DENVER, CO — The House today passed HB20-1418, the School Finance Act, sponsored by Speaker KC Becker by a vote of 39-23.
“This is one of the most difficult years for education funding in our state’s history, but we did everything we could to prioritize K-12 as we worked to responsibly balance our budget,” said Speaker Becker, D-Boulder. “Our schools and teachers still face enormous challenges to meet the needs of our students. We need to find innovative solutions, like getting rid of outdated tax handouts, to protect K-12 funding in the future and begin to address the fundamental inequities in how our state funds public education.”
HB20-1418 is the annual School Finance Act, which sets funding levels for all of Colorado’s school districts and charter schools. This year’s proposal shields K-12 from the worst of budget cuts, reducing funding for all districts by $377.6 million from the prior year amidst a $3 billion revenue shortfall. However, with $510 million in federal CARES Act funding and $37 million in additional federal funding for at-risk students intended to help address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, total school funding increases by at least $169 million overall.
While the federal funds are not an offset for cuts due to the revenue shortfall, they go a long way to help schools minimize impacts during this unprecedented situation. The School Finance Act pulls funds from marijuana taxes, school capital construction, and various grant programs and cash funds in order to put dollars where they are most needed – core education funding.
The bill also makes various changes to reflect COVID-19’s impacts to the school system. It delays the timeline for school districts to adopt their budgets, since the Long Bill was delayed. It also codifies the suspension of various accountability-related provisions to reflect the Governor’s executive orders and directs the Department of Education to convene a stakeholder group to assess the impact of the COVID pandemic on the 19-20 school year and whether additional changes to accountability systems are needed for the 20-21 school year.
Another major provision in this year’s School Finance Act corrects an issue with how local school funding levels are set, which has contributed to the underfunding of our schools over the last 25 years. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in Mesa v. State that local school funding is set incorrectly in many districts and violates our own statutes, due to districts lowering their mill levies contrary to voter approval. This School Finance Act corrects this violation without impacting anyone’s property taxes by restoring the mill levy in each district to the rate that was adopted by voters or up to a certain limit, and requires credits to offset any increases to property owners.
The House also passed Rep. Cathy Kipp’s bill, HB20-1407, by a vote of 61-0. The bill would respond to the challenges presented by COVID19 by temporarily giving publicly funded colleges and universities the option to waive standardized testing as a requirement for admission for high school students graduating in 2021.
“The pandemic has disrupted life for our students as they work to complete their high school education and begin attending college,” said Rep Kipp, D-Fort Collins. “Many students weren’t able to take their standardized tests, so we are changing the requirements for public higher education institutions to allow them to consider other academic credentials, such as GPA and leadership positions when making admissions decisions.”