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A group of House Democrats lined up Tuesday to speak out against a proposed charter school funding bill. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)
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Colorado charter school funding compromise off to the governor for his signature

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A last-minute compromise to fund charter schools crossed the finish line in the legislature Wednesday after days of back-and-forth negotiations.

House Bill 1375 was introduced in an effort to save overall school funding in the School Finance Act after a bipartisan effort was proposed to amend the school finance bill to add the charter school component.

Fearing that the critical School Finance Act would fall victim to political wrangling – as the charter issue crosses political lines – lawmakers introduced a separate bill on the subject and stripped the charter proposal from the larger mandated school funding bill, which would provide $6.5 billion for K-12 education.

Integral in that process was Colorado Springs Republican Sen. Owen Hill and Lakewood Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen.

“My priority is to always seek out new ways in which we can shift the focus on education in Colorado from a discussion about systems and institutions to one that emphasizes each students’ individual needs, goals, and dreams,” Hill said in a statement. “We are one giant leap closer to putting Colorado’s children and families first in all education decisions.”

The bill requires school districts to develop a plan before the 2019-2020 school year to equitably share mill levy revenue in a given district.

House Bill 1375 passed the House Tuesday 49-16 and then the Senate Wednesday – on the last day of the legislative session – 31-4. It now heads to Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, for his signature.

The idea is to eventually distribute revenue from local property taxes equally to charters on a per pupil basis. It would address revenue from additional property taxes that are used to pay for operations.

Districts that charters are tied to have been known to withhold from charters the additional tax money, which comes from mill levy overrides.

In addition to the attempt in the School Finance Act, a separate bill this session on the issue, Senate Bill 61, was lost in a House committee on Tuesday to make room for the compromise.

When the conversation started, charter supporters attempted to require that districts share both mill levy revenue as well as an equal share of per pupil funding. But the compromise asks districts to first develop a plan for sharing the revenue, while allowing them to continue to withhold 5 percent of per pupil revenue.

Colorado charters have experienced a 30 percent increase in enrollment since 2013, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

Much of the concern around the charter measures dealt with financial impacts to school districts and issues surrounding local control. But supporters of the compromise believe they have found a way to fairly begin the process of sharing money.

Pettersen said of the effort, “I’m thrilled after months of negotiations, we were finally able to come together to solve this outstanding issue in a fair way that prioritizes equity for all of Colorado students.”

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