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Big SB 213 School Finance Bill Hearing Keeps Me Watching, Brings Out Questions

When it comes to the world of K-12 education in Colorado — you know, what keeps my little eyes busy watching — today (this week!) is all consumed in the political debates over Senate Bill 213, the big school finance overhaul tied to a billion dollar tax increase. So I invite you to follow the clever, quippy (is “quippy” a word) Eddie on Twitter today starting at 2 PM Colorado time. Or just tune into the hash tag #CoSchoolFund.

At this point, I hardly know what to expect. After nearly two years of a School Finance Partnership predicated on the idea of a “Grand Bargain”, it comes down to the introduced legislation‘s first big committee hearing this afternoon. With 174 pages of legislation and billions of dollars to be allocated, you can be sure of lots of witnesses, questions, and discussion.

Here are a not-so-dirty dozen questions I hope to see answered (in no particular order):

  1. To what extent does the legislation provide for true course-level choice?
  2. Why can only designated “at-risk” and English language learner dollars be appropriated for backpack funding?
  3. How much of the policy discussion will be steered toward empowering students and families as opposed to preserving and enriching school district mechanisms?
  4. How much will the conversation be guided by real funding facts?
  5. Can we have a school finance debate without addressing the elephants in the room: the PERA defined benefit retirement system and non-teaching staff surges? As someone else cleverly put it: Will this pay for pensions or pencils?
  6. What kind of sway would this bill and accompanying tax increase proposal have on the Lobato school finance case pending before the state supreme court?
  7. If asking for a billion dollars, what reforms can we truly expect to see beyond moving from the October 1 count date to average daily membership? What can we do without a tax hike?
  8. Currently, 95 percent of the proposed Innovation Fund is required to be spent on expanded learning time initiatives. How can we have confidence those moneys will be used effectively?
  9. Why can’t we use policy changes to encourage more school districts follow the lead of the relatively low-funded Falcon 49 and use bold innovation to save funds and focus them on the classroom?
  10. How much of a better (read: more fair and equitable) deal will charter schools really end up getting?
  11. To what extent can the state get away with playing the role of wealth redistribution among school districts?
  12. What other senators will end up joining Michael Johnston and Rollie Heath in supporting SB 213?

As is scheduled now, today is the big hearing. Tomorrow the nine-member committee is supposed to vote it up or down. What exactly will they be voting on, and how will the senators vote? I only wish they’d let me bring some popcorn and soda into the committee hearing at the State Capitol. Stay tuned….