Proposed Colorado budget invests in attracting teachers and expanding college and work opportunities

Colorado will put more money into reducing the teacher shortage, providing college and apprenticeship opportunities for high school students and easing the burden of child care on working families, under the proposed 2019-20 state budget released Thursday.

The $31.4 billion total budget represents a roughly 4.6 percent increase from this fiscal year’s budget. (The linked budget document shows a larger total budget of $33.4 billion because some funds are double-counted in the state accounting system.) The budget proposes spending $7.4 billion on K-12 education, a 5 percent increase. The state share of that would be $4.8 billion, a 5.4 percent increase, with the rest coming from districts’ local tax revenue. Average per-pupil spending would be $8,495, $357.81 or 4.4 percent more than this fiscal year.

The governor’s budget calls for $595 million to be withheld from K-12 education to meet other budget priorities. Colorado’s constitution requires education spending to go up according to population growth and inflation, but lawmakers have held back money every year since the Great Recession in a budget maneuver known as the negative factor or the budget stabilization factor. The negative factor for 2019-20 is $77 million less than was withheld this fiscal year and 40 percent less than in 2012-13, the year in which the negative factor was the largest.  

Over the past 10 years, roughly $7.5 billion has been withheld from public schools. This budget proposal would bring that amount to $8 billion.

The budget also puts money into several initiatives proposed by the Education Leadership Council. Those include:

  • $3 million to bolster teacher training and retention efforts created by legislation earlier this year
  • $1 million for principal training
  • $3 million to help high school students earn industry credentials
  • $1.5 million to expand concurrent enrollment programs that allow high school students to take college courses at no cost
  • $1.5 million to provide career coaches for high school students.

The proposed budget also includes $6.5 million for scholarships for people entering the teaching profession and money to hold tuition flat at state universities.

Colorado’s governor is required by law to release a proposed budget on Nov. 1. In this case, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s term will end with the inauguration of a new governor in January. That person — either Democrat Jared Polis or Republican Walker Stapleton — will make their own recommendations, and the final version of the budget will be determined by the legislature.

Colorado voters will also be weighing in Tuesday on a series of ballot measures with significant fiscal implications, including a tax increase for education, two competing transportation measures, and increased setbacks for oil-and-gas drilling.

A lot could change between this budget and whatever the legislature approves in the spring. This document represents an effort by the Hickenlooper administration to encourage his successor to protect certain programs and priorities. Lauren Larson, director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, said she did not prepare an alternative budget that incorporates any of the ballot measures, but analysts are prepared to incorporate the outcomes into transition planning with the next administration.

The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights limits how much state government can grow each year and requires refunds to be issued to taxpayers if revenue increases by more than population plus inflation. State economic forecasts predict Colorado will take in $260 million more than the TABOR cap in 2019-20 and $380 million more in 2020-21 due to strong economic growth. Rather than issue refunds directly to taxpayers, an amount that state budget officials predict would be roughly $2.67 a month for each resident, the governor’s budget proposes a series of new tax credits, including to offset the cost of child care for parents and to encourage providers to improve the quality of care they offer.

The new tax credits, which would require legislation to be enacted, include:

  • $24 million to offer child care tax credits to families earning up to $150,000 a year
  • $21 million to providers, with the details of how that program would be administered still being worked out.
  • $22 million to help people pay for higher education or job training
  • Between $64 million and $99 million to expand the state version of the Earned Income Tax Credit.