GOP support due school-finance fix
The Colorado Senate last week approved a measure to revamp the state’s school finance system and sent the measure to the House. But Senate support for the bill fell strictly along party lines.
That’s unfortunate because Senate Bill 213 is an important measure that could have great benefits for school districts such as Mesa County’s District 51, which has been perpetually at or near the bottom of the pack in per-pupil state funding.
Perhaps a few Republicans in the House will find the gumption to support the school-finance reform bill, as they did with the state budget bill Friday. The budget passed the Senate on a party-line vote, but in the House, nine Republicans joined Democrats to approve the measure.
Among the complaints about SB213 made by Republicans in the Senate was one by Sen. Mark Scheffel of Parker, who argued the bill shifts money around, “but (it) doesn’t really reform how are kids are educated.”
He’s right, but there’s a reason for that. This is a bill to reform school finance, not education in general. Republicans in recent decades have taken several stabs at broader education reform, with mixed results. They haven’t addressed school finance.
However, there is little question the current school finance system is a disaster. When wealthy school districts such as Aspen and Cherry Creek receive more state funding per student than District 51 and other districts that serve large numbers of low-income students, something is definitely out of whack.
SB213 makes several changes to try to remedy that situation, including giving preference to small, rural school districts and those with high numbers of at-risk students.
Are Republicans opposed to trying to fix the inequity?
Another GOP objection to the legislation is that it will require a large influx of additional money to make it work — an estimated $1.1 billion the first year it takes effect.
That’s true, but the provisions of SB213 will only be implemented if voters approve a ballot measure this fall to raise state income taxes to provide the additional funding that’s necessary for the bill’s implementation.
We hope voters do approve the increased funding because we believe the changes authorized by SB213 are critically important and the additional money is necessary. But we recognize that it will be no easy task to persuade voters to pay more in taxes, even for such a worthy cause.
However, many Republicans in the Legislature and conservative columnists apparently object to even putting the question to voters and allowing them to decide.
SB213 will significantly improve the school-finance system in Colorado. It deserves bipartisan support. We hope it will find some in the House, especially from Mesa County’s representatives, since schools they represent will benefit greatly.