Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday proposed a budget of more than $9 billion for pre-K-12 education in Colorado in 2023-24, which would increase per-student funding by 9 percent.
In comparison, Polis proposed a smaller increase in state investment in public colleges and universities. Although intended to temper increases in tuition fees, the additional state aid will not keep up with inflation.
Funding for education — K-12, higher education and early childhood programs — accounts for the largest share of the $42.7 billion state budget proposal that Polis unveiled.
Polis’ pre-K-12 proposal would increase the state’s education budget by $704 million. But when it comes to education, the state gives with one hand and takes away with the other, so Polis’ total school budget for the next fiscal year would be about $9.1 billion. This would bring the per-pupil allocation to $10,421.
While that’s higher than in the past, it’s also a function of declining enrollment in Colorado — fewer students means more money per student. Most of the funding will go directly to school districts.
“It’s really important to reduce the size of classrooms and make up for lost learning,” the governor said Tuesday.
The governor also proposed about $86 million more for college operating expenses and financial aid. Polis said the increase would allow colleges to keep tuition increases at 4% for 2023-24.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl, who is running against Polis for governor, said in a statement that she believed Polis’ budget was too big and would check state spending if she won the elections.
The governor must submit a budget proposal each year by November 1. Lawmakers on the six-member Joint Budget Committee, which has the most say in the budget, are expected to make significant changes once the legislative session begins next year.
The changing economy, with a possible recession on the horizon, could dramatically change how lawmakers rely on Polis’ proposals.
State Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat who leads the Joint Budget Committee, said Polis provided a “fiscally responsible” proposal for lawmakers to begin their work.
“Coming out of the pandemic — the concerns about learning loss — it’s important that we have that level of increased investment,” she said.
She said lawmakers will need to take a deep look at the impact of economic forecasts on state coffers.
Colorado’s constitution sets minimum state investments for K-12 spending, but for years the state fell below those thresholds.
Polis’ proposal would reduce the amount the state withholds from schools — known as the budget stabilization factor — to 3%. That’s $35 million less than last year’s $321 million the state withheld from total education spending, and would be the lowest level since 2009-10.
Polis said his proposal builds on current-year investments that budgeted $8.4 billion for K-12 schools, withholding 3.82% for the OSB.
The Colorado Education Association in a press release praised Polis for its investment in schools, but also pushed to eliminate the hold altogether. The unpaid obligation is nearly $10 billion that Colorado schools should have gotten but didn’t.
“A fully-funded education system would mean attracting and retaining more educators, smaller class sizes, safer schools equipped with many mental health professionals – all leading to better outcomes for all students,” said Amie Baca -Oehlert, a secondary school. adviser and president of the Colorado Education Association, in a press release.
Other Polis budget highlights:
- $340 million to start Universal Early Childhood Education for 4-year-olds in the state, funded by Proposition EE, a statewide nicotine tax.
- An increase of $29 million for special education services in schools.
- $84 million for school safety. Approximately $6 million will fund school grants. The state would spend $2.1 million to create an office of school safety.
- $6 million to continue the I Matter program which provides free counseling services to children.
- A $3 million increase for the public-private Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative for tuition assistance and student support.
Polis recommended a historically high general fund reserve of 15% as a hedge against a possible recession next year.
Tracie Rainey, executive director of the Colorado School Finance Project, said a lot could change in the coming months.
“I think that’s always the concern there, is the economy slowing down or inflation staying high,” she said.
Jason Gonzales is a journalist covering higher education and the Colorado legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage. Contact Jason at [email protected].
. governor Jared Polis proposes budget billion dollars for education a increase by raises