Nena Lopez, a kindergarten teacher, does a rhyming exercise with her class Nov. 16 at Kwiyagat Community Academy, a charter school on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation. (Shannon Mullane, The Colorado Sun)

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This might be the last year that Colorado lawmakers hold back money from K-12 schools to fund other budget priorities.

Legislators have toyed with the idea of fully funding Colorado schools several times in recent years, but always held back amid economic uncertainty. While Colorado’s constitution requires school funding to go up each year by the rate of population and inflation, lawmakers haven’t met that requirement since the start of the Great Recession. 

Since 2009, Colorado has withheld more than $10 billion from its schools.

Now the school finance act that passed unanimously out of the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday includes a provision that would require the state to fully fund K-12 schools starting in the 2024-25 budget year. 

The bill also contains a provision to fund state-authorized charter schools at a level similar to other schools starting in 2024-5. District-authorized charter schools get a cut of locally raised tax dollars. State-authorized charter schools do not.

Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican and bill sponsor, called these provisions the “within-striking-distance amendments.” Lawmakers could still abandon these promises next year — particularly if economic conditions change — but moving to write them into law is a significant step.

The school finance act also will include even more money for 2023-24 than originally proposed after an impassioned appeal from Weld County Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer. 

“It’s time for the state Senate and this General Assembly to let the governor and the rest of the state know, no more B.S., no more balancing the budget on the backs of students,” she said. “We’re going to set a priority, and it’s called education.”


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...