Over the past decade, K-12 education in Colorado has undergone a significant expansion in options for educational models. Charter schools have been instrumental in this shift statewide, with a growing number of the publicly funded schools opening throughout Colorado. Locally, Animas High School and Mountain Middle School – both independent public charters that offer project-based learning – represent that trend, and the challenges inherent to it. Among these is the comparatively reduced public funding charters can access. Two bills in the state Legislature aim to equalize that, and Durango School District 9-R is considering including Mountain and Animas in any mill levy increase the district seeks in November. Both are good moves for public education.
Charter schools receive state funding according to the per-pupil operating revenue accorded all public schools, but the cost of operating – let alone opening – a school far surpasses that funding level. School districts are keenly aware of this, and many have passed mill levy overrides to help offset the gap between what the state and federal government provide and the district’s needs.
Current state law does not require districts to share this increased, locally generated revenue with charters that serve the same populations as the school districts, and many choose not to. Durango School District 9-R is among them now, though if the district brings a mill levy question to voters in November, it is leaning toward sharing the potential revenue generated by a yes vote with local charters.
Superintendent Dan Snowberger said that in fact, “The board feels as if it’s not right not to include the charters.”
He is correct. While Mountain and Animas are chartered through the state’s Charter School Institute and not 9-R, the students they serve are from the same community whose taxpayers support the district’s needs. Excluding students who have chosen an alternative educational model from local public funding is neither fair nor equitable, and 9-R is right to look to remedying that imbalance.
So is the state. The Legislature is considering a pair of measures that would require that charter schools be included as recipients of local mill levy increases. Several large districts in the state – Denver, Boulder, Jefferson and Douglas counties among them – have already shifted their policies to include charters in mill levy funding. As charter schools become an increasingly popular and effective option for K-12 students to maximize their learning styles by matching them with complementary models, public funds should be available to support them and the families they serve. It is quite literally an investment in the future, and diversifying the outlay makes sense.
Locally, District 9-R, under Snowberger’s leadership, has worked to forge relationships with local charter schools, providing transportation and other services for the smaller schools. That cooperation has helped build trust and coordination among the entities that serve the community well. Expanding local funding for all the schools that serve the region is a demonstrable need and 9-R is likely to ask for voters’ help , albeit reluctantly – in November. Ensuring that those community dollars serve as many of the community’s young people as possible will only improve local educational offerings.