This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: ckbe.at/newsletters
An educator loan forgiveness program that was seen as a key tool in reducing Colorado’s teacher shortage is among the education programs identified in $228.7 million in state budget cuts announced this week.
Gov. Jared Polis announced the budget cuts, which apply to the current fiscal year, as part of a series of executive orders released late Thursday. In a letter to legislators, Polis’ budget director, Lauren Larson, said pessimistic revenue forecasts mean that without cuts, the state would run through half or more of its reserves just to cover planned spending before June 30.
State revenues have plummeted as people have lost jobs and businesses have closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The effects are not expected to be ameliorated by a partial reopening currently underway. Historically low prices for oil and gas, which generate tax revenues, are also hurting the state budget.
“It is imperative to act quickly to reduce unnecessary spending,” Larson wrote, adding that the cuts were designed to have “the least possible impact.”
More than 80% of the budget cuts are coming from the Medicaid program, which covers health care for low-income people. Officials said the human impact is limited because the program has saved money from people not seeing their doctors and canceling elective procedures.
Similarly, most of the identified $2.8 million in education cuts are to new programs that were not fully implemented yet or relate to activities that schools aren’t doing because they closed to in-person instruction in March.
For example, the state education department’s budget is being reduced by almost $500,000 because it didn’t administer standardized tests, officials didn’t travel to visit schools, and the department isn’t paying benefits on vacant positions.
Money for a summer student leadership institute and a conference for parents of students with disabilities was also cut as public health authorities continue to recommend against large gatherings.
But the cuts still will be felt. The governor took back $200,000 that would have gone to college scholarships for formerly incarcerated youth. Five students might still get funding.