Colorado quickly got to work on legislation to comply with these conditions, but failed to fund the mandates. As each bill passed, the burden on local school districts increased. Now, in 2013/14, local school districts suffer from reduced funding but are still tasked with:
- Implementing new academic standards (Common Core) and all associated staff training and materials costs
- Enhancing their state-longitudinal database systems to include much more data collected from different inputs which will be retained for a much longer time. This data is not only collected and maintained, but requires management.
- Creating a teacher accountability program that includes an extensive review process. One principal claims to spend eight hours on each teacher's review, a claim that has been corroborated by others as well.
- Implementing computerized standardized tests. This means that schools need to have a computer available for each student in the largest class AND that schools need to have the digital infrastructure to support on-line activity for all of these test-takers.
Despite tremendous efforts, Colorado did not win a Race to the Top grant until the second tier, at which point the state was awarded $30 million. In the next tier, Colorado earned $17.9 million, which went to seven school districts and the San Juan BOCES. The total award for Colorado came in at $47.9 million dollars (In 2013, Colorado was awarded $29.9 million, but that was an early childhood competition and not relevant to our work here). Implementation costs of all these reforms are expected to total about $297 million. Thus, all of these reforms have been implemented at a fiscal loss to the state.
The implementation costs for the Race to the Top program were expected to be around $297 million, but maintenance costs are high, as well. The technology needs constant updates. Currently, districts are rehashing budgets to allow technology replacements on a three-year rotation. Any districts using a Windows XP platform, which is acceptable according to the PARCC website, will need to upgrade already as Microsoft will no longer support the operating system as of April 8th, 2014. No support means that there won't be any more security patches, causing vulnerabilities for these computers and the sensitive data maintained within.
Making financial matters worse for school districts is “The Negative Factor.” The Negative Factor is a budget-balancing tool utilized after the recession, in 2009. The previous school funding model included a base amount for each student, plus increased factors for variables such as free and reduced lunch, non-English speaking, and special needs students. Per-pupil funding was to increase by an “inflation + 1%” multiplier. The Negative Factor means that only the base amount is increased, but not the variable factors. Now per pupil funding does not accurately reflect dollars adjusted for inflation and school funding in real dollars actually declines as inflation rises. Since its 2009 inception, the Negative Factor has cost Colorado Schools nearly $1 billion.
In 2013, SB13-213 mapped out funding to cover these costs. The funding was dependent upon a tax increase, Amendment 66, which had to win a popular vote to satisfy Colorado's TABOR (Tax-payers Bill of Rights) requirements. The amendment did not pass. If it had, it would have provided $1 billion dollars to education and that figure would have adjusted for inflation in subsequent years. The amendment was an eight or 20% tax increase, depending upon income, and the tax rate would adjust for inflation. That is a substantial increase and proved too much for Colorado voters still struggling in an uncertain economy. Plus, parents and citizens were becoming weary of the reforms that this increase would fund. Among these voters, there was hope that defunding the reforms would prevent implementation.
In the wake of Amendment 66's failure, SB13-213 cannot be an active piece of legislation. If it is not funded, it dies by necessity. In an effort to save his education reforms, Senator Mike Johnston partnered with a bi-partisan group of state representatives to re-visit school funding. This week, HB14-1292 was introduced to address the many financial struggles of local school districts. The bill provides the following:
- $100 million to chip away at the Negative Factor
- $40 million to implement education reforms, awarded on a per-pupil basis (yes, this is Common Core and Race to the Top)
- $20 million to implement the READ Act, increased assistance to struggling early readers
- $30 million increase to English Language Learning students (ELA's)
- $5 million grant program awarded to schools with successful ELA programs
- $40 million for construction costs, allocated at $30 million for all-day kindergarten facilities, $5 million for increased technology, and $5 million for charter schools – this money is to come from marijuana taxes
- $13 million to charter schools for facilities costs – awarded through a grant process, to be used for technical costs associated with on-line testing
- $15 million to convert from the current one-time pupil count method of calculating enrollment to an average daily membership method, also helps defray costs of preparing school financial reports which will include salary information.
That's a big bill. It totals $263 million, with most of the funds ( $143 million) coming out of the General Fund. Passage of the bill would alleviate a lot of pressure that school districts are feeling. To be sure, the underfunded charter schools would enjoy additional facilities funding, too. But what is the real cost?
In a February 2, 2014 interview with the Denver Post, Senator Mike Johnston said that if a funding bill passed, school districts would not have 100% control over how the money would be spent. “A number of legislators have specific projects they want to support," Johnston said, “including all-day kindergarten, early literacy and help for English-language learners. We're trying to find common ground."
The all-day kindergarten that Sen. Johnston mentions is a punitive by-product of the READ Act. This act, funded by HB14-1292, encourages early education students to read at grade level. It measures this achievement through a series of standardized tests given at a rate of four per year from kindergarten through third grade. Right now, students who don't pass the tests may be retained with parental consent, but beginning with the 2016-17 school year, retention will not require parental input. Kindergarten students who are found to struggle will be placed into all-day kindergarten. Student literacy should be a goal of education, but not at the risk of parental control.
According to the bill summary, HB14-1292 is intended specifically to offer financial support to SB08-212, SB09-163, SB10-191, SB13-213, and the READ Act. Each of these was written in direct compliance with Race to the Top initiatives. Even items such as charter school facilities funding are intended to support the RTTT legislation, as “facilities” refers to technology costs and infrastructure necessary for on-line testing. And, of course, there is $40 million specifically designated for implementation of Race to the Top-driven reforms.
Districts would like to see passage of this bill to offer an escape from their funding nightmare. However, parents who value privacy, parental rights, and good teachers would be better off to avoid it.
Since 2008, Colorado has passed numerous education reform bills which are reaching implementation deadlines between 2013 and 2015. Here is a quick list of the most influential ones:
SB08-212 (Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, or CAP4Kids)
Purpose: Called for aligned educational standards in ten subject areas for preschool through post-secondary education ALSO called for interest groups to partner with education for the first time in Colorado history. This bill ushered in the enhanced state longitudinal database system, which is the means through which data is collected and retained on students, eventually reaching from preK to post-secondary school. The Common Core State Standards were not adopted until 2010, but SB08-212 was aligned with then-candidate Obama's education reform platform. Came with a revised fiscal note of $763,840.00
Purpose: Established parameters and purpose for the State Longitudinal Database System and introduced assessments as data-points.
Purpose: Equates teacher effectiveness with quantifiable measures, fifty per-cent of which involves standardized test scores. Grandfathered tenured teachers, but created a teacher accountability system that allows for dismissal of a teacher after two consecutive years of “ineffective” ratings. Also allows for exceptional teachers to be moved to underperforming schools as needed. This provision is currently being contested in Colorado courts. This bill aligns Colorado Education policies with the Race to the Top competitive grant program requirements
Purpose: A one page bill allowing Colorado to participate as a governing member in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) testing consortium. Being part of a consortium absolves testing autonomy by the State as decisions regarding content, rules, and scoring are made by the consortium. This bill came with a fiscal note of 0.00. The cost to the state is nothing, but individual districts are saddled with increased technology, infrastructure, training, and curricular costs. Terms of this bill expired at the end of 2013, but Colorado is still in compliance with it.
Purpose: Spells out funding for compliance with Race to the Top initiatives. This bill was dependent upon passage of Amendment 66 in the general election of 2013. The Amendment did not pass. Right now, this leaves education reforms largely unfunded, causing problems for districts as they are accountable for implementation. Tax-payers are accepting blame for this shortfall.