GOP rips funding measure for schools

DENVER — A bill designed to reform how the state funds public education does nothing more than shuffle money around, Republican lawmakers claimed Monday.

The measure, which received preliminary approval in the Colorado Senate after legislators spent much of the day debating and amending it, is designed to provide more funding to the state’s 178 school districts and get rid of some of the inequities in how schools are funded now, its Democratic supporters say.

But how SB213 is drafted, it still picks winners and losers in who gets what money, GOP senators said.

And it relies on a proposed ballot question to increase taxes to raise another $1.1 billion to do it, they said.

“This funds basically the same system with a few tweaks at a much higher amount,” said Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley.

“The reform is really not all that much reform,” added Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker. “This is an area that really needs complete overhaul. This falls short of a true reform effort. At its heart, the bill does not require any real change in what underlies education. It moves money around, it creates different funds and different things ... but doesn’t really reform how our kids are educated.”

Under current law, school funding largely is based on how many students each district has, with extra money going to those districts based on several factors, such as cost of living and the number of at-risk students.

Under that formula, school districts, on average, receive about $6,603 per pupil.

The bill changes that to consider other factors.

First it ends the practice of basing pupil counts from a single day — Oct. 1 — to an average daily attendance, and ensures that each get funding for full-day kindergarten and early childhood education programs.

It then adds in additional “weights,” giving greater funding preferences to smaller districts, the number of English language learners, and how many at-risk students they have.

Beyond that, the new formula provides additional funding to schools in the form of grants that provide other educational programs, such as gifted and talented, special education, transportation and vocational education.

As a result, the average per-pupil funding would increase to $7,749.

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver and the main sponsor of the measure, said the top 63 districts in the state that will benefit the most from the bill all are in rural parts of the state.

“This is a once-in-a-generation chance to rewrite the way that we fund the single-largest, most complex and most important part of state government, which is how we fund K–12 education,” Johnston said. “The last time this formula was written, it was 1994. When you think about how dramatically the world has changed in those almost 20 years, and how dramatically the education landscape has changed, it has been a challenge to still work under a formula that was not built for the 21st century.”

Current law limits what mill-levy override elections local school districts can hold. The bill adds three new override ballot measures districts can place before voters, but only if they are intended to raise additional property taxes for early childhood education programs, technology and building maintenance, and cost-of-living expenses.

Johnston said there isn’t anything in the measure that requires districts to hold a mill override vote as Republican senators claimed.

He said the bill also requires local districts that get voter approval for an override to share that extra money with charter schools in their districts.

All of that is contingent on the voters approving a statewide ballot measure this fall to increase income taxes to raise about $1.1 billion, which would be dedicated to K–12 spending.

Currently, there are two dozen proposals to get such a measure onto the fall ballot, only one of which is expected to make it there.

While each would increase taxes, they all do it by creating slightly different graduated tax levels, with higher rates being imposed on those who make more.

A few, for example, would keep the state’s current tax rate at 4.65 percent for households that make $100,000 or less and as high as 6 percent for families that earn $200,000 or more.

The bill requires a final Senate vote, which could come as early as today.


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