Colorado Senate Passes Bill to Require Equal Distribution of Local Funds to Charter Schools

Published May 5, 2016

The Colorado Senate has passed a bill that, according to its own language, intends on “increasing charter schools’ access to resources.”

The text of Senate Bill 16-188 requires school districts “to distribute revenue it receives from ongoing local property tax mill levies equally, on a per-student basis, to the school district charter schools.”

An amended version of the bill passed the state Senate with a 22–13 vote on May 3 and awaits approval in the House.

Charters Shortchanged

Dan Schaller, director of advocacy at the Colorado League of Charter Schools, says individual school districts in the state can currently appeal to voters for a “mill levy override.” A mill levy override is revenue collected from extra property taxes that schools typically use for specific needs, such as technology, after-school programs, and early-childhood education.  

Schaller says school districts are not distributing these overrides equally between traditional public school students and charter school students. The disparity in distribution of these override taxes is estimated to shortchange charters by $20 million to $25 million per year.

“What we have seen is that there’s a wide variance in how much different districts distribute to their charter schools,” Schaller said. “Some districts do a great job of sharing equitably, or very close to it, but then there are a number of others that do not, that share next to nothing or nothing at all or somewhere in the middle.”

Eighty Cents on the Dollar

Schaller says when a mill levy override is passed for a specific program or grade level that pertains to a charter school, school districts should share funds equally.

“Charter school students represent 12 percent of the K–12 population,” Schaller said. “If charter schools were combined into their own district, they would be the largest district in the State of Colorado at this point. And yet, despite those big numbers, we still see that the typical charter school student is receiving 80 cents on the dollar compared with regular, traditional public school peers.”

‘Charters Are Public Schools’

Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs), the bill’s primary sponsor, says SB 16-188 is about making things fair for all students.

“We’re working to level the playing field here,” Hill said. “Our Colorado Constitution says Colorado shall have thorough and uniform free public schools.

“Some districts are actually doing a great job and are sharing across the board,” said Hill. “They are recognizing that charters are public schools. Unfortunately, far too many are discriminating and saying, ‘If you choose to go to a different school, your child is not going to be worth as much money.'”

Andrea Dillon ([email protected]) writes from Holly Springs, North Carolina.