Even with the 2022 legislative session over, it’s been a busy summer following the Legislative Interim Committee on School Finance (SFIC). The Committee met multiple times this summer to discuss the latest updates on COVID-19 Relief (ESSER) federal stimulus funds and recent changes to the Colorado public school funding formula.
The SFIC is an interim committee that largely meets outside of the legislative session to study issues related to school finance, including different methods of measuring student economic disadvantage. The bipartisan Committee is made up of eight legislators including Chair Rep. Julie McCluskie, Vice-Chair Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, Sen. Jeff Bridges, Rep. Tim Geitner, Rep. Leslie Herod, Rep. Colin Larson, Sen. Paul Lundeen, and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger.
The Committee’s first meeting was centered around recent school funding formula changes for at-risk pupils and programs that blur the lines between high school and postsecondary education like Accelerating Students through Concurrent Enrollment (ASCENT). In discussing the state’s formula, legislators debated whether the state could be doing more to maximize student factors and decrease the importance of district-level factors.
Members outlined SB21-268 as the policy mechanism that changed the definition of “at-risk pupils,” which is factored into our school funding formula. The bill added students eligible for reduced-price lunch and removed English-Language learners (ELL) students from the definition, ultimately changing the amount of state funds districts receive for their students learning English, or multilingual learners.
Additionally, the Committee reviewed HB22-1202, supported by Colorado Succeeds, which includes a new at-risk measure in the funding formula for identifying students who are at risk of below-average academic outcomes due to socio-economic disadvantages. The bill authorized a taskforce to identify better ways of assessing and measuring at-risk students and directed the task force to report to the Committee on school finance and the Joint Budget Committee by January 31, 2023.
Colorado Succeeds applauds the legislature’s recent focus on strengthening the at-risk factor but believes more can be done to ensure dollars follow the student, and not the system.
The Committee also reviewed changes to the ASCENT program brought on by HB22-1390, which removed the limit on ASCENT program participants and repealed provisions that allowed a local education provider to require students to repay tuition if they did not complete a course or received a failing grade. Colorado Succeeds will review the ASCENT program’s benefits based on any demographic data available to the state.
Update on Stimulus Funding
Another critical topic of discussion was the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) allocation of COVID-19 relief (ESSER) federal stimulus funds. CDE staff outlined three buckets of ESSER funding: ESSER I which provided schools with the technology and infrastructure needed for remote learning; II which provided schools with resources and equipment to return to school with a safe in-person learning environment;and III which supported schools with resources and programming to address learning loss caused by the pandemic.
According to CDE staff, the Department’s priorities were academic acceleration, engaging and expanding learning, and strengthening state capacity (including educator workforce and retention strategies). CDE elevated the hiring of Student Re-engagement and Enrollment Specialists across districts as one of the top 12 most budgeted use of stimulus funds since March 2020.
Next steps for the SFIC committee will largely be determined after the November elections. At this point, it’s unknown what the committee composition will be next year, making it difficult to determine its future strategic planning. However, since the Committee is also able to meet during the legislative session, the bulk of its work will likely occur next year.
Colorado Succeeds will continue to track the activities of this interim Committee and ensure other statewide conversations, including the 1215 task force, continue to promote a more learner-focused school finance system that puts the needs of the students first.