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State Debate on How to Spend Extra Education Dollars Has Me Twisted in Knots

When it comes to the question of education funding, I take a glance over at the Golden Dome and wonder: Are we headed for a big clash, or will there be an unexpected meeting of the minds? The stage has been set with the demise of Amendment 66 and a hefty balance of more than $1.1 billion in the State Education Fund.

Apparently, one month into the 2014 legislative session, there are two distinctly different visions of what to do at the State Capitol. On one hand, some groups and legislators from both parties want to rally behind a proposal that would incorporate a lot of last year’s Senate Bill 213 ideas on a smaller scale, just not attached to a statewide tax increase. Ideas on the table include more money to:

  1. Implement prior reform measures, including assessments, accountability measures, and evaluation systems
  2. Move Colorado from a single student count date to a more equitable system of Average Daily Membership
  3. Consolidate and enhance the state’s K-12 financial transparency, allowing citizens to see finances at the school level
  4. Cover capital construction costs, including extra dollars for charter facilities (which too often have to be paid out of operational funds)
  5. Spend more money on full-day kindergarten
  6. Provide extra finances for new early literacy programs
  7. Expand English Language Learner programs

Last Saturday the editors of the Denver Post expressed their support for this general move. Then today Chalkbeat Colorado reports that an overwhelming majority of district superintendents have issued a letter calling for an extra $275 million to cover some of the previously promised funds not delivered due to the “Negative Factor.”

Neither plan is entirely satisfying, so maybe a compromise can be reached. Reforms should be put in place with fidelity (#1), and a system of Average Daily Membership (#2) is long overdue. And any serious contribution to improving financial transparency or charter school equity would be welcomed.

But at the same time, the superintendents have a point about local control and not being too prescriptive. Then there’s the question of fiscal responsibility and whether an extra $275 million represents a sound amount to request as an increase, and how much can be one-time versus ongoing expenditures.

So yes, once in awhile this little kid can sound wishy-washy about an important education topic. But, then again, even as this is being written down, proposal shapes and details may be shifting. What a good time to stay tuned to your state legislature, and the tough decisions they will have to make….