Surging sales taxes has Education Fund Board encouraging more applications for funding

Last year the group had more funding than applications requesting money

First grader Isla Gale Hopkins visits with a teacher before heading to class at Soda Creek Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Surging sales tax revenue is leading to a problem for the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board — though it is a rather positive predicament.

Both Steamboat and Routt County are seeing steep increases in sales tax revenue, continuing a trend that started during the pandemic. Steamboat’s revenue this year has exceeded last year’s in every month. August was up 10.4%.

This has lead to increased revenue for the education fund as well, as it is funded through a half-cent sales tax. The problem, as explained by education fund board member Lisa Ruff, is that the money they are bringing in through the voter-approved tax is exceeding the requests for funding.

“We have more money than we did applications,” Ruff said. “We fully funded every single application (that met the board’s mission) and we still had reserves.”

The Steamboat Springs Education Fund was approved in 2018 with more than 85% of voters in favor of it. It collects 5 cents on every $10 spent and is awarded to Routt County school districts and other education-focused initiatives across the Yampa Valley.

Earlier this year, the education fund board awarded more than $7 million in grants with about $5.7 million of that going to initiatives in the Steamboat Springs School District. Another $360,000 went to the Hayden School District, $290,000 to the South Routt School District and a little more than $230,000 went to community groups.

Funding from the local tax has become an important piece of Steamboat Springs School District’s budget in recent years. Other recipients include Integrated Community, Northwest Colorado Health, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Junior Achievement and Yampatika, among others.

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About 65% of the funding last year went toward staff and instruction. Second highest was technology, which garnered 18% of the total. The money also helped pay for grant writing across the county that hoped to garner more grant funding.

The mission of the fund is to make “student-facing” investments in staff, facilities, infrastructure, technology and curriculum. The program was extended in 2009 to award money to districts beyond Steamboat.

The amount of money awarded was about $2.5 million a decade ago and has been on a general upward trajectory since. Funding for the 2018-19 school year topped out at about $4.2 million before the money allocated to these grants saw a decline over the next two years.

In 2020, the board delayed awarding funding and ultimately only allocated $2.8 million due to budget uncertainties because of COVID-19. It received about $6 million in requests that year.

How much the board will have to work with in the next funding cycle isn’t entirely clear yet, but year to date, the city’s sales taxes are up more than 20%.

Applications for the funding are due by Jan. 13 with funding for the 2023-24 budget year being awarded in May. Being awarded funding in a previous cycle doesn’t guarantee future funding.

“There is quite the variety,” Ruff said of initiatives funded by the board. “If more people could apply then we could get more money into the hands of originations that need it.”

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