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School funding proposal fleshed out

The Colorado School Finance Partnership today issued “Financing Colorado’s Future,” an expanded version of a March report that calls for “a school funding system that drives student achievement and aligns with our state’s values around educational access and excellence.”

The report argues, “Now is the time to create a system that is equitable, innovative and sufficiently funded.”

The new report asserts the same major principles and goals as did the March document, but it expands on those issues and provides more background.

The partnership held a lengthy series of meetings in 2011, and a 16-member steering committee representing a wide range of educational and civic groups developed the report.

The eight-page March version of the report was issued partly in hopes of sparking legislative action this year on some school funding issues, and Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, promised to carry legislation on the subject. But Johnston was preoccupied with bills on undocumented student tuition and early childhood literacy, and he said near the end of the session that school finance needed more study before it was ready for legislative discussion.

The partnership’s report calls for creation of a state “task force charged with creating a new School Finance Act in accordance with the principles and recommendations developed by the School Finance Partnership. … The state should contract for a cost analysis of reaching state education standards using a balance between all available methods” of calculating school costs.

The partnership’s future role in the school finance discussion hasn’t been fully determined, Chris Watney told Education News Colorado in a recent interview. Watney is president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, which organized the partnership. Watney said that regardless of the partnership’s future form, the children’s campaign will continue to be active on the issue.

The partnership’s study is the most recent in a long series of finance studies done in recent years by legislative committees, advocacy groups and research organizations.

But the school finance document that carries the greatest urgency is the December 2011 ruling by Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport, who held that the current finance system is unconstitutional because it doesn’t meet the state constitution’s requirement for a “thorough and uniform” educational system. The Lobato v. State case is on appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, and Attorney General John Suthers recently filed the state’s opening brief in the case.

Most observers doubt there will be any significant movement on school finance reform until after the supreme court rules on Lobato. A decision could come late this year or early in 2013.

The partnership’s report echoes some of the points made by the Lobato plaintiffs, including a guiding principle that the state funding system “should provide revenue sufficient for districts to meet state standards as well as assessment, accountability and evaluation expectations.”

The other three guiding principles of the report are:

Alignment & Accountability: A portion of funding should follow students, individual schools should have significant budget flexibility and funding intended for particular groups of students should in fact go to those students. The paper also urges funding of full-day preschool for at-risk 4-year-olds, half day for 3-year-olds, plus full-day kindergarten and funding of high school/college dual enrollment programs.

Innovation: A new finance system should give districts flexibility in using funds, include a grant program for innovative programs and encourage a competency-based system, rather than one focused on seat time.

Equity: The system should include extra funding for students with special challenges and needs, should recognize different costs in different kinds of districts, strengthen regional services for small districts and be based on research. The paper also urges reform of state and local revenue sources and tax structures.

About the School Finance Partnership

  • The group was organized early last year by the Colorado Children’s Campaign and operated on two levels.
  • A Partnership Committee was open to any interested groups and individuals and met several times last year for briefings and discussion. See the partnership website for links to meeting reports and documents about school finance.
  • A 16-member steering committee deliberated and produced the recommendations, reaching all decisions by full consensus. Members of the steering committee represent the Colorado Association of School Boards, Colorado Association of School Executives, Colorado Education Association, Colorado Forum, Colorado Legacy Foundation, Colorado Succeeds, Denver Metro Chamber, Donnell-Kay Foundation, Great Futures Colorado and the Children’s Campaign.
  • See the full list of steering committee members here.

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