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Durango teachers call out Colorado’s ‘BS’ factor

Educators claim taxpayers are being misled to believe excess funding is going toward education
Colorado’s Budget Stabilization Factor has kept around $61 million from the school district since it started in 2010. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Local educators traveled to Denver last weekto advocate for ending Colorado’s Budget Stabilization Factor.

Animas Valley Elementary School teachers Kathleen Smith, Jenny Killins and Hannah Squier made the trek to meet with legislators and deliver 3,000 signatures gathered from rural constituents in favor of changing how schools are funded.

It has been a constant battle for teachers and district staff who have held rallies and marches during the past two years to show their displeasure with Colorado’s Budget Stabilization Factor, also known as the “BS” factor.

Squier said the state’s budget is balanced by borrowing money that should go toward education.

Since 2010, the state’s Budget Stabilization Factor has caused public schools to lose around $10 billion in funding. Durango School District has lost about $61 million in funding because of the BS factor.

The BS factor was introduced by Colorado lawmakers in 2010 as a way to legally cut education funding required by Amendment 23 amid an economic downturn.

Colorado’s per pupil funding ranks among the worst in the country. As of 2019, Colorado was $2,158 below the national average for per pupil spending, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In addition to per pupil funding, Colorado schools are funded by local property taxes and state aid from the state’s general fund.

However, after all the funding adjustments required by the school finance act are calculated, the Budget Stabilization Factor reduces total funding proportionately across districts in the event that other areas of the state’s budget may need additional funding.

“Instead of cutting budgets equitably across the state, a decision was made to take money out of the education budget to balance the overall budget,” Squier said.

Because of a lack of funding, Animas Valley has had to cut reading and math interventions and had to combine a fourth and fifth grade class because the school only had the ability to pay three teachers when four were needed.

Smith said having to combine fourth and fifth grade classes made it difficult to teach and there were behavioral issues that resulted from it. She said if the school had enough teachers, those teachers would be able to manage class sizes better.

Furthermore, Squier said she has only $200 of discretionary spending for her classroom this year. She said an issue with educational funding is that its based on local property taxes. Colorado has the third lowest property tax in the nation which means less funding comes out of local taxes.

She’s been able to fund classroom supplies from a $500 grant provided by Morehart Murphy.

“We either need a new source of revenue, or they need to find a way to balance the budget without taking money directly from education,” Squier said.

Smith spoke in front of legislators on Thursday about the issues she has faced since becoming a teacher in Colorado.

She talked about the difficulties of living in Durango on a teacher’s salary because the district was having funds taken from it. As a result, she’s had to live with nine other people, 45 minutes from her workplace to afford to live.

“It's money that the taxpayers have been told is going directly to education,” Smith said. “But for some reason, the state government is able to proceed, borrow that money and use it toward other funds,” Smith said.

Lack of funding has also impacted the district’s ability to hire support staff for special education classes. Killins said there has been a shortage of applications for paraprofessionals because wages are not high enough to attract workers.

Squier said teachers did not receive viable solutions in response to their complaints about BS factor funding.

“Gov. (Jared) Polis is saying he will pay back last year's debt over the next four years. That's one year's debt out of the $10 billion,” Squier said. “You might be talking like $500 million or something that sounds pretty big. But when you divide that among all the schools in Colorado, it's a slap in the face considering the whole debt.”


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