HB 1292 Transparency Headed for Happy Ending? Good Solution Still Needed

Sometimes it’s fun to be the odd man out in a heated discussion, to throw up your arms, and shout, “You’re all wrong!” Whether you’re able to change any minds, well, that’s another story.

This time it’s my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow writing a short response to the Denver Post‘s glowing editorial in favor of HB 1292 (the so-called “Student Success Act”). The piece argued that the version of the bill just approved by the Colorado House would make our state “a national leader in transparency.”

Chalkbeat Colorado reported Friday that in taking its first crack at the legislation, the Senate Education Committee passed a bipartisan amendment to that part of the bill, particularly the “elimination of funding for a proposed state website that would link users to information about district and school spending. Instead, districts would post that data on their own websites.”

The problem is nobody quite got it right, not so far. As DeGrow writes:

Lawmakers still have a chance to show they’ve learned a key lesson from the defeat of last year’s education tax hike. Voters deserve to see, as clearly as possible, where their tax dollars are going and how they are being used.

The House version included the great idea of bringing user-friendly transparency down to the school level. People then might see student needs aren’t driving money to schools as much as adult interest group agreements and policies. But it also completely would have axed a different kind of transparency that already exists, requiring school districts to post check registers and other important financial data.

The version that just passed the Senate Education Committee rescued all that sunshine provided by the 2010 Financial Transparency Act. But as my friend puts it, “The information doesn’t have to be usable or understandable by the average person.” Not a small problem. So maybe we could go back to the previous version, except undo the repeal.

(And even that wouldn’t overcome the Colorado Education Association’s powerful roadblock designed to keep citizens’ eyes from seeing how much tax money is being spent on PERA retirement benefits. That may have to be a story for another day.)

I’d like to see the HB 1292 political soap opera have a happy ending. Hey, a kid can dream, can’t he? However it wraps up, I’m guessing the last few weeks of the legislative session will feature a healthy share of new plot twists to keep me shaking my head.