Education, Featured, K-12 Transparancy, PERA, Sherrie Peif, Top News

Jeffco board president agrees charter school funding not equitable, less than district-operated schools

Despite drawing criticism for his choice of a metaphor during budget discussions at a recent meeting, Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education member John Newkirk’s assertion that charter schools are underfunded compared to traditional public schools is accurate.

Most districts in Colorado do not share mill levy override money or construction bonds revenue with their charter schools, and some charge significant fees to help fund special education students for the entire district.

The disparity amounts to millions of dollars each year across the state.

Newkirk was the focus of a 9News story on Wednesday centered on a metaphor indirectly comparing discrimination in the South in the 1960s to today’s discrimination against charter school students. Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) communication’s director Scott Kwasny took offense to the metaphor.

Newkirk’s comment came at a special meeting of the board Tuesday. In an email to Complete Colorado, he said that he did not compare the people or the time period to charter school students in Jeffco, only the inequality of funding that existed during both time periods.

The latest scandal in Jefferson County may be an attempt to generate public support for a possible strike, which Complete Colorado reported on last week. Several members of the,JCEA and the Colorado Education Association – including President Kerry Dallman – already have been associated with a number of Twitter accounts used to disparage Jeffco’s reform-minded board members.

“The theme of our Diversity Day was ‘It’s Time to Fully Realize Equality,’ and I believe every Jeffco student should have equality in both funding and opportunities,” Newkirk said. “And it is never acceptable to treat groups of people disparately. I ran for the school board because I firmly believe education unlocks the door to future success for all of our students, and I will continue to fight to ensure every Jeffco student will be treated equitably and receive the best education possible.”

On Thursday, board President Ken Witt spoke by phone with Complete Colorado about what the district is doing to make more equitable funding possible.

Witt proposed making additional changes to how Jeffco funds its charter schools based on funding that was made available last year when the district identified that it would take $7.4 million in funds to equalize payments to the charter schools.

At that time, the board was able to fund about $5.6 million of the needed money, and this year pledged to make up the remaining $1.8 million. Witt plans to bring a formal request to the board on the topic later next month, he said.

“We are determined that every child should be supported equitably while keeping in mind differences in particular needs,” Witt said. “I proposed that all of the district funds available from our three mill levies, along with (the additional $1.8 million in) funding, should be pooled and then shared on a per pupil basis with the intent of serving each child in the district, whether they attend a charter, option or neighborhood school.”

That pool of money totals just more than $121 million. The idea would be to divide it equally among the students in the district and have it follow them to the school they attend, Witt said.

Newkirk’s comment was in support of that idea, Witt said. Newkirk simply referred to a conversation he had with an African American woman who said she was sad that even after a half-century of funding inequality, not all students are funded fairly in America’s schools..

Complete Colorado reviewed the video in which Newkirk says: “One of the people we heard from was a lady from the deep south. She is African American, and she spoke about growing up there in the 60s and how certain people would be treated differently than others just because of their skin color. That thought was so foreign to me that it made me just shake my head and go, ‘what were they thinking?’ I think we almost have a metaphor here at this moment. Why would the district discriminate and say that certain students would be worth less than others just based on where they choose to go to school?”

Although the video obtained by 9News after this portion of Newkirk’s comment stops, full footage makes clear that he continued speaking:
“So this is a quintessential, ‘what are we thinking moment here,” Newkirk goes on to say. “This district has the opportunity to validate that inequity by not working on it, or we can stop that inequity right now by making sure that all students are funded equally.”

Jeffco is working to remedy the problem. Witt said equalizing funding is critical.

“We must ensure that our students are worth the same education funding regardless of which public school they choose to attend,” Witt said.

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