On September 23rd, the Joint Education Committee met with a long list of panelists to hear directly from those on the front lines about opening schools this fall during COVID to hear about challenges, successes, and future concerns. The event held online in webinar format was an all day event. Panelists included representatives from all levels of the education community including State Education Commissioner Dr. Katy Anthes; the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives, Teacher Association representatives (CEA and AFT), Superintendents of metro and rural districts, as well as representatives from the Charter community. To see the full list of participants and agenda: https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/images/september_23_joint_education_agenda_0.pdf
The conversation centered around COVID and guidelines for addressing the safety of students and staff, what is being done, and how schools plan to move forward in this very precarious new normal. A constant theme throughout was limited resources. Our schools continue to do more with less, even though many may feel what is being done just isn’t enough. As CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert asked, what happens after December 31st of this year when the CARES dollars need to be spent? COVID testing won’t go away, PPE needs will not go away – funding for these and other COVID related expenses will continue to exist long after the CARES funding has ceased to exist. SJK has long been warning us that we are dangerously close to going over a cliff.
When challenged by one committee member why additional funding for schools should be a priority with a struggling economy, a profound statement came from the president of the District Twelve Educators Association when he reminded everyone that investing in education, unlike a road or bridge, is an investment in the economy of tomorrow.
At the end of the day, funding was the topic, specifically how districts used the federal dollars to address COVID (CARES an ESSR). If you follow school finance and funding, then you know funding our schools has been an insurmountable challenge since the Great Recession years 2009/2010. We ended this last legislative session owing our schools more than one billion dollars ($1.17 Billion), and can expect to build on that debt in the coming years without some significant changes.
We are sharing this particular statement from Bret Miles, Executive Director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, CASE, which sums it all up rather well:
“…it all comes down to resources. Prior to COVID, we already had gaps in broadband across our state. We already had a teacher shortage. We pay the worst nationally. We already had limited devices in students’ hands. We already couldn’t find bus drivers and substitute teachers. We already were spending reserves and relying on grants to fix roofs and boilers. All of the stressors schools are feeling this fall have been with us for years. If there is a silver lining to the stress and chaos of this pandemic, it is that the fragile state of the educational system, masked by talented and dedicated educators, is now fully exposed, and we all must increase our urgency to address public education in our state for all students now, and into our future.
“Prior to COVID-19, we knew our school funding was inequitable and inadequate, but I would say without question that absent any fast and sustainable changes, the situation facing public schools will be truly dire…”
We have posted Mr. Miles’ full statement at the end of this article.
For now, we want to remind everyone how close Colorado is coming to reaching a catastrophic level of underfunding our most valuable public institution, balancing on the edge of doing irreparable harm that having already impacted a generation of students, will have a continued negative affect on our children for generations to come.
There’s nothing on this November’s ballot that will address, much less solve, our severe lack of funding schools. We need to start thinking about tomorrow today.
We remind you,
“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 the future, look at how it values its schools.” Colorado Education Network
Bret Miles full closing statement:
Madam Chair, members of the Committee,
Everyone in this room is well aware of how this past legislative session ended for schools with a $1.17 Billion Budget Stabilization Factor. We heard from many of you how devastating it was for you to pass that budget, because you understood the impact on Colorado schools. We look forward to working with you to reverse the damage done and restore funding back to our Constitutional base level for starters, then to the aspirational goal where Colorado is leading the nation in equitable and adequate funding.
School leaders across our state are appreciative that public schools were the target of a large portion of the CARES dollars. We understand that there were many needy and deserving places where that money could have done a lot of good. But to be clear, without the CARES dollars, it would have been catastrophic for schools with a $725 million cut to education.
School districts are concerned that the increase in the BS Factor will still be here long after the December 30 deadline of spending CARES dollars, so we need to work together to address this looming impact on schools and act early in the upcoming session. CASE is ready to join those conversations now. While the CARES dollars provided an immediate cushion to the blow to our budgets, it won’t last. It also came with its own set of restrictions, limitations, and onerous reporting, something that is felt by all districts in this current climate, and especially our smallest districts who have little to no capacity for more reports and data submissions.
PPE, laptops, personnel, training days, furloughs, subs, online
Navigating these grant requirements was stressful this summer, knowing how much was riding on the appropriate use of these much needed, and temporary, funds.
The point I am trying to make here is that we all know school funding is headed in the wrong direction, and the CARES Act money will only help for a short while, so we need action fast this session.
It actually cost more to open school this year. So if the CARES money was intended to offset the loss of revenue with the increased BS Factor, it may have helped, but when some of it was used for new and unavoidable expenses, our schools truly took a reduction this year. Schools used CARES dollars for more technology, new online programs, PPE, extra custodial time, and new personnel responsibilities like contact tracing, temperature checking and nursing services. These are all critical elements to keeping students and staff safe.
Schools are spending resources on finding students. We talked about this earlier.
Please, let’s remember, as students are re-entering schools, physically and virtually, all of our associations are keenly aware that having students return to a safe place, focused on high quality grade level instruction, is the top priority. Neither students, nor staff, in person or online, are walking into school with any feeling of normalcy. Paying attention to the trauma is foremost on our minds, and the attention to mental health of staff and students must be in place before learning can happen, I know this is happening every day.
You know that it all comes down to resources. Prior to COVID, we already had gaps in broadband across our state. We already had a teacher shortage. We pay the worst nationally. We already had limited devices in students’ hands. We already couldn’t find bus drivers and substitute teachers. We already were spending reserves and relying on grants to fix roofs and boilers. All of the stressors schools are feeling this fall have been with us for years. If there is a silver lining to the stress and chaos of this pandemic, it is that the fragile state of the educational system, masked by talented and dedicated educators, is now fully exposed, and we all must increase our urgency to address public education in our state for all students now, and into our future.
Prior to COVID-19, we knew our school funding was inequitable and inadequate, but I would say without question that absent any fast and sustainable changes, the situation facing public schools will be truly dire. Our ask is that you will partner with us to address the critical issue of school finance. I’m happy to answer any questions. Thank you.
Colorado Association of School Executives
Center for Excellence in Educational Leadership