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.”