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Jeffco Board Makes More Money Follow Students, Brings a Jan Brady Smile

Once upon a time, say two years ago, I felt the heat for focusing a lot of extra attention on a certain large school district between Denver and Colorado Springs. You could almost hear a number of nearby Jan Bradys crying out in frustration: “Dougco, Dougco, Dougco!” Back then I said:

But hey, don’t complain at me! Get your school board and district to set the bar high by making some bold reform moves, and I’ll give them some attention, too.

While Dougco’s Marcia continues moving along, Jefferson County’s Jan can crack a smile. And not just because 10 days ago I filled you in with some compelling reasons to keep an eye on the suburban district’s open union negotiations (Hint: another session starts today at 4 PM in the fifth floor board room at 1829 Denver West Drive).

Jeffco gets more attention now, though, because of two big items from Thursday’s Board of Education meeting. Clearly, the new majority not only has made a laudable push for transparency but also has begun setting the bar high with its own brand of bold reform moves.

The Board voted 3-2 to set aside an extra $3.7 million for the district’s 16 charter schools. That amount provides a little less than half of the amount needed to give charters a fully equal share of extra property tax dollars.

Jeffco charter parents and educators brought an unprecedented show of force Thursday evening, including a number of speakers who effectively made the case for supporting choice with more equitable funding:

If charter schools are public schools, Jefferson County parent Nicole Dominic wants to know why they don’t receive the same amount of money to spend in the classroom.

“I think our point is that it’s all the same,” Dominic said. “We’re all part of Jeffco. We’re all equal. So, we should all get equal funding.”

Three cheers to the board for clearly taking a step in the right direction. Now the work for the rest of us is continuing to educate the community about what charters are and are not, so unnecessary divisions aren’t being created by a sort of mythology. Facts are powerful things. So are real stories of real students and families benefiting from real choices.

Consistent with the board’s first action is my take on a second Jeffco proposal discussed Thursday. The board majority resisted a formal call to expand free full-day kindergarten offerings from the existing 40 schools to a total of 53, based on the share of low-income students enrolled.

The research cited to the Board — like this and this — makes a case for the benefits of full-day kindergarten to low-income kids in particular. Assuming that’s true, why not attach the funding to provide free full-day K directly to the individual student on Free or Reduced Lunch, who may not go to one of the 40 or 53 schools?

Recognizing the need to prioritize limited funds on important strategies that benefit students, the Board is opting to go this direction. Ironically, their political opponents are saying their efforts on behalf of both charters and kindergarten — ensuring money more directly and fairly follows the child based on choice and need — somehow represents an attack on poor kids. Yeah, I’m scratching my little head, too.

Jeffco’s board majority already has demonstrated the nonsense behind the attack. But they could take another step that blow it out of the water. Invite successful Denver charter management organizations like STRIVE Prep or KIPP Colorado to come into the poorer parts of eastern and central Jeffco, to build on and expand the work of existing islands of excellence like Deane and Stein elementaries.

I truly could go on, but I don’t want to swell Jan Brady’s head too quickly and suddenly. (Don’t ask me how I know about things like a 1970s TV show called The Brady Bunch; blame it on the crazy people at the Independence Institute.) But that does raise an interesting question: If Dougco is Marcia, and Jeffco is Jan, then which school district figures to be young Cindy?