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Welcome to the BVSD Legislative Update, which will be provided throughout the 2017 session of the Colorado General Assembly. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Charter revenue sharing bill awaits House decision

Sharing of mill levy override revenues with charter schools, the most contentious education issue of the 2017 legislative session, remains unresolved as lawmakers enter their final 30 days of work.

This year's sharing proposal, Senate Bill 17-061, passed the Senate 22-13 on March 14. But it is yet to be formally introduced in the House and assigned to a committee.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, recently told Chalkbeat Colorado that she's still looking at the bill and has some concerns. "I've supported targeted funding to students who need it the most — at-risk students, English-language learners, students that for whatever reason are not on an even playing field. … I'm concerned this bill as drafted, it's incredibly broad and there is more work that needs to be done on the equity issue."

Duran didn't detail what she meant by "the equity issue."

Although charter revenue sharing isn't a strictly partisan issue, it was expected to pass the Republican-majority Senate, where five Democrats voted yes and only one Republican voted no. The prospects for SB17-061 always have been more uncertain in the Democratic-controlled House. Its chances may depend on what amendments Duran wants and sponsors will accept.

The bill has a familiar lineup of advocates who support and oppose it. Groups like the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives and several districts, including Boulder Valley, oppose it. Supporters include advocacy groups like the Colorado Children's Campaign, Colorado Succeeds and Education Reform Now. But Padres y Jovenes Unidos, which advocates for minority students, opposes the bill.

The bill requires that districts share revenues from mill levy overrides with their charter schools on a per-student basis. There are several caveats and exceptions built into the bill, but those so far haven't changed critics' minds. Those include:

  • Districts wouldn't have to share earmarked override revenues. For instance, if an override pays only for full-day kindergarten, revenue wouldn't be shared with charters that don't offer kindergarten.
  • Overrides intended to pay for construction or maintenance costs and passed in 2016 or earlier wouldn't have to be shared.
  • Revenue sharing would phase in, with a third shared in 2018-19, two-thirds in 2019-20 and full sharing starting in 2020-21.
  • The bill isn't retroactive; override revenue collected before 2017-18 would not have to be shared.
  • A district could put sharing to a vote of its residents. But if voters opposed sharing, a school board could still give the money to charters.

The bill also would set up a mechanism to provide additional funding to schools authorized by the state Charter School Institute. But that wouldn't be guaranteed; the legislature could provide as much or as little money as it was able to spend in a given year.

Debate over the bill is almost more about philosophy than it is about money. Opponents argue that districts should be free to negotiate the terms of charters while supporters assert that all students should be funded "equally."

The money involved is relatively small. Districts statewide collected about $966 million in override revenues this school year. Legislative fiscal analysts estimate $96.4 million would be subject to sharing in 2017-18 – but that two-thirds of that amount already is being shared by districts. "This bill would result in the distribution to charter schools of an estimated $33.1 million of mill levy override revenue that would not have been distributed otherwise," according to a fiscal note prepared for the bill.

Charters operate in only about a quarter of the state's 178 districts, not including institute-authorized schools.

Each year, the BVSD Board of Education sets BVSD's legislative priorities for the session. The Superintendent's office directs the lobbying work of BVSD's legislative consulting firm, Policy Matters, LLC. BVSD also works with other PK-12 policy organizations such as the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB), the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE), the Colorado Education Association (CEA), and Great Education Colorado, a nonpartisan organization advocating for the benefit of Colorado's more than 800,000 public school students. Addressing Colorado's chronic shortfall in school funding is always on BVSD's legislative agenda along with other issues that could impact classrooms. If you are not yet on the email list and would like to be, please email BVSD Communications at communications@bvsd.org with your email address and you will be added to the distribution list.