Thompson and Jeffco Stand up for Fair Charter Funding

Last Friday, pressing Colorado education news forced us to do a less-than-happy Friday post. This week, pressing Colorado education news is forcing us to do a fantastically happy blog post. I guess my dad was right. It really does all even out in the end.

Today’s big news is that two of our favorite districts, Jefferson County and Thompson, passed budgets this week that reflect more equitable funding for charter school students. The move toward funding equalization was driven by reform majorities on both district school boards. From Sherrie Peif’s latest Complete Colorado story:

Jefferson County Public School District and the Thompson School District both agreed to shift some of the districts’ money to the charter schools, and in the case of Thompson, dipped into district reserves to provide additional funding for charter students …

… In Thompson, $450,000 was set aside for the district’s two charter schools, New Vision and Loveland Classical. The increase works out to about $400 per student. Of the additional money, $191,000 will go to New Vision and $260,000 to Loveland Classical …

… In JeffCo, an additional $2.5 million was set aside to fund the district’s 16 charter schools. The new money is in addition to $5.6 million that was budgeted in 2014-15 after the board learned it would take about $7.4 million to fully equalize mill levy override funding for the district’s charters.

I think it’s fantastic to see two big districts (Jeffco is the second-largest school district in Colorado) stand up for the fact that every student deserves to be funded equitably. I’m sure I don’t need to remind my readers of this, but charter school students are public school students just like any others. These students are funded equally on a basic level, though districts can utilize chargebacks for administrative overhead or other services.

However, many districts do not share the additional dollars they get from mill levy overrides, or voter-approved property tax increases, with charter schools. That means that traditional public schools often have access to a good deal more money than charters. That’s a big problem, and it’s made worse by the fact that charters often face additional expenses like paying for their own buildings rather than having them provided through bond issues, certificates of participation, or direct district outlays.

As expected, the move toward equality was vehemently opposed by anti-reform folks in both districts. Though the Thompson budget passed unanimously, board member Lori Hvizda-Ward opined that she would love to line-item veto the district’s new charter funding, which she emphasized was a “one-time expense.” She even tacked on a thinly veiled threat to subject charters to more district interference as a result of the new funding.

In Jeffco, a pro-establishment Twitter hashtag hummed with excuses for the funding gap between charters and traditional public schools. Jill Fellman, one of two Jeffco board minority members, cited vague concerns about charter accountability to the district and a need for more information as the reasons for her No vote.

We’ve spent a lot (a lot) of time recently debunking stuff, and this Happy Friday post is already getting long, so we’re going to leave a full discussion of anti-equalization excuses for another time. For now, just know that none of them holds much water.

Equitably funding charter school students is the right thing to do, plain and simple. I am very excited see Jeffco complete its journey toward equalization, and I’m thrilled to see Thompson take the first step toward the same. Other districts take note: This is how you do it.