Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Charter School Bill Killed by Senate Committee

A bill that would have opened the door to several innovative ways of financing charter school construction was killed by a Senate committee Tuesday.

SB 155 was shot down on a 4-3 party-line vote despite the sponsor's acceptance of an amendment that removed controversial provisions that would have allowed metropolitan districts to build schools.

The Senate Local Government and Energy Committee shot down the measure proposed by Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, after hearing testimony against it by Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards, Aurora Public Schools superintendent John Barry and Bruce Caughey of the Colorado Association of School Executives.

The metropolitan district provision of the bill would have allowed the organizations formed by developers to pay for subdivision infrastructure, which collect property taxes, to build charter schools on land donated by developers to school districts but which the districts do not want. The metropolitan districts would have been given permission to contract with charter school operators to run the schools.

King said his proposal was "innovative" and that it would help school districts avoid the need for new bonds to pay for necessary schools. King argued that some districts are approaching their bonding limits and cannot afford to build schools at a pace fast enough to keep up with rising population.

But Urschel told the committee that the state's school boards did not want to see their authority lessened and that state law already provides enough opportunities to build additional charter school facilities.

Barry said that opening the door to charter construction authority by entities not under the control of his district would compromise "long-term planning."

Two other bills affecting charter school construction, SB 89 and SB 176, are still being considered.

According to Education News Colorado,

The issue of funding charter school facilities will surface again Thursday, when the Senate Education Committee considers Senate Bill 09-089, and yet again on Feb. 18, when that panel hears Senate Bill 09-176.

SB 09-089 is a general rewrite of laws affecting the state Charter School Institute, which oversees charters that aren’t under the jurisdiction of individual district boards. The bill would exempt the institute from some state purchasing rules, allow the institute to approve “alternative school” charters anywhere in the state and change the charter funding formula, including putting some money into a charter construction fund.

While the bill killed Tuesday was sponsored only by King, the institute bill includes two Democratic sponsors, including Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, as House prime sponsor.

SB 09-176 addresses charter construction funding more directly, and it contains lots of provisions that will spark opposition. It would require school boards to give their charters advance notice of possible bond issues, remove a district’s power to review charters’ bond requests, basically require districts to include charter projects in bond issues and removes the current requirement that charter buildings revert to a district if a charter closes or can’t pay its debt.

Its sole sponsor right now is Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial. But Spence told EdNews Tuesday that Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, asked her to carry the bill. Groff, who represents an inner-city district, is a charter supporter who’s sometimes at odds with Democrats who hold more traditional views about education. Groff also sits on Senate Ed.