Significant state budget cuts in store for Summit School District, family resource center
With $3.3 billion to cut from Colorado’s budget, the knives have been out at the state capitol.
After three weeks, the state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee produced a blueprint toward a balanced budget that includes painful cuts to many of the state’s programs and services, especially to the state’s K-12 and higher education budgets.
The exact impacts to Summit School District and state-funded county programs are not yet known, but it is certain that when the state legislature chews over and finalizes the “long bill” for the next year in the next two weeks, the cuts will hit home hard, and difficult decisions will need to be made.
Piled next to the chopping block are fragments of state priorities, such as a now-eliminated $225 million direct distribution to pay off some of the mammoth debt incurred by the state’s pension fund for state employees. Also done away with for the next year is a tax exemption for seniors and disabled veterans, which will save $164 million. $50 million is being pulled away from state transportation projects over the next two years.
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But the deepest cuts were left for education, despite attempts to mitigate them. The state’s colleges and universities will lose $493 million —58% of the higher education budget. A staggering $724 million will be cut from the K-12 education budget, with $147 million coming from cancelled or delayed grants and $577 million cut from school budgets.
There is some good news for education funding, at least in the short term. In a move that took legislators by surprise, Gov. Jared Polis decided to unilaterally disburse $960 million of the $1.6 billion of federal CARES Act pandemic recovery funding toward K-12 and higher education. That money can only be applied to funding issues created by the current pandemic, and will not backfill the education budget shortfall next year.
The state’s full-day kindergarten program will also retain its funding.
For Summit, there is another silver lining. The state’s tourism and marketing budget, which would have been almost completely eliminated in initial proposals, only got cut by 30%, with expectations that it will still be a good investment to keep money from visitors coming in.
State Rep. Julie McCluskie (D, Dillon), one of the six members of the joint budget committee, also noted the committee avoided cutting a million dollars from the state’s wildfire mitigation program. She counted that as a win for Summit County, which is about two years removed from one of the worst wildfires in its history.
The Summit Community Care Clinic, a federally qualified health center on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle, will also be spared cuts. The state’s newly-introduced reinsurance program, which McCluskie sponsored, will also be spared the ax, meaning Summit residents will retain savings on their health insurance.
However, the county will see itself losing funding for support on the economic battlefront of the pandemic. McCluskie said that 20 to 25% of the state’s budget for family resource centers, including the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, will be cut. She was the lone member of the committee to vote against that line item budget cut, saying she was “very disappointed” considering the importance FIRC has had in providing aid to the county’s working families. In the past two months alone, the FIRC saw a year’s worth of resource demand, with few signs of declining demand for their services.
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