Closing down the House

Today we finished up the House bills. I know I said that yesterday, but we really did finish them today. One of those last House bills was mine, HB 446, “Medicaid Restricted Account Amendments.” It passed 62-0. It basically amends Utah’s Medicaid Restricted Account in order to meet the requirements for the money coming our way from the federal stimulus package by designating unspent general fund money appropriated to the department for the Medical program as non-lapsing funds for fiscal years 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11. As background, the stimulus package (Federal Funds – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) provides states with a temporary increase in the federal match of state dollars for the Medicaid program. In order to quality for this extra federal match states have to maintain eligibility standards, methodologies and procedures that were in place July 1, 2008. Another requirement is that no amount of money attributable to the increased federal match may be directly or indirectly attributable to an increase or deposit into a rainy day fund of the state.

The purpose of this legislation is to amend our Medicaid Restricted Account for 3 budget years to make sure that no federal matching money the state receives as a result of the stimulus package gets deposited into our Medicaid Restricted Account which might be viewed as a type of rainy day fund. The funds will be non-lapsing and will stay with the department for the use of the Medicaid program. Utah could receive over 35 million in the next 2 fiscal years. The link for this bill is:  http://le.utah.gov/~2009/bills/hbillint/hb0446.pdf

As we move to the Senate bills an interesting thing is starting to happen…we’re seeing bills hit the House floor that have never come through a House committee meeting and so we hear them on the floor for the first time. That can be kind of overwhelming, confusing, and frustrating because there is not enough time to ask all the critical questions and talk through the reasoning behind the bill and the goals it intends to achieve. One such bill today was HB2. While this was a House bill it also never was heard in the Education committee so it hit us brand new this morning. The title is, “Minimum School Program Budget Amendments,” and it contains much of the work completed by the Education Appropriations Committee, which we had already voted to support in our majority caucus.

However, there was some language in the bill that dealt with funding for charter schools that was concerning. It would prohibit the expansion of charter school capacity for the 2010-11 school year, for instance. While this bill addresses a one year freeze for 2010-11 only, it will be most onerous on the schools who are in the middle of the application process to expand, like Spectrum Academy or Legacy Prep in North Salt Lake, but are having their funding frozen even though the Minimum School Program funding remains in place for both charter and traditional public schools. This bill brings up many issues related to funding for charter schools within the umbrella of the public school system. It also speaks to the need for a bigger discussion that hopefully can take place during interim regarding levees, local replacement dollars etc.

I’m inclined to be biased towards charter schools because in our area I see the good they do, the needs they meet for students and parents, and the way they enhance in a variety of unique ways the student learning experience.

It is my suggestion to the Senate sponsor, Sen. Stephenson, that the bill be amended to either:

1.  Provide that schools who have their enrollment procedures in place, or maybe approved, by March 9, 2009 be allowed to receive their funding for capacity expansion for 2010-11, or

2.  Extend the date for the capacity expansion freeze to 2011-12.

Sen. Stephenson does have a Substitute version of HB2. It can be found at this link: http://le.utah.gov/~2009/bills/hbillint/hb0002s01.pdf

I’d love the feedback from any brave souls who can make it through lines 58-202 and analyze that information as to the affects it will have on charter schools!

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5 Responses to Closing down the House

  1. David says:

    I read through lines 58 to 202 and it appears that the biggest effect on charter schools is that while they initially receive as much as one fourth the the funding per pupil compared to public schools that limitation will be gradually raised until they may receive as much as three fourths of the funding per pupil of public schools – in other words the charter schools could begin to receive more and more of their funding through the public school system. I’m not sure if that will be a real benefit to the charter schools or not. I do wonder why we should be limiting the total enrollment of charter schools if they are costing taxpayers less per pupil than the public schools (which they are even when they are allowed the 3/4 funding rate per pupil). If their results are equal we should not cap their enrollment since they cost less per pupil. If their results are worse than public schools we should be revoking their charters.

  2. Carol says:

    I DID read through the bill and also talked w/the State Charter School Director who expressed concerns similar to yours (a quick study, you are!)for the schools that are in the queque, so to speak. These schools have been recommended by the State Charter Board, approved by the State Board and to varying extents are continuing in a preparation process for opening. I think they should not be cut off now. HOWEVER, I don’t agree (completely) with David’s comments, above. The increasing percentages taken from local funding DO NOT MEAN that charter schools cost less to operate. In fact, all data we have say that they are MORE EXPENSIVE to operate. But, at this point, legislators and others believe “parent choice” is worth the increased cost. These %s do not include the special and separate line item funding (in addition to the WPU funding given every public school for every student) that charters receive from the state. Local districts would argue that the STATE decreed the need for charters, the STATE (not the locals) should fund the schools. I tend to agree. An analogy: a family of 7 has a teen age son who wants to move out of the house. Parents make demands; he’s put upon, etc. AND, son believes parents should provide housing and expenses. It’s “teen choice.” Parents say, “you have an adequate place to live, step up and help improve the home environment–instead of moving. We can’t afford to have you move–AND support you. If you move, do so with our blessing, but you will have to support yourself; we will help where we can.” Summary–OK to approved charters, no increases to charters seeking increased #s OR new charters until we have better data on REAL costs of charters.

  3. Becky says:

    Let me just share my understanding of the funding sources for charter schools. The 25% funding you are referring to is correct, only it refers to the origin of that portion of their funding that comes from the local school district. Under 1SHB2 the percent that local school districts will be responsible for raises to 50%. The remainder of the funding (75% current and 50% under 1SHB2) comes from the state education fund. This has to do with the allocation of local replacement dollars; charter schools cannot raise taxes on their own behalf). I know enactment of 1SHB2 would have a significant effect on the Davis School District. Davis School District faces a budget cut for the 2009-10 year of approximately $15 million in operating funds and $1 million in capital funds. In a year of significant budget cuts, it would be difficult to have additional cuts from Davis School District local revenues to help fund charter schools at the new rate of 50%. In this bill, districts experiencing significant growth and having low assessed value will be most negatively impacted. Davis District currently sends $300,000 per year of local revenues to fund charter schools. Under this bill, 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, we absolutely need a conversation 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.

  4. David says:

    Thank you to Carol and Becky. I had not realized that the funding levels described in the bill represented only part of the taxpayer funded cost of charter schools.

  5. Becky says:

    The Senate just voted on HB2. The text can be found here, along with the four amendments, http://le.utah.gov/~2009/htmdoc/hbillhtm/HB0002S01.htm. I talked to Sen. Liljenquist about this and he felt it achieved a good compromise that provides for charter schools without the untenable consequences for the school districts.
    I am confident from talking to Rep. Newbold and Sen. Stephenson that we will continue to have conversations about funding of charter schools and clarifying those procedures during the interim, which I think will be a good thing.

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