The deal is done

Charter funding fight ends with compromise, defeat of two bills as session nears end

A five-minute meeting of the House Education Committee on the House floor was the final step in the complicated charter school compromise.

A House committee decision to kill two charter school bills Tuesday ended the 2016 legislative session’s most contentious education debate.

Charter school advocates are getting some of what they wanted in another piece of legislation but not the thing they desired most – mandatory sharing of district tax override revenues with charters.

Highlighted by strong feelings and intense lobbying on both sides, the charter funding issue at times seemed more about rhetoric than about money.

Charter advocates framed the issue as about “funding equity,” while districts argued that “local control” needed to be protected so school boards and their charters could negotiate financial deals tailored to individual districts.

The running debates in the two houses also surfaced older charter disagreements, such as waivers from state laws that allow charters flexibility in several areas, including not being required to hire certified teachers if they ask for that exemption. .

There wasn’t a huge amount of money at stake. The Colorado League of Charter Schools, a prime backer of the bills, estimated that districts overall share about 60 percent of override revenues and that only about $25 million of such revenues are not shared statewide.

Some districts share 100 percent of override revenues, some share none. But individual districts provide other funding for charters, such as picking up special education costs.

The sharing proposal would have affected about three-dozen districts that have both charters and overrides. The state has 178 districts.

Revenue sharing was the centerpiece of Senate Bill 16-188, passed 22-13 by the Senate last week but postponed indefinitely on a 9-2 House Education Committee vote during a five-minute meeting on the House floor Tuesday night.

Overrides are property tax increases approved by local voters that generate revenue above and separate from the funding districts receive through the school finance formula. Most overrides support a district’s general operating expenses. But some districts have earmarked overrides that support full-day kindergarten costs, transportation or other programs.

A companion measure, House Bill 16-187, included various flexibility measures sought by charters, such as relief from some state accountability paperwork and streamlined audit procedures.

That bill passed the Senate 25-10 but also was in danger in the House, where the Democratic leadership was opposed to both bills. During a series of at times acrimonious maneuvers on the Senate floor last Thursday night, the provisions of HB 15-187 were amended into a separate measure, House Bill 16-1422. A bid to insert watered-down charter sharing language into that bill failed.

The charter flexibility provisions include streamlining of charter audit requirements, notification to charters about vacant district buildings, more detailed accounting of district services to charters and rules for allocation of some special state and federal funding to charters.

The charter deal was on hold until everyone was sure HB 16-1422 passed with the flexibility language intact. That happened Tuesday evening, but not until lawmakers resolved a contentious but unrelated issue concerning safety net funding for a handful of rural districts that have budget problems.

With those provisions protected, the House Education Committee voted 9-2 to kill HB 16-187 moments after killing its companion measure.

All that maneuvering leaves a somewhat lopsided compromise. School districts got their top goal — no mandatory revenue sharing — while charter interests got their secondary goal. Backers of override sharing acknowledged it was “a hail Mary” but feel the debate raised legislative awareness about charter funding issues.

“I think we have built great bipartisan support for all kids in Colorado,” said Nora Flood, president of the charter league. She said she hoped the debate raised the visibility of charter school funding issues.

“This fight isn’t over,” predicted Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson and a member of the House Education Committee.

One additional bill also affects charters and provides some financial stability to schools that change their authorization from local districts to the state Charter School Institute, or vice versa.

Some of those schools now experience big shifts in per-pupil funding if they switch authorizers. Senate Bill 16-208 allows a school to maintain its original per-student funding when it changes authorizers. The bill passed the House 65-0 late Tuesday night.

The original version of SB 16-188 also included a proposal that would have required the state to provide extra funding to Charter School Institute schools to match the shared override funds they would have received if they had been district-authorized schools. Sponsors dropped that provision from the bill before the main charter deal was cut.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”