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Elections and Budget Gaps Make for a Really Interesting Education Week

Tonight is the night, my friends. Tonight is the night that future of local education reform is decided in our backyards. You can bet that Ed will be watching the events unfold, and that I’ll be giving you a full report tomorrow. You can also watch a few of the big districts, including Jeffco and Dougco, on the nifty Chalkbeat election tracker.

I’m hoping Chalkbeat will add Thompson, Adams 12, and Colorado Springs 11 (and District 38) before tonight, but that probably won’t happen. I’d also love to see Steamboat included, especially given recent developments there. Fortunately, you can follow those results directly (assuming the counties are on their game) through the relevant county websites by clicking the name of the district in the sentences above.

I know we’ve all got some butterflies in our stomachs today, so let’s not linger too long on the elections. Instead, let’s talk about budgeting. Nothing calms people down faster than making them look at a bunch of numbers, right?

Not in this case. Yesterday, Governor John Hickenlooper’s office put forward a new budget plan that forecasts a $373 million funding gap. That alone is likely to raise a few eyebrows and turn some folks red. The proposed balancing remedies may actually cause heads to explode as if someone turned up their phasers a bit too high. You know, like this:


Take a minute to shake that off if you need to. We’ll continue momentarily.

The full budget plan goes into (excruciating) detail about the gap and the various balancing mechanisms employed to keep the Colorado budget level as required by our state’s constitution. Those of you who are not masochists can parse the slightly more intelligible overview presentation if you’re so inclined.

Most notably for our purposes, the balancing proposed in the governor’s plan has some serious impacts on K-12 education funding. Most notably, the Negative Factor would increase by $50 million dollars, putting it at $905 million for next year instead of this year’s $855 million. Districts also would not receive the additional $70 million dollars proposed in last year’s School Finance Act (that money was—and still is—projected to result from an increase in local property tax revenue).

So, what does this mean? First of all, we should note that this is a proposal, not an actual budget. The legislature still gets to make the final determination on how this all works out.

Second, this new outlook probably means that anything that comes with a price tag attached will be very, very hard to get through in the coming legislative session. It also means that we’re likely to see an even strong push on the school finance issue in the near future. That push will almost certainly include a(nother) revival of the Colorado-is-49th-in-school-funding canard. When that happens, just remember that the numbers are a lot less spooky with all the facts.

Aside from all that, though, this strikes me as the perfect time to have a conversation about our School Finance Formula and how it works. Maybe it’s time for us to rethink the whole thing from the ground up to be smarter, leaner, and more respectful of parental choice. And through all of that, we ought to remember that how you spend money is a lot more important than how much you spend.