Rethinking How to Fund High School
The Vision 2030 framework started an exciting conversation about how we could chart a path for the future of education in Colorado where all of the state’s students are educated to their greatest potential and all businesses have the homegrown talent needed to succeed. In order to achieve the bold goals identified, we’ve translated Vision 2030 into innovative policy that supports work-based learning and prepares agile learners for our future economy.
Across our research and interviews, several themes emerged as front runners, including rethinking how to fund high school. To keep pace with the demands of an ever-changing workforce, high school must look different than it does today. Preparing students for postsecondary education and the workforce means encouraging more learning beyond the traditional classroom. Apprenticeships, capstone projects, and other opportunities designed to support students in building and demonstrating transferrable critical thinking and problem-solving skills are necessary in an evolving world.
One way to redesign high school is to restructure how schools are funded. These policy ideas are designed to start the conversation around rethinking high school funding and will need further refinement as we build a coalition looking to advance Vision 2030.
1) Reconsidering Seat-Time as a Requirement for High School Funding
A big deterrent cited by districts seeking large-scale innovation is concern regarding the risk of losing funding if they fail to account for every hour a student is not in a school building due to Colorado school finance law regulations that require onerous tracking of student seat-time hours.
Limiting the location where students must learn fails to acknowledge the reality that the future of work mandates learning outside the traditional classroom. Districts should feel incentivized, not face roadblocks, for wanting more students to engage in high-quality career-connected learning beyond the classroom.
Short-Term Next Steps
Opportunities to scale a pilot that Colorado Succeeds helped champion during the 2019 legislative session to address seat-time requirements for students participating in high-quality work-based learning could be considered in the next legislative session.
Additionally, in support of more than 100 school districts on a four-day school week schedule, opportunities to support more out of school learning opportunities could be piloted in 2020.
2) Funding Opportunities for Out-of-School Learning
Another way to update the high school funding model is to fund students, not systems.
Most school district funding is currently based on the number of pupils counted in the school year based on a single count date. However, if the system focused on more student characteristics rather than district factors, the formula would be more student-centered and reflective of the changing needs and competencies of the student population.
Additionally, public funds should be used to support more out-of-school learning through work-based and community learning to ensure equitable access to education beyond the traditional classroom for all students across Colorado.
3) Expanding Innovative High School Models through Funding Changes
Funding methodologies for Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) and early college high schools could be modified to promote the expansion and growth of these innovative models.
Currently, P-TECH students often begin in ninth grade and go through 14th grade for a total of six years. Students in their senior year of P-TECH schools often try to accelerate the completion of the P-TECH program by taking summer dual enrollment classes. Students often focus on work-based learning in the last two years of the program. This results in districts sometimes needing to pay for more coursework than they can cover with a student’s per pupil funding during the third and fourth years in operation.
Stakeholders have discussed a variety of ideas to address current funding barriers of these models, including:
- The P-TECH funding formula could be adjusted in years three and four to provide additional funding in a fixed, proportional way.
- The legislature could set aside a pool of funds that P-TECH schools apply for, using the actual amount needed per additional course taken.
A longer-term objective is to adjust state higher education aid funding rules to make the early college high school model more financially feasible for school districts and partners.
Colorado’s antiquated high school funding model needs significant revision in order to adequately prepare the workers of tomorrow in our schools today. For our state to successfully build tomorrow’s agile workforce, new high school funding models need to be accessible to all Colorado students. To dive deeper into the “Agility Explained” policy papers, click here.