School transparency, accountability put in jeopardy with Senate’s proposed charter funding mandate

The state’s largest group of educators is opposing a proposal in the legislature that would mandate how locally-approved dollars are spent in public schools. Senate Bill 17-061 would force districts to hand over money raised in local mill levy elections to charter schools with little oversight that those funds would be used as the voters intended. SB-61 would further take away millions of dollars from schools that stretch every penny of local mill levy funding and throw district budgets into turmoil at a time of chronic underfunding for all Colorado public schools.

“SB-61 is a direct attack on a community’s power to raise and spend money for its students as the people desire. The lack of accountability in this bill fails taxpayers and parents, but most importantly, fails more than 750,000 students who attend traditional schools,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association. “Legislators who agree that local residents know the needs of their students and can make the best decisions for their kids will vote against this harmful legislation.”

Dallman agrees all students should have access to a high quality education, no matter the ZIP code in which they live. She observes all students are getting shortchanged on school funding, not just those attending charters.

“We have a responsibility to keep funding stable for everyone,” Dallman said. “We know charter schools can accept unlimited gifts, grants and donations from outside benefactors, and even receive millions in federal funding only designated for charters. I’ve yet to see a charter share any of those funds with a school district. If charter school companies are demanding even more money, they should be required to meet the same standards of transparency, accountability and oversight as our public schools. Colorado owes that to its students, families and communities.”

Dallman notes the bill is unnecessary, as many districts already have revenue-sharing agreements with their charters that work well without state interference. She’s further concerned that charter school companies would be collecting more money from taxpayers while continuing to play under a completely different set of rules. In fact, a report last year found that the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) funneled $20 million to $50 million of taxpayer funds to a for-profit entity owned by two DSST directors. Additionally, charter schools can already automatically waive out of 18 state statutes including competitive bidding, with some waiving out of more than 100 district policies and laws.

“Colorado students benefit when schools are transparent and accountable. We ensure all students have the very best we can offer when we are vigilant about making sure every public school answers to local parents, to local voters, and to local taxpayers,” Dallman said. “Many of the lawmakers behind this bill will no doubt champion local school control in other bills when it suites their purposes. But local control in Colorado public education either exists or it doesn’t exist. We either believe public schools work best when they answers to local parents, to local voters, and to local taxpayers, or we don’t. Our legislators can’t have it both ways on local control and I urge them put to drop this bill and put the needs of all students ahead of charter school companies that will never be satisfied with their profit margins.”

Dallman concludes that charter schools voluntarily and knowingly enter in agreements with school districts to provide educational services. The initial contract negotiation with a charter school company will have already determined the necessary amount of funds to meet students’ needs; therefore, awarding more money to a charter school company after a community mill levy win is excessive, over-reaching and not a responsible use of taxpayer-approved school funds.