In front of a group of school children who are just starting to grasp basic arithmetic, Gov. John Hickenlooper on May 21 signed into law a pair of complex, multimillion dollar school finance measures.
The new laws will allow a state school finance system that was significantly strained by recession-era budget cuts to grow by nearly $500 million. The cash infusion will fund several areas of K-12 resources, including school construction and preschool, kindergarten and English language learner programs.
“We're trying to make sure that each one of you guys gets every single advantage, every single chance, because your success is the future of this state,” Hickenlooper said during a bill signing that was held inside Aurora's Ponderosa Elementary School.
A major K-12 funding piece comes from the Student Success Act. The legislation provides $20 million for programs that target children who are struggling to read and $53 million for school construction, $40 million of that will fund rural school construction — the latter funding coming from Amendment 64-backed retail marijuana revenue.
An additional $3 million will go toward financial transparency efforts that are aimed at allowing taxpayers to see how the new money is being reported and spent.
The funding includes a $110 million buy down of the so-called “negative factor” — recession-era funding cuts that slashed about $1 billion from the state's K-12 budget.
The governor also signed into law the annual school finance act, which includes $27 million for English language learner programs and funds an additional 5,000 seats in preschool and kindergarten classrooms.
“This bill that the governor is about to sign will authorize 5,000 more kids next year going to publicly-funded, quality preschool programs than what was possible the year before,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, a bill sponsor.
Additionally, per-pupil funding for next school year will jump to $7,021, a 5 percent increase.
“That's almost $400 for every one of you students,” Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, told the children in the audience. “So imagine if you came through the doors this morning and we handed $400 to each one of you. It would be pretty good stuff.”
The funding efforts that the Legislature passed this year were a response to last year's failed Amendment 66 ballot measure, which sought to bolster school funding through tax increases.
No Republican lawmakers were present for the signing ceremony. However, the Student Success Act was co-sponsored by Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, and both bills received bipartisan support at the Capitol.
Republicans who expressed concerns about the funding measures during the legislative process argued that the efforts do not go far enough in replacing “negative factor” dollars. GOP lawmakers also wanted school districts to have more control over how the money is spent, without state strings attached.
But Democratic lawmakers who attended the bill signing told students that they're going to be in a better position to succeed because of the new funding.
“People worked really hard to cause us to fund education at a higher level; to be able to restore some of the money that was missing; to be able to cause you to have a better opportunity to be successful,” said Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora.