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Denver Post: “Fundamental Fairness” in Jeffco Charter Student Funding Plan

When the Center for Education Reform (CER) released this year’s Charter School Law Rankings and Scorecard in March, I didn’t take time to give you an update. Colorado scooted up from 10th place to 9th place, not for any improvements of its own but because one state (ahem… Missouri) took a small step back.

But it’s action on the local front that soon may show Colorado outperforming the ranking of our law, at least in one important respect.

CER uses a 55-point scale to rate the quality of state laws related to public charter schools. The formula takes into account the availability of different entities to authorize charters, various restrictions on the number of charters that can open statewide, and to what extent these schools can operate free from a number of different regulations.

More than a quarter of the total scorecard, however, is tied to the issue of funding equity — whether charter students have access to the same share of operating funds and relevant facilities dollars as their counterparts in district-run schools. In this regard, a significant number of states top Colorado, though only by small margins. (Even the best states have a ways to go.)

But here in and around the heart of the Rocky Mountains, local school boards have the opportunity to improve equity locally. Districts can make realistic withholdings for overhead rather than try to wring every penny out of the 5 percent of Per Pupil Revenue that the law allows them to do. They can share extra local property tax funds through mill levy overrides (MLOs). They can include charters in bond proposals for construction projects.

In these respects, two of our state’s three largest school districts — Denver and Douglas County — have set a higher standard than the norm and than the third, Jefferson County. That may be beginning to change. A few weeks ago I told you about the preliminary step Jeffco took to help remedy a $1,150 per student MLO fund disparity, a step that ought to make the local Jan Brady smile:

The Board voted 3-2 to set aside an extra $3.7 million for the district’s 16 charter schools.

Now as much as my praise for such actions might mean, it’s not as big a deal as the editors of the state’s largest newspaper weighing in. On Sunday the Denver Post expressed support:

…we would hope opponents keep in mind that fundamental fairness is at stake in funding charters on par with Jeffco’s other public schools.

That’s right: “fundamental fairness.” I couldn’t have stated it better myself. To understand the specific issue at stake more clearly, watch the video of Jeffco charter principal Bill Kottenstette attached to the editorial.

The Jeffco school board is scheduled to finalize next year’s budget at its first June meeting. Putting together budgets is about assembling and shifting many moving parts. A number of variables will help determine where the $3.7 million toward charter funding equity fits alongside other competing demands. The legislature making more money available from the state’s savings account could alleviate some conflict in solidifying this decision.

But there’s another ongoing challenge that yours truly can play a bigger role in helping to address. And that is responding to the plethora of misinformation and mythology about what public charter schools are, how they work, and what they can do. For the sake of fundamental fairness, please count me in!