By Senator Gail Schwartz
Last week my column addressed child well-being and the legislation affecting the health and safety of our children. This week I would like to share why it is critically important to support and improve our schools. Each year that we do not fully invest in developing the minds of the next generation is maybe another year we are responsible for remediation, diminished earning potential, and the growth of public programs. School funding should be fully transparent and equitable for districts throughout the state; and we should target our dollars where they can make the biggest difference in closing the achievement gap and supporting under-resourced districts.
The Colorado General Assembly has approved SB13-213 to reform K-12 education in Colorado. The Future School Finance Act rewrites outdated school finance policy. This new policy addresses the distribution of state and local funds to our 178 school districts and charter schools. The bill establishes full-day kindergarten for all children and early childhood education for at-risk three and four year olds, both of which are critical to a child’s academic success, and school readiness. In addition, programs for at-risk students, online/ASCENT students, English language learners, special education, and gifted and talented education will also see increased funding. This bill offers additional state support for mill levy match, innovation, and teaching and leadership investment.
Given the diversity of Senate District 5, I am aware of constituents’ concerns about the financial burden some districts will experience; however, all districts should benefit from this new formula. Adequate funding must be available to all districts for competitive teacher salaries and costly expenses to ensure top performance. Districts in SD5 will see increased funding in key areas for at-risk students, English language learners, special education, and gifted and talented. Finally, SB13-213 introduces a first-of-its-kind website that will enable parents to view exactly how dollars are being spent in their children’s schools, ensuring your taxpayer dollars are spent on effective programs you support.
The second proposed school finance bill is the annual school finance appropriations bill, SB13-260, which passed the Senate on April 19. Addressing the funding needs of K-12 public schools in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, this bill increases the base per pupil funding, and adds 3,200 openings in the Colorado Preschool Program (CPP). The bill also secures $20 million more for special education. SB13-260 creates the Quality Teacher Recruitment Program, allowing the Colorado Department of Education to contract with vendors to assist in recruiting, training, and retaining highly qualified teachers in struggling school districts.
Related to school finance, this session I sponsored SB13-214, updating BEST Oversight and Funding, to ensure a promising future for the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program by assigning responsible government oversight through the Capital Development Committee along with the BEST Board and State Board of Education. Since passing BEST in 2008, the program has funded 181 projects in more than 284 individual schools in 94 schools districts and 15 charter schools, benefitting more than 113,000 students across the state. BEST has continued to put Coloradans to work, creating, or saving, 17,000 jobs, and has helped address approximately $980 million in capital construction needs. BEST provided safe, high-quality learning environments that have greatly benefitted SD5 schools.
These bills strive to modernize Colorado education, and demonstrate an investment not only in our children today, but also for the future of Colorado. In order to help our students reach their full potential, the system needs to have the financial framework in place to ensure that all districts can sufficiently meet the needs of their pupils. I believe in the future of Colorado K-12 schools, and that our children’s academic success is vital. And I will continue to advocate for SD5 schools, families and communities.