Education Funding

Bente Birkeland / KUNC

Thousands of Colorado teachers converged on the state Capitol Thursday and Friday to demand more funding for public education, higher pay and a more favorable fix to the state’s pension plan for public employees.

“For too many years, Colorado has been chronically underfunding its schools,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, vice president of the Colorado Education Association. “We educators see what that means to our classrooms and our buses and our cafeterias.”

Stephanie Daniel / KUNC

A group of teachers stood outside Webber Middle School in Fort Collins before the first bell rang on Monday. They were dressed in red and holding signs with phrases like ‘Education Benefits Everyone’ and ‘My 2nd Job Bought This Sign.’

The teachers were participating in a citywide walk-in to show support for public education.

“We’re not out here to say we need more money because we want to be millionaires, you know,” said Jason Nurton, who teaches reading and an outdoor living class at Webber. “We’re out here saying, ‘give us what we need to do the job.’”

Ann Marie Awad / KUNC

If you heard that 12 people were living together in a two-bedroom apartment, you might think they were a group of college students, not teachers in the Roaring Fork School District.

“They love teaching in the community, they love working with the students there, but they simply cannot afford housing,” says Amie Baca-Oehlert, Vice President of the Colorado Education Association.

Roaring Fork is in Glenwood Springs, where the median home price is more than $536,250 dollars. The mountain town’s rental scene is also extremely tight and pricey. But it’s not just there. Baca-Oehlert says she hears stories like this all the time.

Elliot Haney / City Year

AmeriCorps -- the long-running public service program administered by the federal government -- may be on the chopping block. According to The New York Times, one of the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts is the Corporation for National and Community Service, the office that oversees AmeriCorps.

CNCS programs have been expanded by nearly every administration since the corporation’s creation under President George H. W. Bush. Eliminating the office could signify a sea change in public policy: Trump may be the first president in recent memory to back away from federally-subsidized public service.

Grace Hood / KUNC

Colorado’s 2017 legislative session has barely begun and lawmakers are already proposing diverse solutions for funding the state’s public schools. Most plans involve a new tax or a tax increase, meaning voters will likely get the chance to weigh in down the road.

Colorado chronically lags behind most of the nation in per-pupil funding, and also falls below the funding levels required in the School Finance Act. This year, an $876 million shortfall is expected according to projections from the governor's office, up from $830 million last year. This marks the 7th year in a row where the state's schools are funded at recession levels.

Greeley-Evans School District 6

School districts along Colorado’s Front Range told voters they needed money for a long list of improvements -- everything from tightening security to building new classrooms. The results were mixed, with some districts getting what they asked for and others forced to dig deeper into their budgets, doing more with less.

Luke Runyon / KUNC/Harvest Public Media

The streets of Edgewater, Colorado, aren’t paved in green, but the city’s mayor says they might as well be.

After an influx of tax revenue from five retail marijuana shops, the small community of 5,300 people just west of Denver repaved every street in town. But that’s just the start. Mayor Kris Teegardin estimates the city’s coffers will pull in $1.2 million this year, a combination of its own sales taxes on the drug’s sales, and redistributed money from state taxes. That amount makes up roughly a sixth of the city’s total annual budget.

It’s an extreme example of marijuana tax dollars at work, best seen in the city’s plans for a multi-million dollar civic center with a new police station, library and fitness center. Teegardin says marijuana tax revenue will pay for half.

Ann Marie Awad / KUNC

Colorado continues to see population growth, which is leaving many schools facing a problem: too many students, too little room. This year, the squeeze is pushing more local school districts to turn to voters for relief.

Seven districts along the Front Range have approved tax increase or bond sale resolutions for their local ballots. Nearly all the appeals identify maintenance, new buildings, improvements and security upgrades as pressing needs.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

Two Denver area school districts are in the national spotlight, but not for a good reason. The divide between the districts of Littleton and Sheridan has been held up as an example of one of the most segregating boundaries in the nation. But a report neglects to factor a few Colorado-specific quirks.

Colorado's coal country is experiencing the same slump that is gripping the heart of more traditional mining locales, like Wyoming or West Virginia.

"We see the trains and we hear the trains, and they used to be often. Daily," says Darci Mohr, the superintendent for South Routt County School District. "Now we hear one every five to six days."

Cheaper natural gas has dealt a blow to the coal industry -- and to Mohr's school district. Before the district opened an all-day preschool in the small town of Yampa, there wasn't an affordable day care program for this mostly working class community. When Peabody Energy, owner of Routt County's Twentymile Mine, went into bankruptcy and failed to pay property taxes, it would have been the first thing to go. But Mohr wasn't about to let that happen.