School funding in Colorado has been a longstanding issue. Chalkbeat recently featured to a group of teachers, school leaders, advocates, and academics – including Colorado Succeeds’ Vice President of Government Affairs Kelly Caufield – sharing what they think is missing in Colorado’s school funding formula.
Here are our ideas on how to build a better funding system:
A junior in a Colorado high school might be taking a full load of classes but spend little time on her school’s campus. That’s because she’s at the nearby community college for part of the day getting dual credit for her advanced English and math classes, interning at a local technology startup where she’s learning computer science and essential skills training, and spending some afternoons at art museums with local artists learning about history and design theory.
This story shouldn’t be unique. It should be the experience that we redesign school funding to support. If Colorado employers could redesign high school funding in Colorado, we would invest in what it takes for students to be successful as lifelong learners. That sounds simple, but it represents a fundamental change that meets significant resistance.
Many early college high schools, which allow students to obtain college degrees and work credentials, follow a similar funding model as described here, but we think all Colorado schools should consider this structure. Our current funding model isn’t designed to prioritize post-secondary and work-based learning opportunities in a systemic way where all students receive these opportunities. For example, while over 90 percent of school districts offer concurrent enrollment, only 32 percent of high school juniors and seniors participated in these courses.
Public funding of high schools must be structured in a way that acknowledges that learning isn’t always going to happen on a traditional school campus and that a high school diploma alone is no longer sufficient to set students on a path to true self-sufficiency.
Funding students rather than a system means funding that is flexible and split into three distinct pieces. In our ideal model:
- One third of funding for each student would go to the high school to pay for core academic courses.
- Another third would pay for students to take courses leading to post-secondary credit through concurrent enrollment or Advanced Placement, to name a few.
- And the final third would go to fund work-based learning experiences. These funds could cover transportation costs, industry certification exam fees, and stipends for time spent in the workplace, or serve as a financial incentive for more employers to accept and place interns or apprentices.
Because this would represent a substantial shift in how high schools are funded, school districts would voluntarily choose whether to participate. But we’re confident that restructuring school funding in this manner would show dramatic results. Those districts electing to participate would be viewed as forward-thinking leaders and worth investing in.
Most of all, more students would have a high school experience that truly prepares them for the next stage of life.