Lawmakers trying to unravel a complicated school finance knot

By Erica Meltzer

CHALKBEAT

For a third year, 10 Colorado lawmakers have convened to try to find a fairer and more effective way to fund the state’s schools.

Nearly everyone agrees that Colorado’s 25-year-old school finance formula is outdated and inefficient — and there are plenty of ideas about how we could do better — but the issues are so complicated and contentious that two previous years of special committee meetings ended with no real progress.

If the bipartisan Legislative Interim Committee on School Finance is successful, its members will propose legislation this fall, before the start of the 2020 session, to change how Colorado distributes money to schools — and perhaps how Colorado taxpayers pay for public schools.

Whether Colorado needs to spend more on public education — and if so, where should it come from? — represents an elephant in the room and is the source of deep philosophical disagreements between Democrats and Republicans on the committee.

“At the end of the day, if we are unwilling to have that hard conversation about revenue and the underlying factors that are driving this, we are not solving the problem,” said state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat.

Colorado funds its schools below the national average — by roughly $2,800 per student according to an Ed Week analysis that takes into account regional cost differences. More than 100 school districts are operating on four-day weeks, and each year state lawmakers hold back hundreds of millions that should flow to schools to pay for other budget priorities.

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