Columnists, Education, Gold Dome, Jon Caldara, Politics, Uncategorized

Caldara: Public charter schools still getting shortchanged

Last week I suggested you vote against any school district’s mill levy override unless it is structured so the district gets portions of the new funding as they meet student improvement milestones.

Allow me to add to that: don’t vote for any mill levy override that doesn’t fund all the students in the district. For that matter, don’t vote for any school board or legislative candidates that won’t fund students equally.

Let me explain, and it might get a little wonky, but it’s worth the ride.

The punchline is that there are a ton of kids who are discriminated against because they go to a charter school. Their local school district won’t share their increased funding from a mill levy increase and the anti-educational choice crowd in the Colorado State Capitol won’t help equalize the gap.

First, the statement that always must be made when talking charters because the urban folklore persists: just like eating Pop Rocks while drinking Coke won’t kill you, charter schools are not private schools.

They are public, government schools. Parents don’t pay for their kids to go. There is no tuition. Charters must accept all kids and not discriminate. Those kids take standardized tests, blah, blah, blah.

Charters are formed by families in the community who want a different way of teaching their child.

There are some 266 charter schools in Colorado serving about 15% of all students. That’s 134,000 kids. If put together they’d make the largest school district in the state.

So basically, everyone loves charter schools, except of course the education establishment and the teachers unions that run it.

A school district, via its elected board, can authorize a charter school. But since most boards are elected via union support and money, most are hostile to charters. Only 45 of Colorado’s 178 school districts have authorized one or more charters.

If a charter isn’t authorized by the local district, the proponents can appeal to the State Board of Education, which now has Democrats as the majority.

That’s why the wildly popular Ascent Classical Academy couldn’t get approved for a charter in the Boulder Valley School District, you know, the school district that has posters in all the buildings saying “diversity” and “tolerance.” They were shut down by both the state board and BVSD even though parents were literally crying for it.

Even if the state board does rule in favor of the charter, the local school board still doesn’t have to authorize it. They can kick the duty to authorize the new school to the Charter School Institute (CSI).

This institute was created by the legislature to oversee charters when the local district can’t or won’t. CSI has authorized more than 40 charter schools all around Colorado.

So, here’s the rub: many school districts choose to have CSI authorize a charter school just so they can pay them less.

All students get a per-pupil rate of operating funding, not quite $10,000 a year. Or should I say all schools get that amount (Side question — if a classroom of 25 kids brings in $250,000 in funding, and it costs $60,000 to pay the teacher, where does the other $190,000 go?).

Local districts add to that base operating funding by passing mill levy overrides, the fancy way of saying increased property taxes.

But take a closer look, for example, at the mill levy override Douglas County School District is trying to pass this year. If approved by voters the extra money does not make it to charter schools authorized by CSI, since they’re not technically sanctioned by the school district.

So that gives more money to the union-run schools, less money for charters and their children.

Interesting given we live in the age of “equity.”

The state legislature created and equalization fund to “fix” the discrimination. One small problem: they won’t put money into that bucket. The fund has about $17 million in it when it needs $42 million.

So the legislature, which is giving tax money so rich guys can buy Teslas, won’t fund schools because their union bosses tell them not to.

The state is overflowing with cash. They raised billions in new “fees” alone, yet they won’t scrape up a measly $42 million because they want charters to fail.

Said differently: they want kids to fail so charters fail.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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