DENVER – State lawmakers on Thursday advanced legislation that aims at equitable funding for charter schools, a topic that crosses political lines and has divided school districts.
Two bills passed the Senate Education Committee, both on 6-3 votes. The measures head to the full Senate for consideration.
One measure would require districts to distribute revenue from local property taxes equal to charters on a per-pupil basis.
It also 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.
The legislation would require the override money to be distributed to charter schools, also on a per-pupil basis.
The additional tax revenue can vary widely from district to district, largely because each community has different property values and local taxes.
The bill also would ease requirements to access capital construction funding and require districts to provide notice to charters of the availability of buildings and land in an effort to expand charter locations.
“We are excited that the Colorado state Legislature is considering leveling the playing field for public schools, including charter schools, when it comes to school financing,” said Libby Cowles, assistant head of school for Animas High School, one of two Durango charter schools.
Cowles said a University of Arkansas study found that Colorado’s charter students receive an average of $2,000 less per student than students enrolled in traditional public schools.
“Contrary to a common misperception, charter schools do not take money away from public schools; in fact they are public schools, and the students who attend them deserve access to the same funding as their peers,” Cowles added.
A second measure would relax certain mandates charter schools must meet, including requiring performance plans every two years instead of annually.
It also would require districts to distribute funds to charter schools on a per-pupil basis if charter students were included as part of the district’s funding calculations.
Both Animas High and Mountain Middle are chartered through the Colorado Charter School Institute, not Durango School District 9-R, so that portion would not apply to them. It would apply to the district-chartered Juniper School scheduled to open fall 2017.
About 108,000 students attend 226 charter schools statewide, including about 300 students who attend Animas High School and 180 who attend Mountain Middle School.
Opposition to the bills has been led by many school executives and boards. They worry the measure would create an inequitable funding system and erode local control.
“I do not believe that we should be discriminating against any child in any public school,” said Carrie Warren-Gully, representing the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Rural Schools Alliance.
“There are different costs associated with a comprehensive education ... it depends on where you are in the system and what your needs are.... Local school boards, when they work with their charter schools, they can account for that.”
Durango School District 9-R supports the effort. The district could become the first in the state to proportionally include charter schools in overall funding. The district is planning on including the charters in a possible $1.7 million override for the November ballot. Funds would be distributed on a per-pupil basis.
“Public school funding is an issue that is striking both traditional public schools and public charter schools alike,” said Dan Snowberger, superintendent of Durango School District 9-R. “I recognize that one can’t be supported over the other. I support our charter colleagues in seeking equity in funding.”