In the 2016 legislative session, school choice advocates in Colorado would like to guarantee students receive the same funding whether they’re going to traditional, charter or other alternative program.
“The big fight this year will be over the funding,” said state Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “We have to continue to make sure we don’t discriminate between students no matter what type of schools they choose.”
Luke Ragland, a vice president of policy at Colorado Succeeds, said students who attend non-traditional schools receive about 20 percent less funding.
The state requires 95 percent of the roughly $7,000 per-student state funding to follow the student, but there are other ways school choice students are disadvantaged.
“Those charters might not have access to facilities and buildings and may have to pay for them with part of per-pupil funding,” said Ragland, whose group is a coalition of business leaders trying to find the best way to improve education. “And they might not have access to local mill levies and local revenue.”
Ragland said his group is pushing to make sure the state publishes student test scores next year because the information helps parents make the best choice for their kids. The state skipped the scores this year because of changes in standardized tests, but he heard rumors that some educators and lawmakers may want to delay the information release for years.
“There’s a strong push to delay accountability and delay school ratings,” he said. “We want to make sure the accountability system is available.”
Hill also sees a push for other issues that aren’t traditional school choice but can help students learn.
He expects legislation to increase college credit in high schools to reduce loan burdens for those who go on to higher education. He also wants to support alternatives to a four-year college – like certifications in trucking, cosmetology or plumbing – for students who aren’t interested or don’t want the loan burden of a university education.
“Dealing with debt is a big frustration for students,” he said. “But you have to have a good, well-paying job to take care of your family.”
The Colorado Education Association said it will focus on ensuring funding for schools and increasing quality.
“CEA will evaluate every bill on its merits and how it fits in making public school a student-centered environment,” said CEA president Kerrie Dallman in a news release. “We want to support legislation that educates the whole child while offering the individual attention students need to develop unique skills and interests. In addition, we want to make sure that our elected leaders are considering the diverse needs of our students and their families, regardless of the ZIP code in which they live.”
CEA spokesman Mike Wetzel did not respond to requests to comment on the funding disparity and test score disclosure issues.
Hill expects bipartisan support for many of the issues, but the chairwoman of the House Education Committee did not respond to calls seeking comment on school choice legislation.
Jan. 24-30 is National School Choice Week and a rally is planned for Thursday at the Capitol.
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