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Money for public education

Colorado voters will be asked in November to approve a ballot measure designed to provide funding for Senate Bill 13-213, which would update Colorado’s school financing formula for the first time in almost 20 years.

Supporters contend the bill, among other things, creates equity in funding between rich and poor, urban and rural districts — and adequate funding for K-12 education in a state that has seen $1 billion plus in cuts over four years (a 16-percent decrease).

Voters will be asked to approve a $1.1 billion tax increase to support the legislation. According to the latest evaluation of the plan, the current mill levy in Archuleta County would remain at 21.014.

Change is due in Colorado’s education funding process, considering recent cuts and the ever-more dire need to improve K-12 education for the sake of children who will go on to compete in a global economic environment and deal with the maintenance and improvement of the nation.

The current method of funding education is wrongheaded, woefully inadequate and, in the case of one court decision (the Lobato case), a judge ruled it in violation of the state constitution.

The new school finance act would revamp the current system, starting with the way students are counted to determine state per-pupil funding. It would replace a single-day count with an average based on dates throughout the year.

State and local funding shares for each district would be recalculated by adjusting for differences in median income and at-risk students, with the goal of determining districts’ ability to pay, then compensating with state dollars.

The bill calls for funding full-day kindergarten and half-day preschool, and providing additional money for at-risk students and English-language learners.

Other funding targets include $100 million earmarked for education innovation grants, $80 million for special education and $5 million directed to gifted and talented programs.

Supporters of the measure claim there will be increased principal autonomy for allocating funds and greater transparency, via a website that allows visitors to track spending.

A successful vote on a measure would mean more money for our local district in terms of basic operational funds, but a number of questions must be asked and answered before November.

Among them: Is the plan truly equitable, given evidence some existing district mill levies may have been “grandfathered” in?

Is more money the key to a remedy of public education woes?

How will districts, and in particular Archuleta School District 50 Jt., use the funds?

If one of the goals is to provide more funding for “at-risk” and ESL students, will the lure of extra dollars lead to better quality education for students in these groups, or will it motivate officials simply to find ways to keep students in chairs for the average daily count, while providing them the same level (some would say, eroding level) of education?

Will funds be available to close the shameful difference in per capita spending between highly funded marginal learners and (in the case of our district) nearly unfunded accomplished learners? Can or will additional funds be used to provide advanced placement classes in our high school? What about vocational programs?

How will the money be used and how well will it be used? The taxpayer has ample evidence that, at all levels of all types of government, tax dollars are regularly misspent, that money often goes to useless administration, to bogus show programs designed to hide minimal competence.

There are many things yet to be revealed about SB 13-213, and many answers needed before we can make an educated vote in November.

Karl Isberg

This story was posted on May 16, 2013.