DENVER, CO — The House Committee on Education today passed HB20-1418, the School Finance Act, sponsored by Speaker KC Becker. The bill passed on a bipartisan vote of 9-4.
“This is not the School Finance Act that I wish I could sponsor,”said Speaker Becker, D-Boulder. “In one of the most dire budget years in our state’s history, we did what we could to prioritize K-12 amidst major cuts across the rest of the budget, as well as reprioritizing various grant programs towards core education funding and using federal dollars to help schools with costs due to the pandemic. But we are still facing major shortfalls in education funding. We will need to use every tool in the toolbox to protect K-12 this year and next.”
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 $378.6 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 $168 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 committee also passed Rep. Cathy Kipp’s bill, HB20-1407, which 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 bill passed the committee unanimously.
“COVID19 has presented unique and complex challenges to our students and educational institutions,” said Rep. Cathy Kipp, D-Fort Collins. “Many Colorado students lost the opportunity to take their standardized tests as scheduled during the height of the pandemic. This bill will level the playing field for them by allowing publicly funded institutions of higher education to consider their other academic credentials, like GPA and leadership positions, when making admissions decisions. This is a win-win for students and universities alike.”