School Finance Reform
Colorado has made many systemic shifts in the past decade, from setting higher expectations for students to establishing systems of educator evaluation and school and district accountability that have served as models across the country. But Colorado has not changed the way it pays for public education in 20 years–since a time when we lived without email, mobile phones, or the Internet. That leaves many districts and schools struggling to keep up the pace with what our kids need today, leading to perpetual inequities across the state.
Time for a Change
Now is our chance to make our system more efficient, transparent, and sustainable across the state. The Colorado Children’s Campaign supports the following changes to Colorado’s School Finance Act:
Modernize the Way We Finance Education
Colorado must update its public education funding formula to be more relevant to today:
- Change our student count system so we can tie funding to every student, every day of the year.
- Allow students the flexibility to learn the way they learn best with more flexible funding to support online learning, work study, internships, and concurrent enrollment in higher education.
- Provide funding for districts that want to offer extended school years or school days to close the “time gap” between Colorado and our global competitors.
Make Investments that Make a Difference
We can’t just put money into old structures. Instead, we should strategically invest in:
- Ensuring all students have the resources to succeed regardless of their needs, including students who are identified as gifted and talented, requiring special education services, at-risk for low performance because of racism or socioeconomic factors, or those learning English.
- Ensuring we have highly effective teachers and principals in every school who can implement our high-quality standards, assessment, and accountability systems.
- Promoting school readiness by offering early childhood education for eligible families and full-day kindergarten for any family that wants it.
Making Funding Transparent, Accountable, and Fair
To prove we are wise stewards of taxpayer money, we must:
- Require every school district in the state to track education dollars to allow for easy spending comparisons across schools and districts (HB 14-1292 requires that every school district post online, in a downloadable format for public access, financial information including its budget, annual and quarterly audited financial statements, salary schedules and policies, and actual expenditures at the school level).
- Give principals more autonomy and budget control to ensure they deliver solutions that work for their kids (Read about one interesting Colorado experiment in principal autonomy here).
- Distribute funding equitably with a universal floor of support so every child, whether in districts that are urban or rural, affluent or low-income, traditional or charter, has the support he or she needs to succeed. In this system, money goes directly to students, rather than to systems.
The Need for a New Colorado School Funding Formula Has Never Been Greater
The significant legislation passed in recent years to improve educator effectiveness, drive student success, and provide high-quality educational choices to every family are in place. These innovations will fail to flourish without adequate support.
The Children’s Campaign has been a leader in efforts to modernize our School Finance Act. In early 2012, a broad-interest group convened by the Children’s Campaign called the School Finance Partnership came to universal consensus on the framework for significantly improving the sufficiency, transparency, accountability, and equity of our education financing system. More than 200 Colorado educators and experts then formed a Technical Advisory Group to examine best practices and solutions to advise legislators on how the changes would work best for Colorado kids.
Since then, the Children’s Campaign has been involved with the following school finance efforts at the Capitol:
- In the 2013 legislative session, the Children’s Campaign was a lead supporter of SB 13-213, a comprehensive funding overhaul that many considered the most progressive school finance reform effort in the nation. That bill passed, but the changes it contained were contingent on the passage of a constitutional amendment that would raise an additional $1 billion per year in tax revenue. That measure, Amendment 66, failed to pass.
- In 2014 legislators passed both the School Finance Act, HB 14-1298, and the Student Success Act, HB 14-1292. Highlights included $20 million additional dollars for English Language Learners (up from $7 million annually for a total of $27 million annually); $18 million increase for K-3 students struggling to read (bringing the total to $38 million); $17 million new investment in 5,000 new early learning slots for at-risk preschoolers or kindergartners via the Early Childhood At-Risk Enhancement Program (ECARE); and a $3 million new investment to build a budget transparency website.
- In 2015, legislators directed an additional $5 million towards at-risk students in Colorado and approved a one-time funding increase of $10 million for Colorado’s 105 small rural districts.
- Despite improving fiscal conditions in the state, looming TABOR rebates meant in the 2016 legislative session Colorado legislators were only able to approve state-mandated funding increases for education and make a commitment to hold the “negative factor” constant for at least one more year.