Charter School Advocates Back Bill To Equalize Funding

<p>(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)</p>
<p>The Colorado Capitol.</p>

A big battle over school funding is brewing at the state Capitol over a proposed bill that would require school districts to share local property tax dollars with charter schools. Those are public schools with freedom from some of the regulations imposed on district-run schools.

Charter schools educate about eight percent of the state’s 850,000 students. On average, Colorado’s district-run schools receive about 20 percent more funding than independently-run charter schools. That’s because school districts are not required to give charters a share of local property tax revenue.

"This idea of some of our students 'have' and some 'have not' is wrong," said Republican state Sen.Owen Hill Thursday. "It’s wrong for our constitution and we’re going to fix this."

Hill says charters are losing out on an estimated $25 million annually, and believes the bipartisan bill would require those dollars be shared. It's backed by the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

Debate over the bill is expected to be fierce, in part because the money would have to come from existing traditional schools where budgets are already tight. In addition, opponents argue that charter schools don’t have the same accountability requirements that regular schools have.

"They want the same benefits that come with funding but they want exemptions from the rules that often cost significant amounts of money," said bill opponent Bruce Caughey, who directs the Colorado Association of School Executives. “The allocations that happen at the local level by a locally elected board are done so for very compelling reasons and this law will ignore that."

Two other proposed bills relating to charter schools are also pending. One would give charter schools access to land and facilities. Another would allow charter school networks to complete one financial audit that covers the entire network.