District 51 schools at low end for funding

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - This week a trial against the state of Colorado is underway, over education funding. The state is accused of underfunding districts by billions, using an unfair formula.

District 51 officials say our school system has one the lowest funding rates in Colorado.

"We traditionally have been one of the lowest funded, large districts in the state," says District 51 spokesman, Jeff Kirtland.

In the coming school year, District 51 will receive $6,100 in government funding per student through a formula passed in 1994. That's less than both the state average, $8,000 per student, and the national average, $10,000 per pupil.

However, a lawsuit challenging how the state funds education- and by how much- could change this. "This would impact the law and how taxes across the state contribute to public education," says Kirtland.

Property taxes are one reason District 51 officials say kids here get less money. The school system says the state froze a value connected to the property tax level in 1994, forcing District 51 to keep a lower rate, keeping our funding low. "Our district didn't aggressively collect taxes, prior to 1994, whereas other districts did. At that point, all of the districts were rated at that value, and so ours was a rating that was lower than where other districts were," explains Kirtland.

Another factor that affects Mesa County's funding is size. District 51 is one of the larger school districts with the most students. The formula theorizes that bigger districts are able to get more discounts on supplies and services through buying in bulk. "Smaller districts don't have the ability to contract for services where they're able to attract discounts and lower costs."

If a Denver judge orders change-- in the amount the state funds education or how it divvies up the money between districts- school officials here aren't sure how much the ruling would help. "We're really at a place where we're trying to monitor it, and really understand what the outcomes might mean. We don't know how this will impact our district," says Kirtland.

Mesa County schools can only hope for a positive impact, to compensate for a 20 percent loss in state funding over the last three years.

Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper and Republican Attorney General John Suthers are in bi-partisan agreement that losing this lawsuit could cost the state billions of dollars. The trial is expected to last five weeks.

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