The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Enrollment figures are based on fall 2002 data reported by state officials for pre-K through 12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Amendment Helps Protect
State Aid to Local Schools
For the second year in a row, Colorado lawmakers wrestled with the dilemma of how to maintain funding for K-12 education programs amid increasing budget shortfalls.
The legislature, which approved a $4.3 billion K-12 budget, increased per-pupil spending for the fiscal year 2004 to $5,500, a 6.6 percent increase over last year.
In addition, legislators established a committee to develop "opportunity contracts" for failing schools. The pilot program, which will be implemented in 2005, will allow school districts to offer academically at-risk students in failing schools financial support in the form of vouchers to attend private schools. ("Gov. Owens Pledges to Sign Colorado Voucher Bill," April 9, 2003.)
But lawmakers were forced to eliminate some education funding at the state level, including a $30 million appropriation for capital construction, a $15 million program that provided schools with $21 per student for new textbooks, and $150,000 in grants to school districts that show improvement.
A teacher-grant program that started in the 2001-02 school year and was supposed to last three years was cut going into its last year. The $4 million program helped low-performing districts pay for teacher bonuses. Meanwhile, lawmakers trimmed nearly 2,000 slots from the state's preschool program because of budget restraints.
Despite the cuts, "it's been a good year for schools," said Karen L. Stroup, the state education department's chief of staff. She added that although K-12 programs saw many cuts at the state level, local funds for schools were spared, thanks largely to Amendment 23. The measure, passed by voters in 2000, added a constitutional mandate to increase K-12 per-pupil spending by the state at the rate of inflation plus 1 percent for the next 10 years.
—Marianne D. Hurst
Vol. 23, Issue 9, Page 20