Guest Columns

HOYT: STUDENT SUCCESS IS A BIPARTISAN PRIORITY

HB 1292 ensures financial transparency along with financial investments

GUEST COLUMNIST

As the state’s economy rebounds, Colorado’s lawmakers have the opportunity to devote more money to education this year — a welcome change after years of cuts. With this infusion of new money comes an intense debate about how the additional resources can best serve Colorado’s students.

Some groups want the new money allocated to school districts via the current funding system and without strings. Other groups want to see these resources targeted to fund specific improvements — things that can be measured and have demonstrated a positive impact on student achievement.

Both sides have a point. As a former board member of Denver Public Schools, I understand the financial challenges that Colorado’s school leaders face and their desire to target dollars to local priorities. As an employer, I am acutely aware of the fact that Colorado’s current education system is not meeting the demands of our growing economy and recognize the need for strategic investments in upgrades to our education system.

Fortunately, a bipartisan group of forward-thinking legislators has crafted a plan that addresses both of these concerns. House Bill 1292, also known as the “Student Success Act,” will invest approximately $260 million to both restore recent cuts and implement critical improvements to the state’s education system — all without raising taxes.

The Student Success Act will direct the largest chunk of money, $100 million, directly to school districts, recognizing that school leaders need flexibility and discretion to implement their priorities and restore previous cuts. Notably, this $100 million will be provided to districts on top of a proposed 2.8 percent increase provided for in a separate budget bill.

The Student Success Act makes other great uses of the reoccurring dollars by taking important steps to narrow the funding gap between public charter schools and traditional public schools by investing $18 million per year in buildings for charter schools. This bill will enable charter schools to direct more dollars into their classrooms where they can have the greatest impact on student achievement.

Another component of the bill will provide districts with $20 million of recurring funds to implement the READ Act, which is a reform designed to identify and support struggling readers early in their academic career. This money will help ensure that struggling readers get the interventions and supports they need to succeed later in life.

These recurring expenditures will help schools improve for years to come, but it’s important to acknowledge that much of the money the legislature can spend is one-time money that is best used to fund one-time expenditures. The proposal makes good use of these particular dollars by strategically investing in three critical improvements to our school system.

First, the plan modernizes Colorado’s student count system so schools gain or lose funding depending on the number of students enrolled over the course of the entire year, instead of on a single day, as it current practice. This student-focused funding model provides the right incentives to our schools by rewarding them for keeping kids enrolled all year long.

Second, House Bill 1292 ensures that additional financial investments come with additional financial transparency. Once implemented, Coloradans would be able to log on to a user-friendly website and access detailed, school site level information showing school performance and expenditures. The site will also shine a light on funding for public charter schools, which, even with the additional investments discussed above, will still face significant funding disparities when compared with other types of public schools. This public website will provide valuable information to parents, policymakers, and school leaders. The information can be used to determine where schools are getting the greatest return on investment, where they need additional support, and where they can find savings to put more money in the classroom.

Third, the bill creates an implementation fund to give districts an additional $40 million to accelerate implementation of previous reforms, including new educator evaluations, technology enhancements, and Colorado’s new standards and assessments.

These strategic, one-time investments provide an enormous opportunity to continuously improve Colorado’s K-12 education system, yet represent only about one-fifth of the bill’s total expenditures.

The Student Success Act is a great example of bipartisan, student-centered policymaking, and provides all Coloradans — both those who want to backfill the recession-era cuts and those who want to fund highly accountable improvements to the system — with an opportunity to unite behind sound investments into our education system.

Bruce Hoyt is a co-founder and managing director at St. Charles Capital, a former board member of Denver Public Schools, and a board member of Colorado Succeeds, a non-partisan coalition of business leaders working to improve the state’s education system.