The Dean's List

The best public high schools along the Front Range. Plus: an in-depth look at how the so-called Colorado Paradox has shortchanged our kids—and how we might finally be able to fix it.

September 2013

Show Them The Money

The $950 million plan to overhaul the way  Colorado funds public education.

There are almost two million more people in Colorado now than there were in the early 1990s. And yet, since then, the state hasn’t changed how it distributes money to public schools.
This year, the Legislature passed a new school finance law, Senate Bill 213, which reimagines the way Colorado funds its school districts. “This has been an unprecedented legislative process,” says state Senator Michael Johnston, who spearheaded the bill. “This formula controls almost half of the entire state budget.”

The two-year implementation of SB 213 hinges on voters approving a $950 million tax increase in November. (At press time, Initiative 22’s supporters had gathered twice the required signatures to qualify the issue for the ballot, and Governor John Hickenlooper had announced his support for the measure.) Johnston says SB 213 is the byproduct of thousands of meetings between lawmakers and teachers, principals, parents, and other stakeholders.

SB 213 includes funding for full-day kindergarten, $109 million for English language learners (ELL), and the creation of a $100 million Innovation Fund, from which educators can apply for grant money to fund things such as longer school days and more classroom technology. “We’re making a real investment in trying to make funding more equitable for kids all over the state,” Johnston says, “so every kid has a fair shot, no matter where they grew up.” Here are a few ways the bill aims to change the status quo.

1. What Does The State Funding Cover?

• Half-day kindergarten
• Grades 1–12
• Online students
• Add half-day preschool for 3- to 5-year-olds
• Add full-day kindergarten

2. How Is Additional Funding Distributed?

• Cost of living (districts where it costs more to live receive more money)
• At-risk students (districts with a higher percentage of free-lunch kids get more money)
• Size (some larger districts get more money)
• Small districts (districts with fewer than 4,300 students will get more money)
• ELL students (districts with a greater percentage of ELL students will get more money)

3. What Control Does The State Have Over Local Districts?

• Each district tells the state how much it can pay for K–12 education; the state pays the rest. Twenty years ago, districts kicked in 70 percent and the state contributed 30 percent—today, it’s roughly the opposite.
• The state will determine how much a district is able to pay using median income, property value per pupil, and concentration of poverty.

4. What Special Programs Receive Funding?

• Special education
• Gifted and talented
• Transportation
• Vocational education
• Health education
• Funding for special education and gifted and talented programs will increase; the rest remain the same.