Hamner: Committing to our kids, in Aspen and throughout our state | AspenTimes.com

Hamner: Committing to our kids, in Aspen and throughout our state

Rep. Millie Hamner
Guest Commentary

This past legislative session, I was proud to sponsor the first major overhaul of Colorado’s school-finance act in two decades.

Senate Bill 213 is a groundbreaking measure, and when its policy changes are adopted, it will benefit every single public school student in the state, including those attending Aspen schools.

Populations shift and demographics change over time. We simply cannot expect our schools to provide an effective 21st-century education for all students based on a funding model designed in a previous century for a previous generation of students. The new school finance act modernizes our system and emphasizes research-driven policies we know work for today’s kids.

With an infusion of new revenue by Colorado voters this fall, the reforms included will:

• Reward great teachers and great principals who implement innovative and effective ways to teach students and achieve excellent outcomes.

• Fund full-day kindergarten for all Colorado students and boost our investment in early-childhood education, both proven to enhance student outcomes down the road.

• Increase funding for gifted and talented students and expand special assistance for high-needs students so educators can provide individualized approaches to student learning while simultaneously reducing costs that currently fall to local districts.

• Replace the antiquated “single day” student count with an average daily count to provide a more complete picture of the student population at a given school.

• Ensure that every child — whether she attends a traditional neighborhood or charter school — has the resources to succeed.

What does this mean for Aspen public schools? If adopted, the act’s reforms will increase per-pupil funding in Aspen by more than $100, including new funding for special-education and gifted-and-talented programs. This number will increase in future years as revenue grows with an improving economy.

In addition, I worked with the district to ensure that it will have the ability to ask for future property tax increases to support its schools. This was a district priority in drafting the legislation, and I’m happy it was included in the final product.

The legislation, in tandem with previous reforms, provides more flexibility for the district and for individual schools to direct resources where they will have the greatest effect so that every student, regardless of socio-economic circumstance, has a chance at success. There are a lot of great things going on in Aspen public schools, and we want to give the district the room it needs to expand upon what’s working for kids and a chance to change what’s not.

Some have concerns regarding the act’s impact on cost-of-living adjustments for Aspen teachers. While the cost-of-living adjustment is an important consideration, the current adjustment is deeply inequitable. It disproportionately assigns state dollars to communities that have little difficulty attracting and retaining effective educators, rather than utilizing state funds to make targeted investments in students and areas with the greatest learning challenges.

In the wake of the state Supreme Court’s ruling in Lobato, I am further convinced that we must continue to consider what it costs to educate a student in Aspen at the highest level. Senate Bill 213 commissions a cost study every four years, starting in 2015-16, which will give us a sense of each district’s ongoing needs. A companion return-on-investment study will help us make the case to future voters that investments in education yield results. SB 213 will push us to keep asking, “What does world-class education in Aspen cost?”

SB 213 cannot be left to age and expire, like its predecessor. We must continue to revisit it and ensure that it adequately and equitably funds our schools. I will spend my tenure as your state representative working with districts, schools, teachers and parents to continue building a smarter, fairer public school funding formula. SB 213 marks an important evolution toward making Colorado’s school finance formula better for every district, school and child, so that we get the most out of every single dollar we spend on our schools.

State Rep. Millie Hamner’s House District 61 includes Pitkin, Summit and Lake counties and parts of Delta and Gunnison counties.


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