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Colorado Isn’t Alone in Considering School Finance Reform “Grand Bargain”

I’ve shared with you before my concerns about the work of Colorado’s School Finance Partnership — too weighted down by established interests, too vague and unambitious thus far, etc.

The Partnership put out a report in August, but now is transitioning to a series of technical discussions on how to make effective changes to school funding formulas and the like. State senator Michael Johnston, a key leader in the partnership, has stated his goal of striving to achieve both “bold” reforms to the School Finance Act and a “bold” request for additional tax revenue from voters (making such a tough request from cash-strapped voters in one sense would have to be bold).

Just exactly how “bold” the respective proposals end up could make all the difference. You likely will hear more from me on that at a later point. But for now it’s interesting to note that Colorado isn’t alone in discussing this sort of “grand bargain.” Once more, our state may end up at the center of a national movement — at least according to an account from the Fordham Institute’s’ Michael Petrilli.

Last week Petrilli penned a piece for the Flypaper blog under the big, open-ended heading of “What’s next on the school reform agenda.” He notes first that for a lot of states, the focus has turned from big legislative battles to the hard work of program implementation. He says some states, though, may tackle reform bills in such areas as:

  • Teacher preparation (Don’t be surprised to count Colorado among them);
  • Principal licensure;
  • Pension reform (Some Colorado legislators have good cause to want to revisit this issue); and
  • Digital learning (I have a road map for any of our state’s policy makers who need some guidance).

Cue the drum roll for Petrilli’s big segue:

But there’s an issue on the horizon that could potentially trump all of that, for it touches every piece of the education enterprise: school finance. While this item isn’t exactly “new,” a new approach could revolutionize our schools.

What’s that “new approach,” or as he also describes the views of many reformers, the Holy Grail? (No, not that Holy Grail! There will be no debates about swallows, throwing witches in ponds, or rabbits with “nasty, big pointy teeth”!) Taking school funding completely away from local property taxes almost entirely into the realm of state politics — which would accelerate a general trend that has affected Colorado for years.

Is such a goal laudable? Would it actually encourage the development of a system of “backpack funding,” even to the course level? Probably so. But what other benefits and drawbacks might there be? I’ve got a lot to chew on before making any “bold” pronouncements.

While they may not look exactly the same, it’s noteworthy to see that both Colorado and education reformers nationally are looking at versions of a school finance “grand bargain.”