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Republicans accused of ‘hijacking’ education funding in the name of charter schools

Author: Peter Marcus - May 1, 2017 - Updated: May 1, 2017

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Democrats and the state’s largest teachers’ union say Republicans have hijacked a critical school funding measure in the name of charter schools.

The annual School Finance Act, which lawmakers are constitutionally obligated to pass each year, was amended on Thursday to include equitable funding for charter schools.

Republicans, led by Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, have been pushing the effort since the start of the legislative session, hoping to require districts to distribute revenue from local property taxes equally to charters on a per-pupil basis.

A standalone bill on the subject, Senate Bill 61, passed the Senate, but it has not yet been introduced in the House. Political observers say the strong-arm tactic to attempt to address the issue through the School Finance Act is meant to apply political pressure.

“I do want to continue to pressure and keep the narrative up,” Hill said, as he introduced the amendment, according to a report by Chalkbeat Colorado.

Democrats appeared appalled that Hill would use a $6.5 billion annual K-12 education funding plan to advance a side issue on charter school funding. The effort would address revenue from additional property taxes that is used to pay for operations.

“To pick up Senate Bill 61, and slip it into the School Finance Act, is troubling and offensive to me,” said Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora. “When we look at mill levy overrides, that’s not state money. That’s local money. What was, and still is, the point of Senate Bill 61 is to take local control away from schools.

“The School Finance Act is not the place to send messages and play political games. I am extraordinarily disappointed in my colleagues for jeopardizing such an important bill for the education funding of our Colorado children.”

Republicans, however, boasted that even with the charter school funding, the legislation serves to fund public education. The measure would raise per-pupil funding by $179.

“Providing our kids and classrooms with fair and equitable funding they need to not only succeed, but thrive, should not be a partisan issue,” Hill said. “We have to work together to make sure we’re putting our kids first.

“Senate Republicans are standing up for our students, ensuring our schools have all the resources they need, and prioritizing the brightest possible version of our future; why aren’t Democrats?”

The Colorado Education Association expressed frustration.

“The Senate is playing shell games in the School Finance Act to move money from one type of school to another instead of tackling the real funding dilemma all schools face,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the teachers’ union. “Don’t play politics with how schools are funded.”

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus is senior statehouse reporter for Colorado Politics. He covers the legislature and previously covered politics, the governor’s office, the legislature and Congress for The Durango Herald. He joined The Herald in 2014 from The Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the nation’s top state-based political and legislative reporters.


6 comments

  • Susan W

    May 1, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Senator Todd has it exactly right! Senate Bill 61 only aims to take away local control from school districts across the state. When school districts raise their own money locally, only that district should decide how that money is spent!! Shame on Senator Hill and the others for playing politics with the school finance bill. If Senate Bill 61 doesn’t pass the House, they need to just let it go – not act like children.

    • Robert Chase

      May 3, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      Anyone still supporting the degree of local control that school districts have over education in Colorado is completely insane.

  • Scott Weiser

    May 1, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    People interested in improving education by allowing parents to choose their schools and create schools that better serve their children like to call it “redirecting school funding in accordance with the will of the People.”

    Democrats hate democracy when it doesn’t go their way.

    • Robert Chase

      May 3, 2017 at 1:43 pm

      Liar. Colorado is illiterate and innumerate; “local control” has created enormous inequities in public education and destroyed the academic integrity of public secondary education with the result that we are fast turning State colleges into remediation centers for failed (but nonetheless graduated) high school students. Peruse the DHE’s report on remediation in State schools; several of these ostensible institutions of higher learning admit mostly remedial students.

  • Shannon

    May 1, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    The spending of Mill levy overrides should not be determined by the state. This should be determined by the community. Tax payers should determine if they want their money to be allocated by their elected school board or toss it blindfully into their local charter schools, who already receive grants and donations. Charters do not have elected school boards. I thought Republicans wanted local control? It also seems strange that Republicans wanted to push for strict accountability measures for public schools, while pushing for waivers of these same measures for Charters. Rural districts, which are frequently represented by Republicans are districts which are most negatively impacted. Leaves me wondering, for whom are these lawmakers are really working.

  • Robert Chase

    May 3, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Colorado is in a headlong flight from educational reality. Public secondary education in Colorado is in ruins; the system graduates more students incapable of doing twelfth-grade (or even nonth-grade) work than it does qualified ones — as a direct result, 35% of incoming freshmen at State colleges must enroll in remedial courses when they get there, recapitulating what they were supposed to have learned in high school. Faced with the staggering incompetence of local school boards and the fantastic waste of resources involved when each school district pretends to develop its own curricula and standards, absolutely crazy Colorado concludes that what we need is more “local control” in the form of demonstrably ineffective charter schools, when it was local control that destroyed the academic integrity of Colorado high schools in the first place!

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