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File photo of students at the AXL Academy charter school in Aurora.

File photo of students at the AXL Academy charter school in Aurora.

Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat

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

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.