18 October 2005

Funding Schools.

Colorado's system of funding K-12 education is nuts. It isn't alone in this regard. Ohio's education system has been ruled in violation of the state constitution, at least four times since the 1990s, and it still hasn't been fixed. Arizona and New Jersey have also have their systems declared unconstitutional. But, there are definitely flaws in the Colorado scheme as well.

In some schools, the problem is a lack of funds to deal with the full impact of growth. In others, it is a lack of property tax base. In yet others, caps on bonding amounts make new capital spending impossible.

[E]ven if voters are willing, 40 percent of the 178 districts statewide couldn't raise the estimated $6 million it would take to build a new elementary . . . . Another 21 Colorado districts - with 200,000 students, or about a quarter of all pupils statewide - are in districts at or near their bonding capacity . . . . the wealthiest district (Aspen, in Pitkin County) can raise $219,000 per pupil, while the poorest (Sanford 6J in Conejos County) can raise $1,100.

What does it take to get state funds:

Some of the smaller and poorer districts even have trouble putting together a request for help from the state, Wickersham said. And when they do make a request for assistance on capital needs, there's no guarantee help will be available. . . . This year, one of the school districts making a request was Woodlin, in Washington County, [more than 100 miles] east of Denver. The septic system was contaminating the water well. Rainwater made asbestos leak from ceiling tiles. A high-voltage electric transformer stood by the playground. After some discussion, the state gave the district money from an emergency fund that is now empty because of state budget cuts.

Ultimately, the solution is to totally revamp the school funding system. But, what is the short term solution. You don't have to be too smart to guess, if you're a regular reader of this blog:

Referendums C and D on the statewide ballot Nov. 1 would set aside $147 million for schools in the most desperate conditions. In 2003, a Colorado state auditor report said 88 percent of districts statewide reported at least one major capital need in which students' health or safety was an issue.