A guide to how Amendment 23, the “budget stabilization factor” and “negative factor” affect education spending in Colorado

The struggle over funding for schools in Colorado has become one of the most important political battlefields in the state, a specific issue in elections and governance from the local level all the way to the governor’s office.

But following a discussion can be difficult. Behind every fight over teacher salaries and four-day school weeks lurks a minefield of vague terms, such as Amendment 23, “the negative factor” and base funding, compared to the total funding for the program.

This session – like most of it each year – will play a prominent role in the debate over the state budget, which provides the majority of Colorado K-12 funding, with local property tax dollars providing the rest.

We’re here to help. This guide will introduce the key terms you need to know, and hopefully, there is enough history so that you don’t get lost in the jargon on the state Capitol.

This is part of the Colorado Sun Capitol Sunlight A project to help explain the country’s political landscape. If you have questions that we did not answer, Let’s find out here. We will try to answer them.

What is Amendment 23?

In 2000 Colorado voters passed a constitutional amendment directing the state to spend more money on education from kindergarten through high school.

This measure, known as the 23rd Amendment, did a few things, but the most important of them was the state’s request to increase basic funding for every student in the school at least every year. In the first ten years, funding per pupil increased by an additional 1% on top of that.

Today, the Public Fund is by far the largest source of funding for schools in the state, accounting for 90% of the state’s contribution to schools. Two special accounts for the state – the State Education Fund and the State Schools Fund – make up the remainder.

To supporters, the 23rd amendment was a much-needed response to what they saw as a direct threat to public schools across the state. Local property tax rates have been declining thanks to other constitutional requirements, choking the primary funding source for school districts.

But what was a straightforward solution on paper – replacing lost domestic revenue with state tax dollars – proved not simple in practice.

Over the first decade, the 23rd amendment had a major impact that its proponents intended. The state’s share of school financing has steadily increased from about 56% in 2000 to 63% in 2010, with local property taxes saving the remainder, according to state budget documents. By that point, kindergarten through high school education was consuming 43% of the state’s public funds – nearly five times as much as the state’s colleges and universities.

But that year, with the state budgeting in the midst of a financial crisis caused by the Great Recession, state lawmakers decided they could no longer afford the rising cost of education. In the face of severe budget cuts, lawmakers canceled $ 130 million owed to schools during the 2009-10 fiscal year.

A year later, they created the mysterious budget writing device known as “Negative factorProviding a legal mechanism to reduce education financing without contradicting Amendment 23.

What is the negative factor?

The “negative factor” refers to the amount by which state budget formers fall short of the school’s funding requirements each year. That was later Renamed Budget Stabilizer Because lawmakers believed the original name had a negative connotation.

Since 2010, state lawmakers have built an impressive IOU through the budget machine, totaling $ 9.3 billion in unpaid debt to the state’s school districts, including $ 1.2 billion this fiscal year alone.

But while the budget stabilizer exists on paper, it is tracked from year to year In the state budget documents And by Advocates for funding educationThere’s no plan to pay it off at all.

Lawmakers described it as a negative factor at first due to its role in the school funding formula. There are two primary pieces that make up school district “gross program” funding under the Colorado School Funding Act:

  • Basic funding per statewide student, which under Amendment 23 should increase at the rate of inflation each year.
  • Other factors unique to each region that require additional funding, such as the local cost of living, school enrollment size, and the number of students at risk and with special needs.

The negative factor – renamed Budget Stability or the BS Factor in 2017 – is the final adjustment to what school districts receive after accounting for total program funding. But while other factors in the formula increase funding, the budget stabilization factor works in the opposite direction, reducing the state’s allocations to schools by a steady percentage across the board. Lawmakers set the size of the cuts based on how much money they are willing to spend on schools as they balance the budget each year.

This fiscal year, the budget stabilization factor was negative 14%, or a cut of $ 1.2 billion.

(Joint Budget Committee)

Since the implementation of the negative factor, the state’s relative contribution to schools has declined to levels last seen before the entry into force of Amendment 23. This year, education from kindergarten through secondary education received only 36% of the state’s discretionary public funds, down from 43% in 2015 2010, and from 40% in 2000, according to state budget documents. The state’s share of school financing has also decreased to 58% this year, down from 63% in 2010. But this is still higher than its share of 56% in 2000.

The 23rd amendment was supposed to increase school funding. Are these cuts constitutional?

at Dwyer vs. Colorado StateIn 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a negative agent is permitted under the state constitution. But the narrow 4-3 decision shows just how controversial the budget maneuver was.

The court’s decision was based on a distinction between basic funding for each student and total program funding, which includes additional factors in the school finance law, such as the education of children at risk or with special needs.

Lawmakers have argued that Amendment 23 requires only statewide core funding to increase according to inflation each year, not total provincial program funding. The court agreed, and ruled that the negative factor is legal as long as it comes from the additional funds circuits these other factors receive.

Nevertheless, it remains a sore spot for school finance advocates, who argue that the negative factor conflicts with voters’ intentions. When accounting for inflation, schools are actually receiving less total funding today than they did when the negative factor was first created in 2010, according to A. Legislative analysis.

Since 2010, teacher groups have Paid To raise multiple taxes to eliminate the annual funding shortfall, but so far, voters said no.

Before the pandemic, the legislature reduced the negative factor to $ 572 million, the lowest level since 2010. But in the face of a significant budget shortfall amid the pandemic, lawmakers reversed course, increasing the negative factor to a record $ 1.2 billion in 2020-21. budget. In the absence of a new source of revenue, this pattern is likely to continue, with the annual school funding shortfall increasing or shrinking from year to year based on economic conditions and the spending priorities of officials at the state headquarters.


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