An Interview with Catherine Strode
This coming Monday, April 2, the House Education Committee will vote on a bill crafted by 174 Colorado Superintendents to increase resources and decrease inequities in Colorado’s public schools for students with special needs. This encompasses students with disabilities, gifted and talented, children in poverty and English language learners. House Bill 18-1232 is sponsored by State Representative Dave Young and co-sponsored by State Senator Don Coram. The bill modernizes the school finance distribution formula for all students throughout the state. The formula has not been updated for the past 24 years.
In an interview with Catherine Strode, Representative Young says the bill has strong support among the state’s school superintendents. He urges community support to get the bill passed.
How does this bill increase student resources?
“This bill changes the way we distribute the school revenue funding. There’s going to be the necessary funding to support each and every student in the state of Colorado, regardless of their zip code, and meet their real needs. It’s important we do this because there are big inequities existing between the formula now and what students need to support them in classrooms. If we don’t update it now, those inequities are going to get even more severe. Clearly, there are inequities for students with special needs. Gifted and talented students are included in there as well. There’s also inequities for children in poverty. There are inequities for English language learners. There’s really a number of areas that have gotten out of whack over a long period of time. The way I have been characterizing this bill and this formula is that it is a student-centered distribution model. In the past, we have focused on school districts. This is an effort to focus on students and what they need.”
How does the bill change the current funding system?
“The current funding system for students with disabilities is what’s called categorical funding. We essentially put money into a fund, a categorical pot of money. That money is divided up among all the students needing services. It’s not based on what students need; it’s based on how much money is in that pot. If there are less students of need, it goes further. If there are more students of need, or their needs are greater, then the money doesn’t go as far. When the money doesn’t go as far as it needs to go, many districts try to supplement with other money to try to meet the needs of students with special needs. Unfortunately, it ends up pitting students against each other, which is unhealthy in our school systems. They have changed this from categorical funding only. They have moved the funding into what are known as ‘the factors.’ This is a big change for students with disabilities. That means there’s actually money dedicated to students based on their need, based on their IEP’s (Individualized Education Programs.) Right now, we are not meeting that need.There’s not enough funding available to do what needs to be done according to IEP’s.”
What is the consensus of support on the bill?
“The Superintendents have done a fabulous job in crafting this legislation. They have been doing research to discover what needs to be done in order to ensure that students have the resources they need to reach their full potential. The Superintendents have come together to say, ‘Regardless of zip code, regardless of who the students are, this is what we think will actually work and move our school system forward. There are 178 Superintendents in the state and 174 of them are in full support. You can go up and down the list of all the different school districts. They’re rural, urban, large, medium, small, and suburban. It’s a strong coalition of Superintendents in support of this bill. The 174 Superintendents have said, ‘We need to do something. We are in a crisis of funding.’ Each of them is facing a crisis in one way or another, achievement gaps or just fundamental lack of funding that is driving their districts in the wrong way. There’s a fundamental flaw in our funding for schools. Even though we have one of the strongest economies in the country, somehow we can’t seem to fund our school districts.”
If the bill passes, how will it be funded?
“There’s Initiative 93 which is being supported by a broad cross section of advocacy organizations. One of the leaders is Great Education Colorado. They are out collecting signatures right now. If they get enough signatures by July, it (Initiative 93) will be on the ballot in November. The fiscal note (for House Bill 18-1232) is $1.6 billion. Amazingly enough, Initiative 93 raises $1.6 billion. Written into the language of the Initiative, it says in order for the money from the Initiative to be spent it has to be spent on a student-centered distribution formula that looks like House Bill 18-1232.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.