Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran says charter school funding bill needs to address equity

Crisanta Duran, speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, said this week she is concerned that a bill that would send millions of dollars to charter schools doesn’t do enough to support the state’s at-risk students.

The Democrat’s critique of Senate Bill 61 comes as she nears a decision on which committee in her chamber should debate the bill first. Earlier this month, the state Senate approved the bill with bipartisan support.

A House committee killed a similar bill last year, so Duran’s decision could give the bill new hope or effectively kill it again.

“In previous legislative sessions, 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 to be able to have tools to succeed and get a good education,” Duran said. “I’ve always thought that’s a reasonable way to address these issues. 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.”

While Senate Bill 61 has bipartisan support, it is one of the most controversial pieces of education legislation this session.

If approved, the bill would require school districts to share equally with charters voter-approved tax increases that fund specific programs such as full-day kindergarten or reading intervention.

Districts won’t be obligated to back pay charters retroactively. But going forward, school districts would be required to send a combined $33 million to their charter schools to make up current inequities, according to a legislative estimate.

Supporters of the bill argue the bill remedies current inequities between students who attend district-run schools and charters, which receive public tax dollars but are run independently.

The state’s charter school population is becoming more diverse. According to a state report, 47 percent of charter school students were classified as a racial or ethnic minority, compared to 45 percent of students at district-run schools during the 2015-16 school year.

One possible explanation for that growing diversity is the expansion of charters in Denver, which currently shares its tax increases with charter schools.

Duran didn’t say when she’d make a decision about a committee assignment.

“I’m doing my due diligence to make sure no rock is unturned as it relates to arguments for and against,” she said.