The DPS Strike is Settled, but the Underlying Causes of Chronic Undercompensation Remain

All Colorado teachers are underpaid because Colorado’s constitutional tax code is starving our schools. We need fully, adequately and equitably funded public education.”  

— Lisa Weil, Executive Director, Great Education Colorado.

The DPS community, Coloradoans, and policymakers are figuring out what the DPS strike and settlement mean to students and teachers. But in the meantime, students and teachers across the state are still operating without appropriate funding. The historic and woeful underfunding of our schools is something that needs to change for a booming state like Colorado. Here’s how we got here..

Great Education Colorado is also available to provide resources, sources and photos to assist in telling the story of how Colorado (and Denver specifically) have been chronically and desperately underfunded.

Colorado has the least competitive teacher compensation in the United States:

Studies consistently show Colorado’s teacher salaries are the least competitive in the nation, both in terms of what teachers make as educators, compared to what they can make in other professions for which they are qualified:

and in terms of what is needed for a “living wage.”

Serving students while owed $7 billion

In 2008, Colorado was funding its schools at a level that was already more than $1,000 per pupil behind the national average. With the Great Recession, the state made deep cuts to its already-underfunded schools. This happen with the “Budget Stabilization Factor (BSF).”  The BSF is a measure of the debt we owe Colorado students, calculated by how far school funding has fallen behind inflation plus growth in the student population.

The BSF currently stands at $672 million or about $772 per pupil.  The historical level of the BSF is below. For Denver, if the state had kept per pupil funding growing with inflation, DPS would be receiving is $70.3 million or $799 per pupil more this year. Over the 10 years of the negative factor, Denver has lost over $774 million dollars.

A summary of how much the Budget Stabilization Factor has removed from the funding of each school district (by the Colorado School Finance Project) can be found here.

Constitutional Restraints Prevent Public Schools from Thriving

There’s also constitutional restraints, Colorado supreme court decisions and legislative maneuvering that’s happened since 1982. Here’s a timeline of amendments, decisions and legislation. For more information on specific amendments please visit the Statistics & FAQs page of the Great Education Colorado website

  • 1982, Colorado voters passed the Gallagher Amendment to stabilize the property tax structure. Over time, the Gallagher Amendment has prevented Colorado public schools from benefiting from increases in property wealth Asas property value rises, it triggers a decrease in statewide residential assessment rates.
  • 1992, Colorado voters passed Article X, Section 20 of the state constitution, known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (“TABOR”). TABOR prohibits any tax increase without a vote of the people. This means the legislature and school districts aren’t able to make tax policy. Additionally, TABOR places strict limits on how much revenue the state can keep and how much it can spend, and – without a vote of the people – any revenue collected in excess of TABOR’s revenue limits must be refunded to the taxpayers. Colorado’s TABOR limits are the strictest revenue and spending limits in the nation.
  • 2000, Colorado voters passed Amendment 23, a constitutional change to reverse a decade of budget cuts by requiring the state legislature to annually increase K-12 per pupil funding by “inflation +1 percent” through 2011 and by inflation afterwards. If honored, Amendment 23 would have returned Colorado public school funding to 1989 levels, still nearly $1,000 below the national average.
  • 2009, the legislature created the “Budget Stabilization Factor” (also known as the “Negative Factor”).  In order to balance the state budget, the legislature reinterpreted Amendment 23’s constitutional provision in a way that allowed cuts to per pupil funding while claiming compliance. To date, the legislature has taken over $7 billion from public education funding, redirecting these dollars to other funding priorities in the General Fund.
  • 2013, in Lobato v. the State of Colorado, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned a district court’s ruling that Colorado’s school funding system was not just unconstitutional, but was “unconscionable.” By doing so, the Court allowed the status quo in school funding to remain.
  • 2015, in Dwyer v. State of Colorado,  the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the Budget Stabilization Factor is constitutional.

Amendment 73 Would Have Been a Game Changer for All Districts

In 2018, Colorado’s education community convened to produce Amendment 73. Despite 1.13 million Coloradans voting in support of Amendment 73 during the 2018 election, the initiative fell short of passing by a little more than 200,000.

Had Amendment 73 passed, there would be an additional $1.6 billion in annual revenue for Colorado public schools. For Denver, Amendment 73 would have eliminated the $775 per pupil Budget Stabilization Factor, adding a total of $1,793 per student in Denver Public Schools.

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