget Stabilization Factor, each school district in Colorado will see a fair and equal, per-pupil increase to the state share of total program funding they receive. 

The School Finance Act also restores funding to grant programs that were cut last year. These grant programs offer a number of critical services such as dropout prevention, literacy attainment, access to advanced placement courses, special education, bullying prevention and behavioral health support. 

SB21-268 also incorporates bipartisan adjustments to the school finance formula initially proposed in HB21-1325. The updated formula would include a factor for English Language Learners (ELL) to provide additional resources to schools that have a higher ELL enrollment. It adjusts the definition of “at-risk pupils” to include students eligible to receive reduced-price lunch. HB21-1325, sponsored by Representatives McCluskie and Herod, also advanced today on a preliminary vote. The bill as amended establishes a bipartisan interim committee process to recommend additional changes to the school finance formula. 

Leave a Reply