This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Colorado. More in chalkbeat.org.
Written by Jason Gonzalez and Erica Meltzer Colorado chalk
Colorado’s proposed state budget of $ 34.1 billion restores the big cuts made last year in education from kindergarten to higher education, provides more money to help students who have traditionally struggled to complete college, and creates a substantial reserve for K-12 schools that could lay the groundwork for reforms. Future – if there is no need to hold out for a prolonged recovery.
The proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021-22Presented at the General Assembly in Colorado on Monday, it stands in stark contrast to the extreme austerity of last year’s budget document. A year ago, Colorado was subject to stay-at-home requests as it grappled with the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, and lawmakers had to fill a $ 3 billion budget gap.
But while the economic impacts of COVID have been severe, Colorado has amassed much more tax revenue than the budget book anticipated. Much of this money has been transferred and is now available for the next fiscal year.
The proposed budget, a 10.7% increase from this year, includes new Medicaid funding, transportation needs, and the state pension scheme that retired school employees rely on. It also creates a reserve of 13.5%, nearly double the previous one, which is an admission that Colorado’s economy is not out of the woods yet.
For both K-12 schools and higher education, the budget brings spending back to pre-COVID levels.
Chairman of the Joint Budget Committee Sen said. Dominic Moreno, to Commerce City Democrat. “I wouldn’t say that moves the ball a lot down the field.”
But Moreno notes two important exceptions: $ 100.3 million targeting college students with low incomes and first-generation backgrounds, and a proposed reserve of $ 560 million in the state education fund.
Students who are the first in their families to attend college They were more likely to put their plans on hold During the pandemic due to family responsibilities and economic hardship, lawmakers and university leaders want to do more to help them stay on the right track.
Meanwhile, the reserve in the State Education Fund has two potential uses. It could prevent cutbacks if revenues fall in the coming years, given that the 2021-2022 budget is largely backed by the money carried over from this year. It can also be used to facilitate long-awaited changes to the Colorado school finance formula.
More: Read more political and government coverage from The Colorado Sun.
Many lawmakers, education advocates, and even county leaders agree that the way the state distributes money to K-12 schools is unfair and Not enough aid is provided to areas with large numbers of students living in poverty. But efforts to change the formula have faltered because some counties will receive less money if the formula is changed without a significant increase in total spending from kindergarten to secondary education.
The general government education fund usually ends up with about $ 100 million remaining, but that budget and accompanying bill will result in $ 560 million remaining in the fund. These funds could facilitate the transition to a new school funding formula.
Moreno described discussions about the new formula as “very early and preliminary” – and dependent on the bigger economic picture – but the move is in line with The priorities identified by Gov. Jared Polis in his speech on the state of the state.
State Rep. Julie McCluskey, a Dillon Democrat who serves on the Joint Budget Committee and previously chairs a special committee for school funding reform, said any effort to change the formula would happen slowly, carefully and only if the school’s overall funding was secure.
“It is important that we protect the investments that we have made so far,” she said. “It is as important as anything else.”
The proposed budget requires $ 7.8 billion to spend on education from kindergarten through secondary education, an increase of 8.7% from 2020-2021. Nearly $ 5 billion will come from the state, with the remainder covered by school districts. School districts will receive $ 8,857 per student on average, an increase of 9.7%.
Colorado’s constitution requires spending from kindergarten through 12th grade to increase depending on population and inflation each year, but lawmakers are withholding money to pay for other priorities. This amount, known as a budget stabilizer, swelled to $ 1.2 billion last year, but the 2021-2022 budget would curb only $ 572 million, which is the same amount in 2019-20.
The budget also calls for $ 351 million, an increase of 2%, to partially cover the additional costs borne by the regions for the education of students with disabilities, English language learners, and gifted and gifted students, among others.
In addition, it is returning $ 100 million to a fund that helps cash-strapped districts in construction projects and restores $ 6.9 million for other grant programs whose funding was canceled last year to prevent deeper cuts to primary school budgets.
“We were devastated last year,” McCluskey said. “This year has been a bit of a recovery moment to take back those cuts and make some investments in Colorado’s future. I think it’s exactly the right next step.”
Lawmakers will look to double the money sent to higher education institutions next year, recover the $ 494 million cut last year from higher education and add another $ 100.3 million to support colleges and their students. The state has also targeted funding for other miscellaneous items under the state’s higher education budgets, such as restoring funding for Colorado history and more money for a Native American tuition waiver at Fort Lewis.
In total, the budget calls for spending $ 1.2 billion on higher education for the next year.
The big increase makes up for it Reduction of 58% last year, Although most of the cuts have been offset by federal aid. Lawmakers said the decision was a one-off pandemic maneuver Necessary to balance the budget.
Not only does the bill bring back cuts, but it also fulfills promises made last year, it also adds $ 100.3 million to increases in higher education budgets statewide. About $ 41.8 million will be used to support retention, employment, and low-income, first-generation students of color. Another $ 40 million will be sent to boards of directors based on the state’s funding formula, which looks at how well colleges and universities serve different categories of students. The remainder will be allocated to grants, financial aid and scholarships.
The state will allow those institutions to raise their tuition fees by 3%, with the exception of University of Northern Colorado, which will be allowed to increase tuition fees by up to 7%.
Total tuition fee revenue next year is expected to be significantly higher than this year. Many colleges across the state have seen enrollments drop due to the pandemic. Increases in tuition fees can help some higher education institutions offset operating budget losses from lower enrollment, although they will cost students who are already paying higher fees.
Community College System Adviser Joe Garcia said in a statement that he was “pleasantly surprised that the governor and the Joint Budget Committee not only brought higher education funding to the 2019-20 level but also added important new dollars, with a focus on students who were the most affected by the epidemic.”
Community colleges across the state were hardest hit during the pandemic due to the enrollment of low-income students Decreased during the pandemic. Low-income students represent a larger enrollment base for community colleges than the state’s four-year institutions.
Garcia said lawmakers also plan to allocate millions to community college infrastructure, including maintenance and modernization of information technology.
Restoring operational funding aims to help community colleges cope with any permanent decline in enrollment due to the pandemic.
“While our needs remain great, registration in the fall is uncertain,” said Garcia. “We are pleased with the state’s clear commitment to the quality, accessibility and affordability of higher education.”
The budget will be discussed in the state Senate this week and in the House of Representatives next week. Typically, lawmakers from both parties introduce several adjustments and are likely to be tempted to reallocate portions of the spending proposal supported by the six-member Joint Budget Committee, including large education reserves.
In particular, Moreno said he expects to see calls for increased spending on primary and secondary education.
“The entire budget will be an exercise to ward off unsustainable spending,” he said. “The conflict will make it clear to our colleagues that we have done everything we can deal with, but the more you stick to the programs now underway, the more you endanger the structural integrity of the budget.”
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