For the second year in a row, our state legislators left nearly a billion dollars in the
State Education Fund, instead of putting that money to work in Colorado school districts. On
April 30, 2014, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a $24 billion budget into law for FY
2014–15. At a signing ceremony for the State Budget bill — where lawmakers looked on
— the Governor touted increased legislative spending on K-12 and higher education, as
well as an increase in overall General Fund spending.
But that was not the whole story. Neither lawmakers nor the Governor mentioned the large balance left in the State Education Fund. This fund, which is supposed to meet the education needs of our students, has been left with more than a billion dollars the last two years.
Some say Colorado needs to have a balance in this fund in case revenues drop in future
years, but they forget that the State already has more than is required in reserves. They also
don’t mention that TABOR requires each school district in Colorado to keep at least 3 percent
of its general fund spending in reserve fund accounts.
So why aren’t legislators giving that money to school districts? Some say they would not be
able to sustain that level of funding in future years. Others say it is the way to give many
legislators the ability to spend more on their pet projects.
The Colorado Legislature certainly could distribute those funds in a one-time allocation
formula that would allow local school boards to spend the dollars on one-time investments like
upgrades to technology, increased professional development opportunities, stipends, or hiring
temporary teachers to reduce class sizes. Governor Hickenlooper wrote in a letter to the General Assembly, “The budget for FY 2014-15 makes prudent use of revenues resulting from our state’s strong economic performance, substantially increasing General Fund reserves and addressing critical issues in our state.”
The Governor did not write that the budget also substantially increased the savings in the
State Education Fund. Meanwhile, a lawsuit that has been filed by the same attorney who sued the State unsuccessfully in the eight-year Lobato case.
Plaintiffs argue that the Legislature has been ignoring its constitutional responsibility and not following the requirements of Amendment 23. They claim state lawmakers have underfunded public education by nearly a billion dollars. Curiously, they say nothing about the large balance left in the State Education Fund.
Has your school board weighed in on this issue? Are they asking legislators to release the money in the State Education Fund? Have you weighed in by letting state leaders know you want the money in the classrooms, not in the State savings account?