School District Perspective on Administration of SFA
STUDY OF THE FINANCING OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS
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10:51 AM -- School District Perspective on Administration of School Finance Act
Dr. Serrano said it is important not to disincentivize districts that are trying to do difficult work. She talked about challenges in getting students back in school, whether they are in-district students or out-of-district students. She said a lot of things in the formula can be deterrents to districts trying to do good things. Dr. Serrano said a membership count is the best way to handle budgets, and attendance should be addressed in other ways. Representative Merrifield asked Dr. Serrano to talk about the School Finance Act. Dr. Serrano said the act is based on historical data from when districts were not funded at an adequate level. She said the data should be looked at again, she specifically mentioned the cost-of-living study. The differences in funding between districts, she said, do not make sense. Representative Middleton talked about the drop out issue.
Senator Johnston asked panelists to comment on using a membership count instead of an attendance count. He said no one is looking at taking dollars away from districts, and he mentioned the possibility of a statewide count system. Senator Johnston said one goal is to make the current count system easier, and another is to make sure there is not data that needs to be captured that is not being captured under the current system. Dr. Serrano responded to Senator Johnston's comments, and committee conversation on these issues ensued.
Dr. Lang said the timing of the passage of the School Finance Act is problematic because district negotiations with employees begin in January or February. She said it would be easier for districts to talk to employees if it was certain that money would not be there instead of, as was the case this year, the possibility that 1.9 percent of the district's funding might have to be reverted. Dr. Lang said the formula causes difficulty in her district because the factors are included in the formula. She provided information on the number of students enrolled in charter schools in the district. She talked about how those numbers impact at-risk funding, saying there are fewer free-lunch eligible and English language learner (ELL) students in traditional schools than in charter schools in the district. Dr. Lang said her district is the only district that has not gone to voters for a mill levy override, but said the district is asking for one now. She talked about community perceptions about what schools need and commented that money does matter greatly to students.
Representative Middleton talked about the possibility of tying money to students based on Dr. Lang's comments about the charter school population, and asked if Dr. Lang is interested in seeing funding going in that direction. Dr. Lang responded, talking about where the money goes in her district. Conversation between Dr. Lang and Representative Middleton ensued. Senator Romer responded to Dr. Lang's comments about the mill levy override, saying the gap is expanding between the haves and the have-nots because of overrides. He talked about the amount of money needed to get kids where they need to be, and talked about the importance of engaging the business community.
Representative Massey raised concerns that the model is built on backfilling by mill levy overrides, which was based on increasing assessed valuations. He said the model will cause problems going forward. Dr. Boderius talked about challenges around the two funding mechanisms that work together -- base funding and categoricals -- saying this model causes inconsistencies. Dr. Boderius talked about phantom students being funded under the current system, talking specifically about charter school funding for schools established before and after 2004-2005. Senator Bacon asked for clarification of Dr. Boderius' comments related to charter school funding before and after the 2004-2005 school year, which Dr. Boderius provided. Senator King talked about the law related to charter schools chartered by the State Charter School Institute.
Representative Merrifield asked for further information about charter school funding, which was provided by Senator King. Conversation on issues around charter school funding ensued.
Ms. Rotella said the formula has been problematic from the beginning, and remarked that it is not certain that the problem is the formula itself, but perhaps the issue is that there is not adequate funding. She said communities -- wealthy and poor -- face similar challenges. She said the issue of money following the child requires further exploration, and she talked about difficulties around how to follow students who move or leave. She said those challenges are why districts use an FTE model. Ms. Rotella talked about her district's challenges in responding quickly enough in a community with limited resources. She talked about adjusting to the needs of a new population of students. She said the one charter school in the district does not change the overall demographics.
Mr. Hart said the on-going conversation is about adequacy as much as it is about revenues and expenditures. Historically, he said, the conversation was on state and local revenues. The mill levy override component, he said is the second part of the system, and was meant to be supplemental, but has become a way to get to adequate funding, not to enhance programs. He talked about the impact of moving money from one categorical to another. He talked about cuts made and the 1.9 percent that will likely be reverted in January. Mr. Hart noted that this is not seen as a one-time loss. Mr. Hart said education is a statewide concern, and is critical infrastructure. He said districts are doing everything they can to keep cuts out of the classroom, but in the current climate, he will have to look into schools for reductions. He also touched upon the definition of at-risk, saying there are other criteria that should be considered. Mr. Hart said the story in each district is different, but there are similarities with regard to adequacy.
Ms. Callahan de Vita said the fact that cost-of-living is applied only to personnel costs is an issue, saying it should be applied on a broader basis. She said it has increased the gap between districts' funding levels. She said the categorical versus formula issue needs to be looked at, because categoricals dictate where the funding must be spent. Ms. Callahan de Vita said she is already budgeting for the next school year, and that cuts will have to come out of personnel because 85 percent of funds go to the school buildings. She said cuts going forward will have impact at the school level.
Mr. Cooper said administration of school finance cannot be separated too far from pupil count. He said focus on minimums is problematic. Mr. Cooper talked about at-risk, speaking specifically to gifted and talented students, saying funding matters for all districts and all kids.
Mr. McClain said the issue with school finance is adequacy. He said the needs of the students must be addressed as they happen. Senator Johnston asked Mr. Cooper to talk about allocating resources among different types of students. Conversation ensued, with Mr. Cooper talking about the needs of the child. Representative Middleton talked about investing in infrastructure to help every child move forward. She said the idea is to create a formula that works, so that when adequate funding can be provided, it can be plugged in. Senator Romer spoke to issues of adequacy and the policy and politics around the discussion.
Representative Middleton announced that the review of district reporting statutes would be delayed until after the lunch presentation. Representative Merrifield reiterated that the committee is not interested in "robbing Peter to pay Paul." He thanked the panelists for the job they do every day. Senator King said the James Irwin Excellent School Awards should be funded within the School Finance Act, and he asked the panelists to comment. Mr. Cooper responded, saying the loss of funding for James Irwin is another signal that the focus is on the bottom. Senator Bacon said education is a component of the greater society, and commented on all the issues families, children, and society faces.
Senator Romer said he believes a wider conversation needs to take place making outcomes a part of the formula and recognizing adequacy of funding as an issue. Representative Massey commented on issues faced by rural Colorado.
The committee took a brief recess.