Archive for the ‘Great Education Colorado’ Category

Who Will Race to the Top?

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Race to Top money provides short-term grants for teacher professional development, teacher pay, standards-based assessment, and accountability for struggling schools.

Colorado is running a full-court press to compete for the Obama administration’s Race to the Top money for education reform.  The state’s Lt. Governor, Barbara O’Brien, says Colorado is well positioned to bring in some RTT money.

Colorado needs RTT and budget reform to meet kid needs

Colorado’s legislature, through its interim School Finance Committee, is also trying to revise its long-term strategy for funding public schools. The current school finance formula focuses on equity and adequacy based generally on district size. The state provides extra money to low-property-tax districts to “equalize” funding with high-property-tax districts.

The question remains: Is any of this funding adequate to achieve a “world class” public education system?

Colorado uses ‘categoricals’ for special-needs funds

The state uses “categorical grants” for special education, vocational education, gifted and talented programs, transportation, expelled and at-risk students, and English language proficiency. The current school finance bill, SB09-256, provides $230 million-plus in categorical funding for 2009-2010.

Does funding through categoricals meets the learning needs of kids?

Colorado just gets by ‘on the cheap’

According to State Senator Chris Romer, D-Denver and co-founder of the nonprofit Great Education Colorado, the state gets by “on the cheap” for education funding.  Colorado’s large middle- to upper-middle-class population provides a setting for middle-class kids who are “prepared for school” and have lots of resources at home. This advantage helps kids learn, despite the state’s near-bottom-of-the-nation financing for public schools.  The state is rated “average” in school performance across the nation.

But this low funding hurts kids in poorer homes who don’t have the same learning edge.

Poor kids struggle, unprepared for school

More than 65,000 Colorado kids under 5 years old live in extreme poverty, according to the Colorado Children’s Campaign. This number is growing faster than the national average. Eventually these children, and many other poor kids, end up in the state’s dropout statistics.

Most public school districts in the United States use free and reduced lunch as a “proxy” or predictor for at-risk kids. Dr. Alex Medler of the Children’s Campaign acknowledges that poverty is the largest umbrella indicator for at-risk kids.

Precise indicators exist to determine school funding and education reform

In Colorado, if a ninth-grade student has one or more F’s on a semester report card, there’s a 9 in 10 chance the child will drop out. Similarly, if a high school kid has 20 or more absences in a quarter, the child is at least 60% more likely to drop out. Fifty percent of dropouts have had at least one suspension in four years.

Student centered funding gives new approach to school finance

The School Finance Committee, concerned about dropout levels and under-performing public high schools, is looking at a student-centered funding system as a possible replacement for the current method.

Student-centered funding “drives funds to schools, with additional weights for school-based decisions.”   Schools will receive more money for English language learners, low performers, kids with lots of absences, etc.

The goal of student-centered funding is to give local schools more flexibility in dealing with diverse student populations. The system also can more closely connect budgeting with standards and assessment, providing more accountability.

Of course, any school-finance change begs the question of reform if it ends up that not enough money is in the system to begin with.  While the state is trying for school finance reform, Race to Top can provide the short term resources to give students a chance at excellence.