From the Superintendent: Understanding dynamics of Colorado school funding

Chris Selle
Chris Selle
MEEKER I As the 2016 legislative session begins, funding for school finance will once again take center stage. For the Meeker School District, multiple programs and offerings have been cut over the past several years in response to the declining investment Colorado is making in K-12 education.

In the coming months, I will be sharing more detailed information on what our district has lost in the past 10 years—more or less. Prior to that, however, it is important to understand some of the dynamics of K-12 funding in Colorado.
Likely, the most telling indicator of Colorado’s K-12 finance structure comes from a comparison to other states in our country.
In Education Week’s Quality Counts report for 2015, Colorado earned a grade of D+ for its school finance system. Within that report, Colorado received a B+ for equity within its finance formula, but an F for overall spending. This same report showed that Colorado’s per-pupil funding for K-12 education is more than $2,700 below the national average. We could provide a number of wonderful opportunities for our students if Colorado were merely average in regards to education funding.
One of the most influential factors creating the disparity between Colorado and other states comes from the “negative factor.”
In Colorado, schools are funded based on a finance formula. The formula takes into account a number of factors, then calculates a per-pupil revenue for each school district.
In 2009, the Colorado State Legislature added another factor to the finance formula to help balance the state’s budget. This became known as the negative factor and is the mechanism the state uses to reduce funding for schools, and, subsequently balance the state’s budget. For the 2016-2017 school year, the negative factor is estimated to be at approximately $700,000 for the Meeker School District and $905,000,000 statewide.
When faced with this information, many in our state ask about marijuana money.
Amendment 64 passed in 2012 with a promise of providing funding to schools. The constraints with that funding require it be used for a capital construction grant program and revenue from marijuana taxes be capped at $40 million annually. Thus, a large number of schools will never be able to use this money because they do not qualify for the grants.
For those schools that can, it must be used on one-time facilities improvements. Furthermore, even if the funds could be used for ongoing operational expenses, the available money is less than 5 percent of the amount of annual funding that has been cut through the negative factor.
Keeping somewhere between three to six months operating expenses in reserve is a general rule of thumb for school districts. Currently, between general fund and capital fund reserves, the Meeker School District has approximately nine to 10 months worth of operating expenses in reserve.
Former school boards and administrations for the Meeker School District wisely budgeted to ensure healthy reserves were in place for the school district. We are now at a time where we have intentionally purposed to spend some of those reserves in order to provide what we believe to be basic educational needs for our students.
While this is a short term fix to provide our students with the basics of a quality education, it is not the long-term solution.
We have determined that the time is not right to pursue another mill levy override through the 2016 election. However, without additional revenues in the next few years, our reserves will deplete to a point where will have to make further cuts to our educational programs.
Should you wish to have more detailed information on finances in the Meeker School District, or in Colorado, please feel free to contact me.
With that information, I encourage you to advocate with state legislators to provide for needs of Colorado’s school children. I will continue to advocate on their behalf because I am proud to be a Meeker Cowboy and hope to ensure the best education possible for all Meeker Cowboys!