The Douglas County School Board adopted a resolution May 7 opposing the proposed revamped Public School Finance Act. Senate Bill 213, which hinges on voter approval of a $1 billion tax increase in November, is “profoundly contrary to the best interests” of Douglas County students and taxpayers, according to the resolution.
“For every additional dollar of taxes the residents of this county would pay, we would get back maybe 50 cents,” school board President John Carson said.
The bill recently passed the General Assembly.
As proposed, it would bring an additional $43 million to $46 million to the Douglas County School District, but about $16 million of that would go to fund additional early childhood education required under the bill. The financial benefit would be further undercut by the impact of a potential state income tax increase on Douglas County’s high per-capita income, school board member Kevin Larsen said.
The proposal increases full-day kindergarten, preschool and special education funding, and gives more money to districts with high concentrations of low-income students and English-language learners (ELL). Douglas County has relatively few students who fall into those categories.
Douglas County’s dearth of at-risk students already ranks it among the lowest for state per-pupil funding among Colorado school districts, which has been a longstanding cause of concern in DCSD. But Senate Bill 213 expands the definition of at-risk, as well as the funding sent to those most-affected districts. Under the proposal, districts whose enrollment of at-risk and ELL students exceeds the state average would receive up to 140 percent of the statewide average.
Carson noted that Douglas County likely won’t ever reach that concentration of at-risk and ELL students, and consequently won’t be eligible for higher funding.
“It’s just bizarre to me we’re saying essentially a student in this district who might meet that same criteria doesn’t get the same level of funding,” Carson said. “That, to me, is a glaring flaw in this legislation that I’ve yet to hear any logical explanation for.”
Larsen also believes the definition of at-risk is “simplistic” and excludes students with different, but equally serious needs.
The proposal decreases the amount of money districts receive for students in online schools; about 3,000 students from across the Front Range are enrolled in DCSD’s Hope Online Learning Academy.
“That’s a pretty significant portion of money,” Larsen said, noting those students also don’t qualify for at-risk funding. “At least in our case, most of our online kids are what would be defined as at-risk.”
Finally, Larsen and other board members worry the bill threatens the passage of any local education ballot measure. They believe the statewide tax required to put the program into effect likely would make people hesitant to approve additional education taxes.
“It’s largely a political exercise that rewards favored districts,” board member Craig Richardson said of the bill. “I’m also struck by the magnitude of the tax increase. And it’s light on changes. It’s light on reform. It’s light on transformation.”
Larsen thinks the statewide tax will be a tough sell. However, the proposal won’t expire until 2017.
“So that gives five potential November elections,” he said, “which I think create a five-year window of killing potential (local) mill levies around the state.”
If voters approve the ballot measure needed to fund the program, it would take effect in the 2015-16 academic year.