Student Success Act needs full transparency provision
After voters in last fall’s election rejected a hike in the state’s income tax to fund public schools, the Legislature faced a stiff challenge: how to make up for cuts totaling nearly $1 billion during the recession and also pay for unfunded education reforms the state has instituted in recent years.
House Bill 1292, the centerpiece education bill of the current session, aims to provide a fix. The bipartisan measure was shaped by the lessons lawmakers learned from the defeat of Amendment 66, Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, said Thursday before the Senate Education Committee began deliberations on the merits of the bill.
HB1292, the Student Success Act, would restore $110 million in school funding that was cut during the recession. It would also provide targeted funding for English language learners and students struggling to read, and give districts more resources to implement existing education policies like teacher tenure reform and district accountability.
It sets aside $17 million to enhance state support for kindergarten and pre-school programs; and $40 million from recreational marijuana taxes to fund school construction. In rural districts, this is especially welcome news.
Johnston is carrying the Senate version of the bill, which passed the House by a comfortable margin. The state’s improving tax revenue picture has lawmakers in general agreement that more money should go to schools, Johnston said, but divided on several issues, including financial transparency.
Some schools want to the freedom to decide how their restored funds are used, while the bill sponsors want some of the funds to support school-improvement mandates that haven’t been fully implemented due to lack of funding. The bill strikes a balance of funding some programs and providing spending flexibility for districts with vastly different needs, Johnston said. It also provides funding equity for charter schools, which currently don’t have bonding capacity to raise money.
On balance, there’s very little not to like about this bill. Lawmakers are using existing resources — not new taxes — and carefully factoring in the ratcheting effect of Amendment 23 to avoid placing constraints on the state’s general fund in coming years.
Which brings us to the transparency issue. A provision in HB1292 requires schools to break down spending in a way that a layperson could understand it. The information would allow the public to compare how much each school spends on salaries, books, bus fuel — you name it.
We question why anyone would oppose the transparency provision. School funding has outsize implications. Education is the largest portion of the state budget. It affects not only the future of our children, but our workforce readiness, our economic development prospects — and because of Amendment 23 — our ability to provide a full range of government services.
Colorado residents deserve to know where their tax dollars go and we hope the transparency provision survives the amendment process as the bill heads for final approval.