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Senate education committee chair pledges to bring back charter school equalization bill

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students at the AXL Academy in Aurora worked in pairs or small groups to solve math problems.

State Sen. Owen Hill, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, pledged to reintroduce legislation next year to equalize funding for Colorado charter schools.

Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, didn’t specify how the legislation might differ from last year’s failed attempt but said he has met with Democrats to discuss his proposal.

Last year, House Democrats spiked his bill, which would have required school districts to split local revenue raised from voter-approved tax increases with charter schools more equitably. Currently, local school boards decide how to spend those tax dollars, known as mill levy overrides.

According to an estimate by the Colorado League of Charter Schools, only 11 districts equitably share their overrides with charters, which receive state funding but are run outside of the traditional school district system.

School districts can ask voters to approve overrides for specific programs, such as tutoring or teacher training. Last year’s bill would have only mandated that districts share that revenue if their charters had comparable programs.

The legislation was opposed by many school districts. Denver Public Schools and the Douglas County School District, two districts that currently split their overrides with charters, supported the bill. The bill also had political support from the state’s conservative education reform lobby, including Ready Colorado and the Independence Institute, according to Secretary of State records.

State Rep. Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, told Chalkbeat earlier this year she still believed the issue of how to spend local tax revenue was best left to local school boards.

Hill announced his intentions on a conference call with reporters organized by a new multi-state advocacy group, Conservative Leaders for Education. The group was created this year to help state lawmakers create legislation in response to the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

The group released its first legislative platform last week, calling for more local control of schools, new approaches to turn around chronically low-performing schools and “fewer but more effective tests modeled on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.”

Hill said he believed ESSA, which gives more control over education policy to the states, would allow state lawmakers to reimagine schools.

“It’s our time to take a lead,” he said.

Update: This story has been updated to better reflect political support and opposition to Sen. Owen Hill’s bill. 

hold up wait a minute

Colorado Latina lawmakers to Trump: Back off pledge to end protections for young undocumented immigrants

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Colorado's Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran

Colorado’s two highest ranking Latina lawmakers are asking President-elect Donald Trump to back off his promise to revoke temporary protection from deportation to undocumented immigrants who arrived here as children.

Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran and Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman wrote in a letter that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order allowed undocumented young adults access to a better education and job opportunities — including teaching.

The letter was cosigned by seven other Latino lawmakers.

“We are simply asking that the president-elect put an end to the fear and uncertainty of the 742,000 men, women and children, and the millions of our fellow Americans that know them as our friends, neighbors, family members and coworkers,” Duran, a Denver Democrat, said in a statement. “We are talking about keeping families — children and mothers and fathers — together. This is their home and they are a part of us.”

Duran is Colorado’s first Latina Speaker of the House. She co-sponsored state legislation in 2013 that provided in-state tuition at Colorado colleges for undocumented high school graduates.

Obama’s executive order provided an opportunity to aspiring teachers to enter the classroom, including those in Denver.

Denver Public Schools was the first school district in the nation to hire undocumented teachers.

In a statement released Thursday by the nonprofit education advocacy group Stand for Children, Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg also called on Trump to abandon his campaign promise.

“To deport talented teachers and students in whom we have invested so much, who have so much to give back to our community, and who are so much a part of our community would be a catastrophic loss,” he said.

Here’s the complete letter from lawmakers to Trump, who is to be sworn in on Friday:

money matters

Proposal to ask voters to overhaul property tax rate to fund schools still alive — for now

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students move about a classroom at the Denver Green School.

Despite skepticism from Republican lawmakers who help write the state’s budget, a proposal to ask voters to set a uniform tax on personal property to increase school funding is still alive.

The legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, made up of three Republicans and three Democrats, agreed Tuesday to keep the proposal on its list of possible legislation for this session. For a bill to be sponsored by the committee, it must have unanimous support.

Currently, school districts have little power over how much local tax revenue they can collect. Some districts are fully funded by their local property taxes, while others heavily depend on the state. If voters went along with the request, schools could see by one estimate a $300 million increase in revenue.

Sen. Kent Lambert, a Manitou Springs Republican and chairman of the committee, said he didn’t believe there would be enough votes in either chamber to put the proposal on a future ballot. For lawmakers to refer a question to voters, two-thirds of both chambers must support it.

Lambert said he believed, at the least, the committee and its staff could produce more information to inform the broader school funding debate.

“It’s an important element of it,” he said, referring to rethinking how local tax dollars are used to fund the state’s schools. “But it isn’t the whole solution.”

Supporters of the idea, especially Reps. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, and Millie Hamner, a Frisco Democrat, believe the state’s current formula to fund schools is unfair.

“We’re funding some kids at $25,000 and some at $7,000,” Rankin said. “That’s just not right.”

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Berthoud Republican, said he worries low-income families in wealthier parts of the state could see their property taxes jump under the proposed change.

“I have a deep concern that as we set a system to address one inequity over here, we’ll create another one over there,” he said.

Colorado’s tax and school funding policies are complicated. A mix of constitutional amendments approved by voters and other legislation leaves lawmakers with few options to change how much money schools receive.

The state is often criticized for ranking near the bottom in state funding for students. This year, many observers forecast the state’s education funding shortfall, which sits about about $830 million, will jump to about $1 billion.

Rethinking the way the state funds its schools emerged as a central issue in speeches from leaders of both political parties and Gov. John Hickenlooper in the session’s opening week.