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Teachers' union calls Colorado charter funding bill 'DeVos-style' legislating

March 15, 2017 Updated: March 15, 2017 at 5:47 pm
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photo - Colorado State Capitol Building
Colorado State Capitol Building 

The legislature continues to advance a measure that aims at equitable funding for charter schools, despite cries of "DeVos-style" mandates.

The Colorado Education Association, that state's largest teachers' union, issued a news release Tuesday, referencing controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The union's statement is in regards to Senate Bill 61, which would require districts to distribute revenue from local property taxes equally to charters on a per-pupil basis. It would address revenue from additional property taxes that are used to pay for operations.

The Colorado Education Association said the Senate "ignored concerns of diminished local control" by advancing the bill Tuesday on a bipartisan vote of 22-13. The bill now heads to the Democratic-controlled House for debate.

In years past, pressure from the teachers' union contributed to the legislation's demise. But there appears to be a stronger will in the legislature this year to see the bill cross the finish line.

"Senate Bill 61 is the first step in bringing the DeVos-Trump agenda to Colorado," said Amie Baca-Oehlert, vice president of the Colorado Education Association. "Through this legislation, charter schools can siphon resources away from districts without meeting the strict rules that have been set for traditional public schools."

Lawmakers - including Sens. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and Angela Williams, D-Denver - say the bill is necessary because districts that charters are tied to have been known to withhold from charters additional tax money stemming from additional property taxes, which comes from mill levy overrides.

Some public schools worry about the financial impact. The total amount of local revenue that would be distributed to charter schools is estimated at about $96 million for the upcoming fiscal year. Only 11 of the state's 178 school districts share local tax increases, according to the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

"We're talking about our kids, our future," Hill said. "These students and parents are working hard, waking up early, traveling long distances, staying late, and investing in their future. It's time we invest in their hand work and show them we have their backs."

The teachers' union, however, says the bill would only reward for-profit charter interests while failing to hold schools accountable to parents and community stakeholders. Despite its bipartisan backing, the Colorado Education Association alleged that the bill is the product of the conservative Americans for Prosperity group, which favors charter schools, as does DeVos.

"The DeVos charter school agenda does not promote opportunity for our students. The strategy inherent in this bill pits schools against one another in competition for the meager resources at hand," said Baca-Oehlert.

The unions points out that charters already benefit from federal funds and private foundations.

"We cannot afford to aid and abet an extreme corporate agenda for education reform, being forced upon Colorado by Betsy DeVos and her pro-voucher cronies, that allows charter school companies to profit off taxpayers with responsibility to no one," Baca-Oehlert added.

But Hill said charters empower students from different backgrounds to succeed.

"These kids don't care about our political games, they just want a fair shot," he said. "I hope the House will think of these hardworking future leaders when considering this important legislation."

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