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This is the final BVSD Legislative Update of the First Regular Session of the Seventy-first Colorado General Assembly. The Second Regular Session of the Seventy-first will convene on January 10, 2018.

Monday, May 15, 2017

School finance, charter sharing top education issues

There were some tense moments before the compromises were made, but Colorado lawmakers approved increased K-12 funding for 2017-18 and new requirements for sharing of district revenues with charters before adjournment last week.

Along with a totally non-controversial change in ninth-grade testing, those were the top education issues of the 2017 session, which was dominated by debates over state support for hospitals, transportation funding and construction-defects legislation.

School funding and the charter issue were briefly intertwined as the session neared its close. One charter-sharing bill passed the Senate earlier, but its chances were dim in the House. So charter advocates jammed the sharing provisions into the annual school finance measure, SB17-296. The full Senate rejected that ploy, so the finance bill moved ahead mostly unencumbered. And HB17-1375 - a stand-alone, compromise charter bill - was introduced three days before adjournment and ultimately passed both houses by comfortable margins.

Here are the highlights of the big issues.

Funding - The school finance bill sets 2017-18 Total Program Funding at $6.63 billion, compared to the current $6.37 billion. Total program is the combination of state and local revenues used for basic school operating expenses.

  • The total negative factor remains at $828 million, this year's level. It appeared for a time that the 2017-18 negative factor would have to rise to $876 million. But revised, higher estimates of local revenue made it possible to hold the negative factor flat.
  • Base per-student funding, which all districts receive, is $6,546, a 2.8 percent increase based on inflation.
  • Average per-pupil funding, including adjustments for cost of living, district size and other factors, will be $7,662. That's up from $7,420 this year.
  • Boulder Valley's per-student funding rises to $7,592 from this year's $7,350. The negative factor impact on Boulder will be $28.3 million.

The annual school finance bill is intended to be a technical measure to formally set school funding for the upcoming year, although that doesn't prevent lawmakers from trying to add extra clauses, and a few slipped through this time.

This most interesting is erasure of the term "negative factor" from state school laws. It's been replaced with "budget stabilization factor," the original term that was used before it was later changed to negative factor.

Charters – Some charter advocates long have complained that revenues from district mill levy overrides aren't equally shared with charter schools. It's been a hot issue at the Capitol for at least two sessions, sparking intense debates over funding equality and district decision-making powers and autonomy.

Revenue sharing isn't necessarily a statewide issue. Some 47 districts have charters, and 37 of them already have some form of revenue sharing, according to legislative analysts.

This year's original sharing measure, Senate Bill 17-061, proposed a flat per-student sharing of override revenues, although there were some exceptions, and the sharing would have been phased in over three years.

When that effort stalled, the more nuanced compromise proposed in HB17-1375 surfaced. In broad terms here's what it requires:

  • If they choose, districts could develop "equitable" plans for using override revenues for traditional, charter and innovation schools by July 1, 2018. Those plans would have to be fully implemented by the 2019-20 school year.
  • If a district chooses not to create a plan, 95 percent of override revenues would be shared per-pupil with charters and innovation schools.
  • Schools could choose the 95 percent distribution instead of a district plan.
  • Beginning July 1, charters will have to post on their websites lists of and information about the waivers they have received from various state education laws. Charters also will have to post more information about their finances.

The bill also creates a special account that will be used to provide more funds for schools supervised by the state Charter School Institute. But the legislature didn't put any money in that fund, and it's optional for future legislatures.

Testing – Remember how hot an issue testing was during recent legislative sessions? It was a snoozer this year. HB17-1181 replaces ninth-grade language arts and math tests with a version of the PSAT. It passed both houses unanimously, and bills to eliminate ninth-grade tests entirely or let districts choose their own were politely heard and quickly killed.

Some 69 education-related bills were introduced during the 2017 session; about 45 percent of them didn't make it.

Among those was HB17-1210, which would have severely restricted the use of suspensions and expulsions in grades P-2. This was a priority for some advocacy groups, but it died in the Senate, as did a measure to ban paddling in schools. But HB17-1276, which bans the use of chemical, mechanical and face-down restraints in schools, did pass.

Lawmakers this year also launched a couple of education studies. A two-year review of the school finance system was set up by HB17-1340. Under HB17-1003, the departments of education and higher education are assigned to look at teacher shortages and report to the 2018 legislature.

But a proposed multi-year study to develop a "vision" for education in Colorado didn't pass.

Contact Your Colorado Legislators
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2017 BVSD Legislative Platform

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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.