Paula Stephenson: Evaluating the whole bill

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The potential rewrite of Colorado’s School Finance Act is one of the most important legislative issues facing our schools in years, and although the Steamboat Today has published several articles about the potential impacts a new bill may have on the school districts in Routt County, it has chosen to frame the issues as an “us” versus “them” debate instead of addressing the larger context of the bill.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that every school district will be examining this bill and gauging the positives and negatives based on very different and individual perspectives. However, it is equally as important to be able to argue the elements of the bill on a rational basis. This is the approach the Rural Schools Caucus is taking and why we have chosen to frame our questions and concerns about the bill in three ways: from a legal standpoint, from a policy perspective and from a political point of view.

Legal concerns

The Lobato school finance lawsuit will be in front of the Supreme Court on March 7, with a decision to follow in the next four to six months. If Lobato is decided in favor of the plaintiffs (Colorado’s students), can we point to where the proposed new school finance act satisfies the enabling clause and the Lobato remedies?

Policy concerns

This type of generational change in school finance needs to be well thought out and articulated, as it will affect hundreds of thousands of students over the next 10 to 20 years. Therefore, we must look beyond the possibility of short-term gains and examine how this policy will perform over the long-term. How will this legislation meet student needs in each year, especially looking beyond year one, out five and 10 years? Does it contain the elements we know are critical to long-term success and sustainability?

Components that comply with the constitutional requirements of thorough and uniform and local control of instruction:

A costing-out study that can be used to determine sufficient foundational per-pupil funding and a rational method of distribution that ensures both adequacy and equity;

A plan that illustrates how the state intends to attain adequacy and equity across each school district in Colorado;

And additional, sustainable revenue that is a supplement to current funding.

Political concerns

Should this bill pass, each school district and each community will have a decision to make: do we believe this bill satisfies the legal and policy components identified above, or, if not, are we willing to trade off some of those elements in lieu of potential added revenues?

This will not be a question the Rural Schools Caucus can answer.

As this bill works its way through the Legislature, the Rural Schools Caucus will continue to work with Sen. Mike Johnston and his staff to craft a policy that will work for every student in Colorado because everyone involved in this endeavor is trying to do what is best to meet the needs of our children. But since I have been quoted several times as the executive director of an organization that represents and speaks for all of Colorado’s rural schools, I thought it was important for people to understand the parameters the Rural Schools Caucus is using to inform and guide its involvement with this initiative.

Paula Stephenson

Executive director,

Colorado Rural Schools Caucus

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 7 months ago

Paula,

"This type of generational change in school finance needs to be well thought out and articulated"

Your letter to the editor is informative on why the legislature is considering the issue of school funding reform and the general topics of concern. I ask that you follow this up with letters to the editor that discusses the issues in greater detail.

Seems to me that the basic issues are not being discussed. It is not clear how the current system works, what are seen as the flaws of the current system, and why the proposed system would be better.

For a school district like SSSD which potentially will receive less money from the state, it would be nice to actually delve into the formulas and explain why.SSSD might get less money. Is SSSD arguably currently using flaws in the formula to get more state funding than it deserves? Or does the state wish to prevent wealthy districts from having low property tax rates? And if SSSD gets less state funding per pupil then doesn't that threaten SSSD's open enrollment allowing Soroco and Hayden students to go to SB schools? Or will state funding follow the student so SSSD would get the larger state funding that would otherwise go to the other school district?

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