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Hoping for Better than Political School Finance Kumbayah Next Year

It’s that time of year in Colorado. I’m not talking about the crazy weather, with all the wind, rain, and hail. No, I mean schools are getting out, graduations are taking place seemingly every day, and (hooray!) summer vacation is here at last.

It’s also time for politicians to take a victory lap on the school funding issue. Because that’s what they do. Chalkbeat Colorado reporter Todd Engdahl covered a recent ceremony at Cherry Creek’s Ponderosa Elementary, where Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a pair of school funding measures into law.

Specifically, the regular school finance act (HB 1298) and the thoroughly debated Student Success Act (HB 1292) were the featured objects of enactment. Differences may appear to be forgotten, but little Eddie’s elephant-like memory clings to recent events surrounding HB 1292:

  1. …From the start, we’d have been better off with a bolder proposal called dingelhoffer
  2. …before it started turning into the only soap opera my parents would allow me to watch
  3. …and turned the best part into a rerun of a study that had just happened a few years earlier…
  4. …then left us with two versions of a transparency proposal, neither of which was fully transparent
  5. …which nearly resulted in the lobbyist equivalent of a knee-bashing old gangster film.

The limited good news is that students in public charter schools came a little closer to fair funding with extra millions of facilities funds tossed into HB 1292. But the baseline piece of ensuring funds are focused on students, a policy of nearly 40 states, was axed from the bill. And the extra transparency still came with a tradeoff.

Rep. Kevin Priola also ran his own legislation that would have moved Colorado closer to Average Daily Membership, which the majority party killed. Priola went on air this week with my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow to discuss HB 1292, his ADM bill, and one other he sponsored.

HB 1262 would have set up a funded pilot program to give many highly effective teachers sizable bonuses to serve in the most struggling schools. I chimed in a few months ago with this upbeat observation:

Incentives work, and incentives matter. This proposal certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all of education reform, but it looks like a step in the right direction. It doesn’t appear to tread too roughly on local prerogatives, either….

Priola’s HB 1262 not only caught my attention as it was introduced, but also as majority party legislators on the House Education Committee with apparent anguish and reluctance voted to squeeze the life out of it. Why, oh why, oh why?

Maybe for the same reason that brings once squabbling lawmakers together for a big Kumbayah moment at a bill signing ceremony. It bums me out to see the victories for politics again surpass the opportunities for policies that help students. The final verdict certainly could have been worse for kids in Colorado K-12 schools, but I’m hopeful for much better days in 2015 and beyond.