Paula Stephenson: Evaluating the whole bill

To the editor:

The potential rewrite of Colorado’s School Finance Act is one of the most important legislative issues facing our schools in years, and although the Craig Daily Press has published an article about the potential impacts a new bill may have on the school districts in Moffat and Routt counties, it chose to frame the issues as an “us” versus “them” debate instead of addressing the larger context of the bill.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that every school district will be examining this bill and gauging the positives and negatives based on very different and individual perspectives. However, it equally is as important to be able to argue the elements of the bill on a rational basis. This is the approach the Rural Schools Caucus is taking and why we have chosen to frame our questions and concerns about the bill in three ways: from a legal standpoint, from a policy perspective and from a political point of view.

Legal concerns

The Lobato school finance lawsuit will be in front of the Supreme Court on Thursday, with a decision to follow in the next four to six months.

If Lobato is decided in favor of the plaintiffs (Colorado’s students), can we point to where the proposed new school finance act satisfies the enabling clause and the Lobato remedies?

Policy concerns

This type of generational change in school finance needs to be well thought out and articulated, as it will affect hundreds of thousands of students throughout the next 10 to 20 years. Therefore, we must look beyond the possibility of short-term gains and examine how this policy will perform in the long-term. How will this legislation meet student needs in each year, especially looking beyond year one, out five and 10 years? Does it contain the elements we know are critical to long-term success and sustainability?

Components that comply with the constitutional requirements of thorough and uniform and local control of instruction;

A costing-out study that can be used to determine sufficient foundational per-pupil funding and a rational method of distribution that ensures both adequacy and equity;

A plan that illustrates how the state intends to attain adequacy and equity across each school district in Colorado; and

Additional, sustainable revenue that is a supplement to current funding.

Political concerns

Should this bill pass, each school district and each community will have a decision to make: Do we believe this bill satisfies the legal and policy components identified above, or, if not, are we willing to trade off some of those elements in lieu of potential added revenues? This will not be a question the Rural Schools Caucus can answer.

As this bill works its way through the Legislature, the Rural Schools Caucus will continue to work with Sen. Mike Johnston and his staff to craft a policy that will work for every student in Colorado because everyone involved in this endeavor is trying to do what is best to meet the needs of our children. But since I have been quoted several times as the executive director of an organization that represents and speaks for all of Colorado’s rural schools, I thought it was important for people to understand the parameters the Rural Schools Caucus is using to inform and guide its involvement with this initiative.

Paula Stephenson

Executive director, Colorado

Rural Schools Caucus

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