2005 Referendum Helps New Budget for K-12 Education

August 29, 2006 2 min read

The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2005 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The precollegiate education spending figures do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.


Thanks to the narrow passage of a referendum by voters last fall, Colorado averted what many had predicted to be substantial cuts in K-12 spending for the 2006-07 school year. Instead, under the budget wrapped up in May, districts will see a modest increase in spending for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Gov. Bill Owens (R)

18 Democrats
17 Republicans

35 Democrats
30 Republicans


Referendum C, which was championed by Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican not eligible to seek re-election this November, suspends Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights for five years. That 1992 measure, known as TABOR, amended the state constitution to impose a formula-driven cap on state spending and required the state and local jurisdictions, including school districts, to give back to taxpayers any revenues exceeding the cap. (“Colorado Voters Suspend Revenue Limits,” Nov. 9, 2005.)

In all, as part of the state’s $16.5 billion budget for fiscal 2007, state spending on K-12 education climbed from $3.3 billion to $3.4 billion, according to the Colorado Department of Education. That represents an increase for schools of $109 million, or nearly 3.4 percent.

The extra money started flowing even before the new budget year. For example, for 2005-06, districts saw an extra $20 million for special education because of the referendum’s approval; another $25 million went to some districts for capital construction expenditures. The capital aid came in response to the Giardino v. Colorado State Board of Education lawsuit against the state by school districts that was settled in 2000. The passage of Referendum C also led to additional state aid for higher education, health care, and transportation.

In recent years, though, K-12 education has been protected from the kinds of cuts seen in higher education and other social services. That’s because voters in 2000 approved Amendment 23, which requires per-pupil spending and funding for special categorical K-12 education programs to increase annually by at least the rate of inflation, plus 1 percent.

But some education groups had worried that those budgetary protections might have been disregarded this year without the approval of Referendum C.

“It’s pretty dramatic, if you consider what we would be doing and the cuts districts would be making [otherwise],” Jane W. Urschel, the associate executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said of the budget situation.

A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2006 edition of Education Week