School funding issues have gotten a lot of attention this year, but understanding how Colorado gives schools money can still be complicated.

There is one statewide amendment related to school funding this year, in addition to other local tax requests you might find on your ballot depending on where you live. Here’s some information that might help you as you make your decisions.

Let us know at co.tips@chalkbeat.org if you have other questions not answered here.

What is Amendment 73?

This amendment to the state constitution would raise the income tax rate for those who earn more than $150,000. It would also raise the corporate income tax rate for businesses and lock in assessment rates to prevent them from going down more next year. That will have implications for property taxes.

We’ve got a lot more information on this measure here.

What about my local tax request? Why do districts want more on top of that state funding?

Some school board officials have little confidence that voters will pass Amendment 73. Others point out that the money from Amendment 73 wouldn’t come in right away, even if it is approved, and some of the needs they want to address just can’t wait.

Some districts have laid out plans for how different streams of money would go to different projects, in the event that both the statewide amendment and their local tax requests are approved. Here is a rundown of what some school boards have said about Amendment 73.

Some of the most detailed district documents online are from Adams 12, Jeffco, and Douglas County.

My district has two local requests on the ballot. What’s the difference?

School districts can ask voters for a mill levy override or a bond request. Bond requests allow the district to incur debt for the purposes of building improvements or other infrastructure projects. If the district needs to pay for operational needs such as teacher salaries, which will be an ongoing need as opposed to something they can pay off in a certain number of years, then they’ll ask for a mill levy override. This is a type of property tax increase that provides ongoing local dollars that stay in the district.

Here’s more about the difference between a bond and a mill levy override.

How much will the local request cost me?

That varies due to differences in the assessed value of each district’s tax base.

Aurora’s $35 million request, and Westminster’s $9.9 million request will have among the largest financial impacts on homeowners.

If Aurora’s measure is approved, homeowners will pay an additional $98.64 per year for every $100,000 of a home’s value. If Westminster’s measure is approved, homeowners there will pay an additional $103 per year for every $100,000 of a home’s value.

Tax requests and their annual impact on homeowners

District Request Tax impact, per $100,000 of home value
Westminster $9.9 million mill levy override $103
Aurora $35 million mill levy override $98.64
Thompson $149 million bond, $13.8 million mill levy override $84.35
Adams 12 $27 million mill levy override $77.76
Jeffco $567 million bond, $33 million mill levy override $46.92
Douglas $250 million bond, $40 million mill levy override $43.88
Pueblo 60 $6 million mill levy override $43.20
Littleton $298 million bond $29-$49

What will the money pay for?

Across the board, two things stand out as priorities for many districts: higher teacher pay and improvements to school safety. (This document compiled by the Colorado School Finance Project, gives a summary of how each district plans to spend any new local money.)

On teacher pay: Districts have found increased public support for teachers this year following large protests, including greater awareness of how much of their own money they spend in the classroom. District officials say they need to raise pay to stay competitive as they try to recruit and keep more teachers.

Here’s an idea of how some school districts asking for local tax increases compare to their nearby districts in terms of their teacher salaries and teacher turnover:

Average teacher pay and teacher turnover rates

District Average Pay Percent Teacher Turnover
Thompson $49,572 16.8 %
Poudre $54,140 9.7 %
Douglas County $53,080 13.4 %
Elizabeth $40,471 23.2 %
Littleton $66,399 9.5 %
Aurora $54,742 26.2%
Cherry Creek $71,711 10.1 %
Sheridan $49,535 35.9 %
Denver $50,757 20.3 %
Jeffco $57,154 14 %
Westminster $58,976 19.1 %
Adams 12 $59,511 12.8 %
Boulder $75,220 10.33 %
Pueblo 60 $47,617 18.3 %
Pueblo 70 $49,328 13.6 %

*Source: Colorado Department of Education. Districts in bold have a tax request tied to teacher pay on this November’s ballot.

In many districts, exactly how much more teachers get will need to be negotiated with the teachers union. Aurora’s union has already written some language into their contract stating that the district must set aside $10 million from new revenue to give teachers a 3 percent raise starting in January. After the raise, the remaining money would go into creating a new salary schedule.

As far as safety goes, many districts are looking to make improvements to school buildings. Those include new locks for classroom doors, new building entryways, and more cameras. But several large districts are also looking to increase their mental health resources for students.

Here’s a sample of what some districts plan to do to improve safety:

Aurora:

  • Seat belts for all school buses
  • Expanding mental health staff and training

Westminster:

  • New campus monitors for elementary schools, and training for existing monitors to expand their skills
  • Redesigning school entryways so all schools have double-door entryways, cameras, door locks
  • Expanding visitor ID check system to all schools

Jeffco:

  • Increasing counselors, and school safety officers
  • Building improvements such as new school entryways, security cameras, locks and windows

Adams 12:

  • Adding counselors and social workers to schools at all levels, and additional campus supervisors at high schools
  • Developing and implement social-emotional learning curriculum
  • Adding a member to the district crisis response team
  • Installing facility access cards at high schools

Sheridan:

  • New communication systems, door control and camera systems
  • Hiring additional personnel who will directly support school security needs

Douglas County:

  • Adding counselors at elementary schools, and reducing counselor-to-student ratios at middle and high schools
  • Building security improvements

Where can I find more information about my district’s budget?

Colorado has a new interactive website with budget information from every district in the state. You can see how much your school district spends on administration, transportation, or construction debt, for instance, and compare it to other districts across the state. The website information is from 2016-17 budgets.

Denver Public Schools also has its own new budget document that drills down into how much the district spends per student on things like library services, lawyers, and more.

What about marijuana revenues?

The largest amount of marijuana tax revenue goes into a state fund that gives districts grants to build schools or make other physical improvements to their building. Known as the BEST program, districts apply and compete for these grants. Then if awarded a grant, most districts have to provide a matching amount of dollars for the project. Some local tax requests this year, including those from the Kit Carson, Lamar, and Trinidad districts, are precisely asking to collect that matching amount for this grant.

Starting this year, some marijuana revenue is available for the regular education budget, but the amount is a tiny fraction of what the state spends on education funding.