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2 bills seek funding for charter schools

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Two separate but similar bills are aimed at bringing Utah charter school funding to parity with that of traditional school districts.

Both SB80 and HB164 — sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, and Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley, respectively — appropriate new money for administrative costs and local replacement money to bring charter funding to a level relatively equal with traditional public schools.

A recent legislative audit highlighted a number of funding inequities between the two schooling programs, including recommendations that charter school leaders hoped to have addressed this session.

The duplicate legislation was created as a safeguard.

"I was not sure what Bigelow's bill was going to contain and wanted to make sure if the solutions to the audit recommendations weren't in his bill they would at least be in my bill," Stephenson, co-chairman of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said Monday.

He said he plans to work out the duplicate language with Bigelow, who is chairman of the Executive Appropriations Committee.

Both bills address the audit's call for local replacement money.

Property tax revenue goes toward traditional public schools but not to charters, so the state kicks in replacement funding for charters in lieu of local money. In comparison, charter schools still come up short on funding. To remedy the difference, both bills call for around $36 million, which translates to $1,527 more per student.

HB164 would appropriate additional administrative funding for charter schools. According to the audit, charters currently receive $5 per student for administrative costs whereas traditional schools pull in $120 for each student.

Bigelow's bill appropriates $62 per student in charter schools, while SB80 would allow for the full $120 per student.

With the two bills aiming for a similar outcome, there will most likely be some sort of compilation. But either way, charter school leaders are happy.

"Every entity from the Legislature to the Utah State Office of Education, Charter Board, State School Board, governor's office and school districts are accepting the fact that charters are here and there are issues that need to be addressed — and that is an exciting time for charter schools," said Scott Smith, chairman of the State Charter Board.

E-mail: terickson@desnews.com