Education Funding

Colo. Gov. Plans to Slash K-12 Spending: ‘It’s Where the Money Is’

By Todd Engdahl, Education News Colorado — February 16, 2011 4 min read

Saying he had to go where the money is, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed cutting K-12 spending in 2011-12 by $322 million from current levels.

If approved by the legislature, the cuts would drop school spending to 2007-08 levels and reduce average per-pupil funding from $6,823 this school year to $6,326.

Total program spending—the combination of state and local funds used to pay for basic school operations—would drop from $5.4 billion this year to about $5.1 billion. And the governor’s K-12 spending plan would be $836 million below what full funding would be under the terms of Amendment 23.

“The largest single area of reduction is K-12 education,” Hickenlooper told members of the Joint Budget Committee and a crowd packed into the Capitol’s largest hearing room Tuesday.

In a letter to the JBC, Hickenlooper noted that while revenue to the state’s general fund has grown only $481 million since 2000-01, general fund spending for K-12 has increased by about $800 million.

He repeatedly used the word “unsustainable” when discussing the budget situation.

Speaking to reporters later in the afternoon, Hickenlooper said, “41 percent of the state budget is in K-12 education. … It’s where the money is. … The four-letter word in the room is math.”

While serious cuts of some level weren’t unexpected, education leaders and Democratic legislators reacted with dismay, some hinting they will do what they can to minimize the reductions. Senate Republicans have made protecting education a priority and have even introduced a bill that would create an income tax checkoff to raise money for schools.

Republican legislative leaders praised Hickenlooper’s calls for fiscal responsibility and economic development but didn’t wring their hands about education cuts.

The announcement also brought renewed calls from Democrats and civic groups for a voter-approved solution to Colorado’s fiscal system.

Cuts Have Been Building

Because of the budget crunch, the 2010 legislature approved funding lower than the $5.8 million that would have been required had the full Amendment 23 formula been applied.

About a quarter of school funding is allocated based on what are called “factors”—district size, numbers of at-risk students and personnel costs.

The legislature last year created a new “budget stabilization factor,” a mathematical device that allows lawmakers to reduce the amount of money spent on other factors and thereby giving wide flexibility in cutting K-12 spending.

Last year’s school finance law also determined that Amendment 23’s requirements that school spending must increase annually by inflation and enrollment apply only to base school funding, about 75 percent of the total.

Even before the law was changed last year, the legislature had been shaving school funding in response to budget pressures. In 2009-10 total program funding was about $5.6 billion, not the $5.7 billion called for by the old interpretation of Amendment 23. Average per-pupil funding was $7,075.

School districts have responded to the tightening of state aid with a variety of tactics, including use of reserves, pay freezes, some layoffs and increased class sizes. Districts already are planning their 2011-12 budgets, and the announcement of Hickenlooper’s budget gives them a clearer target to shoot for.

Given that financial health and funding levels vary district to district, it’s difficult to say now what the effect will be on individual districts. As Colorado Education Association President Beverly Ingle noted, “CEA can’t predict yet the exact impact in each district but we can absolutely say that it will be profound.”

The final decision on the budget rests with legislature and won’t be made until sometime in April, after official quarterly revenue forecasts are released in late March. (Hickenlooper said Thursday he doesn’t expect those forecasts will differ much from the December forecast on which his budget plan is based.)

Some lawmakers politely pushed back at the idea of school cuts during the governor’s meeting with the JBC.

“There are things I question whether they are feasible or wise,” said Pat Steadman, D-Denver.

“This is a plan. We’re open to working with you,” Hickenlooper replied.

Hickenlooper had additional bad news in his formal letter to the JBC. “As we look ahead to FY 2012-13, it is likely additional budget reductions beyond those in this plan will be necessary.”

Other Cuts

A key part of Hickenlooper’s plan is maintaining the general fund reserve at 4 percent rather than the 2 percent sometimes used in times of economic stress. While some education advocates may push for a 2 percent reserve, Hickenlooper points out that would free up only about $100 million.

The governor also proposes to reduce the amount the state contributes to employee pensions (including for many workers in higher education but not for teachers) by 4.5 percent and increase employee payroll deductions by the same percentage.

From EdNews Colorado

In the Department of Education, the governor proposes to take $3.2 million from the Read-to-Achieve program and $1 million from the Colorado Counselor Corps, plus elimination of the School Leadership Academy board.

Related Tags:

Republished with permission from Education News Colorado. Copyright © 2010 Public Education & Business Coalition. For more information, visit www.ednewscolorado.org.
A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2011 edition of Education Week as Colo. Gov. Plans to Slash K-12 Spending: ‘It’s Where the Money Is’

Events

School & District Management Live Event EdWeek Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding Miguel Cardona's First Budget Hearing Becomes Forum on In-Person Learning, 1619 Project
In his first public testimony to Congress as education secretary, Cardona also touched on standardized testing and student discipline.
6 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, right, talks to 12th grade art student Madri Mazo at White Plains High School in White Plains, N.Y. on April 22, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, left, talks to 12th grade art student Eugene Coleman at White Plains High School in White Plains, N.Y. in April.
Mark Lennihan/AP
Education Funding States Are Waffling Over Billions in K-12 Federal Relief. Schools Are Getting Antsy.
Schools in some states have already started spending money from recent federal stimulus packages. Others don’t yet have the dollars in hand.
6 min read
Conceptual image of money dropping into a jar.
iStock/Getty
Education Funding Opinion The COVID-19 Stimulus Money Won’t Last Forever. Here’s What's Next for Schools
There are three important first steps for states to start helping schools prepare now, write two policy experts.
Zahava Stadler & Victoria Jackson
5 min read
a group of people water a lightbulb plant, nurturing an idea
iStock/Getty Images
Education Funding Opinion What Ed. Leaders Can Learn From a Wildfire About Spending $129 Billion in Federal Funds
There are five entrenched routines that leaders should reject to forge a better path forward after the pandemic.
Kristen McQuillan
4 min read
Firefighters fighting fire
akiyoko/iStock/Getty