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April 11, 2024

New School Funding Formula Boosts Support for Colorado Students

DENVER, CO – House Speaker Julie McCluskie, Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, House Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon, and Senator Rachel Zenzinger today introduced legislation that will update Colorado’s outdated and inequitable school finance formula to increase funding for rural schools and at-risk students, special education, and English Language Learners. 

“Educational opportunities shouldn't depend on a student’s zip code; I’m proud of the broad, bipartisan coalition that has come together to increase funding for students with the greatest needs and provide more resources to rural and remote schools, which have historically been underfunded,” said Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon. “The deeply researched, student-centered updates we’re proposing for 2026 and beyond gained overwhelming consensus in the Public School Finance Task Force. This bipartisan proposal builds on the record funding from eliminating the Budget Stabilization Factor to drive more equity into school finance and provide additional resources to rural and smaller districts that do not have the same economies of scale or access to resources as more populated and urban districts. Reforming Colorado's public school financing formula is a huge step toward improving our public schools and ensuring every student in our state receives a high-quality education.”

“This change in the school finance formula will help pivot to the critically important effort to make education funding focused on the students,” Senate Minority Leader Lundeen, R-Monument, remarked. “For too long the formula has been about institutions and not about the unique natures of the students we serve. Fully funding K-12 education to our constitutionally mandated responsibility was last year's legislative success. Making the formula about students is this year’s goal.”

“Ensuring that every Colorado student and educator has the tools they need for success is important for a stronger future. I applaud Speaker McCluskie and Minority Leader Lundeen for their focus on funding students and achievement rather than empty seats . I look forward to building on the work Colorado has done to improve the classroom experience, strengthen our communities, meet the diverse needs of all learners, and grow Colorado’s economy,” said Governor Jared Polis.

“For years, we’ve relied on an inequitable and confusing school funding formula that is no longer responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable students,” said Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver. “We’ve heard from our teachers, families, districts, superintendents and education advocates – it’s time to change the finance formula to improve equity in our public schools by putting students first. This important bill increases the funding weights for at-risk students, English Language Learners, and students with special needs. This formula change will better support the districts with the greatest needs. We’ve taken important steps to increase public education funding to record levels – now is the time to improve the school finance formula to put us on the path to delivering the education every student deserves.”

“For my entire time in the legislature I have worked diligently to ensure Colorado’s schools receive the support they need to thrive,” said Senator Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada. “Whether as a member of the Joint Budget Committee, serving as Chair of the Education Committee, or as a member of the Public School Finance Task Force, I have been steeped in the development of Colorado’s school finance formula and I’m deeply invested in setting up our schools for future success. This year presents an opportunity to update our school funding formula to be reflective of the needs of every Colorado student – regardless of zip code. The formula is in urgent need of an update to ensure that schools are funded equitably and that all students are receiving the resources they need to be successful.”

Colorado’s school finance formula is outdated, inequitable, and hasn’t been significantly changed in over 30 years. The current formula, which is built around district-centered factors rather than student needs, is confusing, overly complex and directs more funding to wealthier districts, rather than directing funds to students who are living in poverty, English Language Learners, or who have special needs. At-risk students, English learners, and special education students are not achieving academically compared to their peers, and yet the current school funding formula from 1993 does not address the needs of those students enough.

This legislation (HB24-1448) implements the spirit of the recommendations of the School Finance Task Force, which reached overwhelming consensus, in order to drive more resources to the students who need them the most, specifically at-risk pupils, special education students and English Language Learners. 

With hundreds of millions of additional dollars now going to public schools in Colorado, these changes, which would take effect for the 2025-2026 school year and implement in a gradual phase-in over 6 years, will drive more of these new resources to historically underfunded districts with lower property wealth and that serve a higher number of at-risk students and English Language Learners. When fully implemented, there will be $852 million in the formula for our at-risk students, $142.7 million for English Language Learners, and $240 million in the formula for our Special Education students, in addition to the constitutionally-required $375 million in the Special Education categorical. Remote and rural districts would receive an additional $255 million under this formula, once fully funded. 

The new formula puts students first by increasing the student weights for at-risk, English Language Learners, and adding a new special education factor. At-risk, English Language Learners, and special education will all be set at a 25-percent weight. The categorical funding for special education will continue to increase according to law and Amendment 23.

The new formula is simpler and better accounts for district characteristics by fixing the “Order of Operations” to emphasize student needs. It removes the multiplicative factors that change the base funding per pupil, which currently create cascading funding impacts throughout the formula that are extremely challenging to track. Instead, factors that increase funding for small districts or districts with high cost of living will be additive and easy to understand. It also creates a new remoteness factor to support rural schools and a funding floor for all districts that their new funding cannot drop beneath. 

The legislation is supported by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Colorado Succeeds, Stand for Children, The Children’s Campaign, and Ready Colorado. This bill is also supported by the following school districts: Trinidad School District, Weldon Valley School District RE-20J, Lone Star School District. Buffalo School District RE-4J, Platte Valley School District RE-7, Summit School District, Mapleton Public Schools, Haxtun School District RE-J2, Sangre de Cristo School District RE-22J, Colorado Springs Schools D11, Las Animas School District, RE-1, Canon City Schools, Campo School District RE-6, Alamosa School District RE-11J, Weld Re-8 School District, Wiggins School District, Denver Public Schools, Genoa-Hugo School District C-113, Weld County School District 10-J, Briggsdale,Sanford School District, Weld RE-5J School District, Greeley-Evans School District 6, Weld County School District Re-3J, Weld RE-9 School District, Pawnee School District RE-12, Morgan County School District, Sheridan School District 2, Elizabeth School District, Rocky Ford School District, Cheraw School District, Holyoke School District, Westminster Public Schools, Eaton School District, Weld County School District Re-1, Monte Vista School District and Center Consolidated School District 26JT.

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