The Senate voted today on the latest version of HB2, the bill detailing the funding for public education, including charter schools. The vote was 15-9. The full text can be found here, along with the four amendments, http://le.utah.gov/~2009/htmdoc/hbillhtm/HB0002S01.htm. I talked to our Sen. Dan Liljenquist about this version of the bill and he felt it achieved a good compromise that provides for charter schools without untenable financial consequences for the school districts.
Before this version of the bill was agreed upon there was another version, less palatable to all parties, which shifted the burden to local school districts by increasing the percent of funding they contribute to charter schools. Even though this version was not passed this provides a good chance to share my understanding of the funding sources for charter schools. 25% of the funding currently originates with the local school district. Under an earlier substitute of HB2 the percent that local school districts would have been responsible for was raised to 50%. The remainder of the funding (75% current and 50% under the proposal) comes from the state education fund. This is different than the funding of the WPU, which remains with each student.
I know this type of budget shift would have a significant affect on the Davis School District, who is dealing with 6% cuts along with the rest of public education. Davis School District’s budget cut for the 2009-10 year represents approximately $15 million in operating funds and $1 million in capital funds. In a year of these significant budget cuts and with uncertain economic times ahead, it would be difficult to incur additional cuts from the Davis School District local revenues to help fund charter schools at a new rate of 50%. In this version, districts experiencing significant growth and having low assessed value would be most negatively impacted. Davis District currently sends $300,000 per year of local revenues to fund charter schools. Under this version, this amount would increase in 2010-11 to $600,000, in 2011-12 to $900,000, and in 2012-13 to over $1.2 million. Tax revenues that districts are required to send to charter schools have already been committed in our district for specific purposes which could violate the ballot proposition with voters and districts like ours are likely to increase taxes as a result of the “shift” in revenues.
That being said, the version of HB2 passed out of the Senate today seems to have hit a good balance between continuing to fund charter schools adequately while not creating an undue burden on the school districts. It also provides for growth by allowing increase in charter school enrollment capacity equal to 1.4% of the total district enrollment beginning in 2009-10.
We absolutely need a conversation during interim about long range planning and funding for charter schools and public education in general. To the extent that this bill opens up this discussion it is a good thing.