Classrooms at Calhan High School on March 15, 2022. Calhan High serves upward of 400 students from preschool to 12th grade. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

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Colorado lawmakers this year came closer to fully funding the state’s schools than at any time since the Great Recession. But rattled by rising inflation and the threat of a ballot measure that would slash anticipated growth in property tax revenue legislators stopped short of constitutionally mandated K-12 spending. 

Democrats say they’re proud of the $36.4 billion budget signed by Gov. Jared Polis last week. The budget dedicates more than $5 billion in state money to base K-12 spending, a 7.5% increase over this year. Average per-student funding will go up 6% to $9,560. Lawmakers are also putting $80 million more into special education, getting closer to funding a formula established back in 2006. 

But despite a reserve in the state education fund that tops $800 million, lawmakers still held back $321 million through a recurring mechanism known as the budget stabilization factor. 

Democrats, who control both chambers, said there’s too much uncertainty on the horizon. Higher state spending is only sustainable, they said, if local property taxes rise enough to take over some of the burden in future years. 

A few months ago that seemed almost guaranteed, thanks to rising property values and recent tax policy changes. But a combination of dramatic inflation and potential property tax limits would sharply increase the state’s school funding obligations, which lawmakers could struggle to meet in 2023.

The only thing worse than not giving schools enough money, Democratic lawmakers believe, would be giving them more money one year only to roll it back the following year. 

“That is not predictable,” said state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat and Joint Budget Committee member. “That does not help our districts.”


Erica Meltzer is Bureau Chief of Chalkbeat Colorado, where she also covers the legislature and statewide education issues. Erica was a founding editor of the local news site Denverite. Before that, she covered everything from housing and energy...