Bill to fund charter schools stirs up local opposition
A bill that would increase the amount of money school districts give to charter schools has passed through the Utah House of Representatives but is facing local opposition.
H.B. 119, introduced by Rep. Bradley Last, R-Hurricane, would require school districts to give 25 percent of their per-pupil tax revenues for each student in the district’s boundaries enrolled in a charter school to the state’s Charter School Local Replacement Funding Program. The state disperses those funds proportionally to charter schools throughout the state.
According to the Utah Legislature website, le.utah.gov, the bill was introduced to the Senate Friday.
The fiscal note attached to the bill states that current funding formulas dictate that school districts contribute between $150 and $289 per each student attending a charter school. The bill would raise their contributions to between $150 and $1,976, "depending on the amount of property tax revenue generated per student in the school district."
Moe Hickey, a member of the Park City Board of Education and its legislative liaison, said the district opposes the bill, which he said would take away money that would otherwise go to students enrolled in schools in the district.
"If the state is sponsoring charter schools," he said, "and (the school board is) the taxing authority for the school district, why should we be the ones who assess the property tax and go through all the issues that go along with that and then give it to an entity that we have no control over, that has no fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers? That’s the fundamental opposition."
Hickey added that there must be an equitable way for districts to help fund charter schools, but H.B. 199 is not the answer. He called the bill the "least worst option" and would rather the Legislature wait for a better solution — one that would make both school districts and charter schools happy.
"The school boards, and we believe the charter schools, would like to have a committee working on it this summer to figure out what is the right thing to do," Hickey said. "Instead of coming up with this divisive formula. Aside from the money going out, it causes a huge division between the two bodies. Nobody gets along because of that."
Last did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
Cindy Phillips, executive director for the Weilenmann School of Discovery, one of two charter schools within Park City School District boundaries, would also like to see the bill shot down. She agrees with Hickey that the bill sows discord among school district and charters, when in reality, they’re working toward the same goal — educating students.
"I hate it when we’re pitted against these districts," she said. "We really have the same objectives, and we’re both underfunded. There’s this artificial pitting of one against the other when, really, we both should be funded better. This bill doesn’t address the actual problem that both districts and charters are underfunded. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. It doesn’t really do anything that helps anybody."
However, Phillips also acknowledged that finding the proper way to fund charters is tricky, given that they have no geographical tax base.
"In the past, charters have only received Weighted Pupil Units, and they haven’t received a property distribution of any significance because they don’t have a geography that they’re entitled to," Phillips said. "How do you determine the property distribution for a charter school that does not have geographic boundaries?"
Dave Kaufman, head of the Winter Sports School in Park City, declined to comment for this story.
Hickey said a more equitable solution than the one proposed in the bill may be to assess an additional tax to fund charters. That way, both districts and charters would benefit.
"I think everybody would like to see that happen," he said.
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The Park City Board of Education is on track to place a bond on the ballot this fall to improve district facilities. The top priorities would be to put ninth grade in the high school, eighth grade in the middle school and to augment preschool offerings by expanding elementary schools.