The state owes schools money. Time to pay up.

Colorado lawmakers have balanced the state budget on the backs of students for too long

March 21, 2022 4:30 am

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No matter where we live or what we look like, most of us want our public schools and students to thrive.

Given that Colorado’s public education system is on the brink of crisis, now is the time for the Colorado legislators to put students first and buy down the half a billion dollar IOU that the state owes our public schools.

Public schools have been groaning under the burden of the COVID pandemic. The news has been full of stories about staff illnesses and educator shortages leaving students stuffed into overcrowded classrooms, overburdened teachers handling multiple classes at a time and stranded kids waiting for buses that don’t arrive.


Even before the pandemic, many students, especially students of color, weren’t getting the education they deserve, because teachers and support staff didn’t – and still don’t – have what they need.

Funding shortfalls have denied them reasonable class sizes, updated textbooks and paychecks that often don’t even pay the bills.

Special education funding has been grossly underfunded. Despite a steady increase in the number of students with learning and other disabilities, the resources to address their needs have remained stagnant, leading to higher – and harmful – student-teacher ratios in the classroom. Years of inadequate mental health support for our students has only worsened during the pandemic and kids are suffering.

All of this means we have unsustainable teaching and learning conditions.

Colorado continues to rank at or near the bottom when it comes to starting educator pay, wage competitiveness and per pupil funding, which is especially embarrassing given our northern neighbor – Wyoming – is in the top tier. The lack of funding, inadequate conditions and burnout has led to a critical educator shortage, and as they flee the profession, we’re struggling to replace them.

All of this means we have unsustainable teaching and learning conditions. In my home district, students have gone without support needed to help them thrive – class sizes are much too large for learning, middle school sports have been discontinued and field trips are gone.

The fact is Colorado legislators have balanced the state budget on the backs of Colorado students for years, creating a staggering deficit in public education funding over the past decade. After 10 years of starving our public schools of the resources they need to fulfill their mission, our state legislators owe it to students and educators to commit to pay off this IOU to schools and fully fund public education.

The future of public education in Colorado requires immediate action by the Legislature to prioritize fully funding education during this time of prosperity for the state. State legislators must pay off the IOU – also called the budget stabilization factor, or BS factor – within two years, with at least half of that this year. This approach will help reduce the loss of educators to other states and other professions because school districts will have more money for schools to attract and retain highly qualified, experienced educators.

A stronger than expected economic recovery, new federal dollars and an increased local share of funding has created an unprecedented opportunity to pay what Colorado owes.

Buying down the IOU won’t fix Colorado’s public education funding problems by itself. For that, our communities need to come together in November 2024 to pass a systemic tax fix so the rich pay their fair share and educators and students get the resources they need to truly thrive. Plus, a new funding system would prevent legislators from dipping into public education funding ever again.

We need to come together to hold our elected officials accountable for ensuring Colorado students in every ZIP code get the exceptional education they deserve, including reasonable class sizes, current technology and materials, and well-supported educators.


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Amie Baca-Oehlert
Amie Baca-Oehlert

Amie Baca-Oehlert is a high school counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association, which represents the voice of 39,000 educators.