Colorado’s K-12 education budget avoided cuts that some advocates had feared in the state House even as Republicans and Democrats brokered a deal to increase transportation spending.

The $30.5 billion 2019-20 budget includes more than $6.1 billion for education, including $185 million for universal full-day kindergarten. It also includes $77 million to reduce the amount that Colorado lawmakers withhold from schools each year to put toward other needs.

The legislature put more toward education and bumped up transportation funding — a priority for Republicans — by 30% to $300 million after all-day, behind-the-scenes negotiations.

The Senate added $106 million to the budget bill, but didn’t identify where the cash would come from. That’s still a mystery under the $70 million transportation amendment approved by the state House.

“We’re giving permission for your (Joint Budget Committee) members to go into conference committee and and dig through the couch cushions a little harder,” said state Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat and vice chairwoman of the budget committee.

Her announcement was greeted with cheers from Democrats crowded into the majority leader’s office.

“To be clear, we’re not taking it away from our other high-priority area, which is funding education,” said state Rep. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat on the budget committee. “We’ve had a chance to reach out to education stakeholders already and made that point very clear.”

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, had argued that the money being set aside for transportation should go instead to further increasing education funding.  

The budget committee, acting as a conference committee, likely will work next week on finding the money.

The House continued to debate the budget through Thursday evening.

Among the nearly 70 amendments being considered, Democrats and Republicans joined to add about $169,000 to buy Colorado-produced food for school lunches.

Even with the budget deal, all-day kindergarten faced challenges from Republicans. Three of them, for instance, proposed taking the $185 million and giving it directly to districts to use as they wanted. That effort failed, as did others education-related amendments:

  • Taking $7.2 million from the state public defender’s office and courts and putting it into programs for children with disabilities.
  • Eliminating a position in the governor’s office and transferring the $74,000 to schools.
  • Taking $43 million from the governor’s office to increase funding for full-day kindergarten.

Once the budget is approved, lawmakers must still approve the bill creating the universal full-day kindergarten program and the school finance act that sets funding for the state’s school districts.

The General Assembly is also considering asking voters to allow the state to keep more tax revenue and spend it on schools and transportation.