Is Equal Funding for Public Charters on the Chopping Block?

 

shutterstock_419843518The current Jeffco “Slate of 5” school board is sending out some unfriendly vibes when it comes to fairly funding all Jeffco students.  What that means is the school board seems to be targeting the Mill Levy override funds all schools currently receive. On this week’s agenda is a discussion of removing language from policy which requires students in district run, option and charter schools to be funded fairly. Some people have said this board would never fund students differently based on the governance of the school. But this week’s agenda and past actions has many parents worried.

Last spring, the school board unanimously voted against supporting Senate Bill 188 which would have required school districts to distribute revenue it receives from ongoing local property tax mill levies equally, on a per-student basis, to all district schools, including option and charter schools.  The rationale of the “no” backing was that schools in Jeffco already receive a fair per student share of local Mill Levy dollars and the school board wanted to keep local control.  Keeping local control means that each local school board has the flexibility to take equal funding away from option, charter and district run schools anytime they want and it looks like in Jeffco the timing might be now.

The board has taken an additional action which leads one to believe equalized funding is on the chopping block.  All charter schools were sent a letter asking each school to forward their “reserve balances” and explanations for any large reserves, for example if a school was saving money for a playground or any building improvements.  For the record, Charter schools have to finance their own buildings and/or to renovate their current facilities from operating revenues so having money in reserves for building projects is not unusual.  Tax payers do not fund capital needs or improvements for charter schools, the burden is 100% on each individual charter school to raise needed funds for capital improvements unless the district board agrees to include charter needs in bond increases. Why would charter schools have been asked about their reserve balances if not to prepare for reducing funds?

These two actions along with the proposed changes to the EL-13, Charter Schools Application and Monitoring which suggest the board wants to remove language which says funding should be based on the number of students in charter and non-charter schools leads us to believe there is an effort to reduce funding for some Jeffco students. Will this be all charter students? Will it include students in option schools? Will this be a larger conversation about some students getting more funding based on their zip code? Who proposed the policy change?  Past proposed changes had board member initiating the changes name listed.  Where is the transparency?  These are all unanswered questions.

Here is what we do know. The current EL-13 policy language says,

the Superintendent shall not:

  1. Fail to ensure mill levy funding for charter schools and non-charter schools by pupil count to ensure equitable resources for all Jeffco students.

Which means that all Mill Levy override dollars are shared equally with charter schools, option schools and district run schools and distributed per student count.

Proposed change: would remove the words “by pupil count” so the new language would say, the Superintendent shall not

  1. Fail to ensure mill levy funding for charter schools and non-charter schools to ensure equitable resources for all Jeffco students.

Meaning the dollars are not divided out “per pupil” they just need to be divided equitably. Who then gets to decide what equitable funding means?  Flat out, it stops funding schools based on their student count and leaves totally to interpretation how the mill levy dollars are distributed. Again, does that mean students in one zip code get more money that students in other zip codes?

Per a recent article in Yourhub, over 35,000 students in Jeffco “choice into other schools”.  For example, there is the IB program at Lakewood High School, the Jeffco Open school has a unique curriculum, D’Evelyn is known for its rigorous academics, students choice into those programs because those are the programs that will meet the learning needs of those students.  Are those schools going to be penalized for offering unique, though in demand curriculum?

The big question is what is driving the conversation about a change in per pupil funding?  Does the board want to eliminate student based funding all together?  All they going to restrict the local community’s ability to determine the priorities for their students?  Are they going back to the one-size fits all, centrally run system that kept Jeffco achievement stagnant for a decade?  Or are they just trying to pick on charter school students?

From a budget standpoint, Jeffco has a $24 million surplus from last year, is projected to receive an additional $15 million in funding from the state and enrollment in Jeffco is down 400 students.  The school board should be looking out for all children in Jeffco regardless of their school choice.  Students choose programs that best fit their learning needs so why penalize schools by changing the per pupil funding model?

Taking away per pupil funding would be detrimental to Jeffco. It will further divide the community.  Instead the school board should be looking for ways to work together and should be embracing the unique offerings that district run, option and charter schools bring to the district.  All students in Jeffco are unique and in terms of funding, all students should be treated fairly.  All parents need to be keeping a closer eye on this school board.  There are too many unanswered questions and all students in Jeffco deserve per pupil funding regardless of their school choice.