In addition to local efforts, new state laws will impact local school district funding in the future. The state Legislature rammed through two education bills before the session closed. One is likely to evoke cheers from school districts. The other is, well, more controversial.
The School Finance Act, Senate Bill 296, was more generous than expected. The Colorado Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, notes that the bill "increase[s] public school funding by $262 million for about 1,800 public schools and 905,000 students."
SB296 increases the state's per pupil funding to an average $7,662 per student in the next school year, an increase of $242 per kid. The extra dough is meant to cover the costs of inflation and a growing student population statewide.
"We can be very proud that we were able to come to a solution that will bring more funding to our classrooms," Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, chair of the House Education Committee, stated in a press release.
But the addition of those extra dollars still doesn't bring the state up to the funding level required under the voter-approved Amendment 23, a school funding formula passed in 2000. The Legislature's repeated failures to fund K-12 schools according to 23's formula has led to a shortfall — known as the "negative factor" — that sits at $828.3 million.
While schools and districts depend on funding from the state, restrictions on the ability of the state to raise taxes or even keep revenues from taxes already in place, have made districts more dependent on local dollars. School districts rely on their own mill levies (property taxes) to supplement state dollars, along with bond issues. Both funding mechanisms must be approved by a district's voters. But those dollars aren't usually doled out equally to schools. Instead, a district might focus more funding on schools with the highest need, such as an aging building in need of repairs.
Charter schools, which are public schools that don't have to follow all the same rules as traditional schools (for instance, they are not required to hire licensed teachers), don't always see as many of those local dollars. Charters can either be licensed by a district, meaning they are one of the district's schools, or licensed by the state. But until now, there was no law that required a district to share its local dollars equally with its district charters. And many superintendents say that's appropriate, because charters can seek out money from other sources, largely private funds, that are difficult or impossible for traditional schools to get ("Are all schools created equal?" News, Jan. 25).
That hasn't stopped lawmakers who support charters from trying for years to pass a law requiring districts to share their local dollars equally with their charters — in fact, one such attempt, Senate Bill 61, failed again this year. But a second bill, House Bill 1375, passed. It requires districts to share dollars from mill levy overrides that are in addition to their total program mill levy, starting in the 2019-20 school year. Districts can either divide the money by the total number of students in the district, then surrender 95 percent of the "per pupil" funds to charters based on their headcounts, or develop a plan to distribute equitable funds to charters. HB1375 was a bipartisan compromise that also requires greater transparency from charters.
Both bills await a signature from Gov. John Hickenlooper.
— J. Adrian Stanley