A Historic Opportunity to Put Students First in School Finance

From August to December 2023, 17 leaders from diverse backgrounds across the state convened with a specific mission: to develop recommendations to modernize Colorado’s school finance system.

Based on 2023 legislation, the General Assembly convened this group through a task force to “examine and make recommendations concerning making the school finance formula simpler, less regressive, and more adequate, understandable, transparent, equitable, and student-centered.”

The specific charge of the task force names the challenges of our current system:

  • Outdated: We haven’t had a meaningful change in the formula in the 30 years since it was first enacted. The world and needs of students have changed during that time, and we now have research on how to allocate funding based on student needs equitably.
  • Complicated: The calculations are confusing and complex. We send more funding to wealthy districts rather than students who are living in poverty, English Language Learners, or who have special needs.
  • Ineffective: Our state’s achievement scores are concerning, but especially so for students from low-income households, English learners, and students receiving special education services, and yet we continue to use a system that doesn’t focus funding on those students.

Our recommendations, which we collectively recognized build upon each other and shouldn’t be taken in isolation, focus on:

  • Student needs: Students living in poverty, English Language Learners, and students with special needs all benefit from more resources to ensure they reach their academic potential.
  • Equity: By setting limits on factors like cost of living, which often benefit wealthy districts, we are increasing access to funding for students and communities with the most need.
  • Targeting remote districts: Rural districts, especially those in remote parts of the state, have both unique opportunities and challenges that should be accounted for in our system.
  • Holding districts harmless: Overwhelmingly, our task force acknowledged that districts cannot receive less money than they had been previously and that any proposal the legislature puts forth must factor that in.

Over the coming months, Colorado Succeeds will continue to work with partners and the legislature to advocate for this historic change.

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Sarah Swanson