Independent charter schools will receive an additional $300 per student this upcoming school year, with a boost from the state legislature.
Terry Croy Lewis, excutive director of the Colorado Charter School Institute, said that House bill 1375 makes funding for independent charters “not quite equal yet, but we’re working towards it.” Lewis described the charter sector in Colorado as “very healthy.” “In other states you see them struggling,” Lewis said. “We haven’t seen that as much in Colorado.
We have strong legislation. It’s one of the best in the country.” Lewis noted Colorado charters aren’t experiencing closures like other states are. And in recent years, more students have enrolled in charter schools across the state. A 2016 report by the Schools of Choice Office reported 31 charter schools in the city and 226 in the state, with an enrollment greater than 108,000 students.
The report emphasized students enrolled in charter schools make up about 12 percent of Pre-K through Grade 12 students, which is greater than any single school district in Colorado. Individual charter schools often enroll fewer students than public schools that operate within the school district, and critics of charter schools are concerned about the financial impact the bill will have on public school districts.
The mill levy override is carried out depending on whether a school is authorized under the Charter School Institute or the district. Deputy Superintendent of District 11 Glenn Gustafson described the district’s plan for distributing mill levy revenues for charter schools as providing a “fair share of each line item,” which depends on factors like class size and employee compensation.
All districts in the state had to adopt plans by July 1. For Colorado Springs’ largest school district, District 11, Gustafson said, “we carve it out so that our district students aren’t penalized for it, (next page) but if it does get bigger and bigger, it will take away from district schools.”
As for independent charters that aren’t impacted by districts’ plans, Gustafson questioned when the state would be able to provide more than $300 per student.
"The disparity is so big right now,” Gustafson said." The challenge is to level the playing field for charter schools and that’s what this bill attempted to do. But it’s a very complicated situation.”
He added that charter schools are “more equitable in terms of funding, but it’s a complicated matter that’s not going to be easily resolved.”
Charter schools that are independent from their school district undergo an application process with the Charter School Institute. If approved, the school has more flexibility than other public schools with how they structure curriculum and fiscal management. Often, the schools have a program focus. For example, the Colorado Springs Charter Academy in District 11 teaches a curriculum based on “Core Knowledge.”
“Hopefully, this trend will continue of equalization,” Dan Ajamian head of school at CSCA said.
The school is one of the 10 in the Colorado Springs or Calhan District that fall under CSI, which oversees 41 across the state.
“It’s getting us there, so if that continues to happen at the state level, I would love to be able to honor our teachers more with some of that funding,” Ajamian said.
On average, teachers at charter schools earn approximately $15,000 less a year than teachers at district schools, according to the 2016 report.
The Classical Academy is the largest charter school in Colorado Springs, and received authorization from District 20. Director of Communications Tisha Harris said the district already shared their funds, and isn’t experiencing much of a change from the mill levy distribution.
The school is starting on projects funded through a $14.1 million bond passed fall 2016, however. The money is going towards a new performing arts center and elementary gym.
Aside from funding, there are other shakeups at charter schools in Colorado, with Colorado Springs Monarch Classical opening and Pikes Peak Prep closing. Golden Beau Classical transferred from the local district to authorization to CSI.