Superintendents’ Formula

On Wednesday of this week (Feb. 7), dozens of the state’s superintendents gathered, along with many supporters and public education advocates, in front of a Denver elementary to announce what is now referred to as a “Roadmap” or a “vision for the future” to address our state’s public school needs.

The updated version of the original School Finance Act (1994) has taken the state’s superintendents, working collaboratively, two years.   Of the state’s 178 school districts, 171 superintendents have signed on in support.

Some important things to note about the superintendents’ modernized formula and HB 18-1232, and why we support it:

The current school funding formula is almost 25 years old.   It was a different time in Colorado and the nation in 1994.

As Cheyenne Mountain Superintendent Walt Cooper, who spoke on behalf of the superintendents at the press conference, pointed out, the 1994 formula “does not reflect the demographics or the needs of students in our schools in 2018”.

The current formula falls short of meeting today’s students/districts needs:

  • “It does not address the “significant expansion of programmatic issues that schools are expected to provide.
  • “Students who are identified as gifted and talented and as English language learners are, basically, unaccounted for in the formula
  • “Special Education students are funded far below the amount established through the federal individuals with Disabilities Education Act
  • “Students have unprecedented needs in the area of mental health.

“Our current formula does not recognize many of the students who are in our schools today. We have a formula that is neither adequate nor equitable.”

So, how is the modernized formula different?

Here’s a brief overview of the superintendent’s formula proposed in HB18-1232 as provided by Superintendent Cooper:

  • Base funding for all students being increased to bring Colorado close to the national average in funding. (Colorado currently funds students in Colorado $2,685 below the national average
  • Support for students living in poverty has been expanded by counting students who qualify for either free or reduced price lunches. The current formula only counts Free.
  • Significant increase in the amount of funds passing from the state to local districts for:
    • English Language Learners,
    • Gifted & Talented, and Special Education students with the funding formula. Currently these populations are not recognized in the funding formula
  • Funding for Full Day Kindergarten would be provided for schools who choose to provide a full day program
  • Increase in funding dedicated to early childhood education

Implementation happens only if the Legislature adopts this formula by passing the bill, and triggered when additional funding is approved by voters in a statewide vote (as dictated by Article X, Section 20 of the State Constitution, aka TABOR).

Per Walt Cooper: “Our proposed formula has no impact on the General Fund; it provides a roadmap for distributing funds once adequate funds become available.”

What would the new formula, if adopted by Colorado Legislature and funding approved by voters, mean to Jeffco Schools?

What is currently funded to Jefferson County R-1 School District under 1994 SFA:  $639,011,669

What should be funded under 1994 SFA: $701,117,835

What would be funded under the Modernized School Finance Formula:  $760,647,789

We hope our Legislators are listening. These superintendents are coming together as one voice.

The Superintendent of Englewood Public Schools (and a former Jeffco principal), Wendy Rubin, began by asking our state legislature to approve the $110 million budget supplemental for distribution to our schools today, and to approve Governor Hickenlooper’s proposed a budget that would buy down the $828 million debt owed to Colorado schools by $100 million and would dedicate $30 million to our rural schools. She went on to point out the urgency for addressing school funding now:

  • …a growing teacher shortage crisis
  • 95% of teachers in rural districts that don’t make enough salary to meet the cost of living
  • More school districts are looking to institute 4-day school weeks…we have half of the school districts in Colorado with one or more schools on a 4-day week…”

It wasn’t just district superintendents who spoke Wednesday in support of the SFA update. Dr. Joyce Brooks, of the NAACP in Denver, and Mr. Stahlman, former Littleton City Councilman, is currently CFO of ARC Thrift Stores of Colorado a parent of twin boys with severe special needs also spoke.

Dr. Brooks admitted, “Money alone will not address all our education challenges, but without adequate and equitable resources, critical issues cannot truly be addressed. What is naïve, is to refuse to acknowledge problems that exist.”

“… it is the right thing to do morally and ethically.

She also reminded us that “Colorado has one of the best economies in the nation and our state is forecasting a significant surplus this year, yet recent headlines focus on pitting one area of the government against another”. She went on to point out the impact on parent fees, transportation cuts, lack of mental health support for our students, and the inability of districts to offer career pathways due to lack of teachers or equipped classrooms.

These are all points we’ve heard or read repeatedly these past few years, especially; but when Bruce Stahlman spoke from the perspective of a parent with children of special needs, his story was poignant and profound.

Mr. Stahlman’s twin sons (Mark and Eric who have since passed, and were enrolled in Littleton Public Schools in 1994) had cerebal palsy and other significant disabilities. He spoke not only of the issues presented in his own sons’ education, but how it impacted the rest of the system.

“… Federal and State laws required LPS to adapt a curriculum to meet Mark and Eric’s needs and that their significant disabilities were difficult and costly to serve…it was clear…that funding limitations constrained services that could have benefited the twins…”

“The special education funding that was available most assuredly cannibalized the scope of programs for the other students in the schools because each year, it seemed the available resources were finite and shrinking.

“In 2010, underfunding resulted in school districts having to pay $465 million in unreimbursed special education costs. According to the most recent Colorado Department of Education data, the gap in funding has increased by 24%, just between 2010 and 2015, to $576 million that school districts must cover in unreimbursed expenses.

“Currently, for every $1 a school district spends for students with disabilities, the State reimburses a paltry 25 cents.

“It is both unacceptable and illogical that the State of Colorado continues to underfund special education because by forcing school districts to provide for the needs of some children while scrimping on others, the State’s funding solution in essence forces mediocrity on everyone.

“Spoiler Alert: Advances in medical technology are making it possible for more babies with developmental disabilities to survive and thrive…that’s a good thing for everyone because people with developmental disabilities are truly a gift. But it comes at a cost to society that is only going to grow. “

Finally, we’d like to send our thanks to House Representative Dave Young (D), Senator Don Coram (R), and Senator Andy Kerr (D) sponsors of Bill HB18-1232, for providing bi-partisan support of the Superintendents’ modernized School Finance Act – Bill HB18-1232.

To learn more about how the superintendents’ formula works, here is a link to the website they have provided for full transparency which has information for each school district.

“They say if you want to know what a community values, look at how its children are treated. If you want a sense of what a community hopes for in the future, look at how it values its schools.”