Eagle County Schools to receive more funding for English language learners, at-risk students
The finalized School Finance Act brought in several new avenues of funding for the district
After a year of budget uncertainty and safe spending, Eagle County Schools is going into the next school year with extra funds, thanks to the state’s School Finance Act. This year’s legislation led to several changes as to how Colorado funds schools, both on the revenue and formula side of school financing and funding.
And as the Eagle County School District prepares to go back to the school year without restrictions and mandates brought on by COVID-19, it is also preparing a return to its normal budgeting with priorities around four areas. These areas include:
- Equity: investing in diverse voice and leadership and in culturally responsive practices to decrease disparities.
- Multilingual education: Investing in ways to support teachers and schools and to provide equitable access to content and grade level standards, opportunities to engage in and practice the language, and a learning environment that embraces differences and builds a sense of belonging for all.
- Multi-tiered system of supports: Investing in a districtwide wellness plan, prevention and intervention curriculum delivery and services, as well as in universal screening tools in academics and behavior to improve universal instruction and intervention services.
- Math: Investing in ways to develop pedagogy and content knowledge in the subject through resources, curricular frameworks and professional development.
By investing in these categories, the district will lead to “significant impacts on our students and their educational and social-emotional environments,” said Sandy Mutchler, the district’s chief operating officer, at the June 23 school board meeting.
Overall, the district is in a much better financial position than last year. Its general fund, the district’s main operating fund, is expected to see a total revenue increase of a little over $6 million next year. This increase is a result of specific changes from the School Finance Act that are positively affecting the district’s funding.
Formula changes for at-risk, ELL students
One area of the new legislation brought significant changes. The new formula per the School Finance Act will increase per-pupil funding for students learning English — which accounts for nearly a quarter of students in Eagle County — and students living in poverty.
Specifically, districts will receive 8% more per each English language-learning student. Lawmakers also determined that they will count more students living in low-income households, increasing the number of students that qualify for free- and reduced lunches. This at-risk formula is what determines the amount of federal Title I funds allocated to the district.
The Eagle County district will receive an estimated $1.5 million as a result of these changes. The actual amount is pending on actual student enrollment in the upcoming school year, which is determined in October.
The district is also waiting on its final enrollment to discuss allocation of these funds with the Board of Education and the teacher’s union.
However, at the June 23 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Philip Qualman did note that with these additional funds, the district will “be able to provide an even better service to our kids next year.”
In an email, Qualman wrote that these additional funds had a lot of potential.
“The additional funds open the potential to hire more staff to provide much-needed support for at-risk students. It could also be used to provide more competitive compensation to stem the outflow of staff to better paying districts,” he wrote.
Mill levy tax
A recent ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court will help restore balance between state and local funding for schools by allowing gradual increases to local property taxes in districts with rates below the cap of 27 mills, without voter consent of the tax change. The ruling paved the way for the passing of a bill that will rectify the mill levies that were erroneously reduced.
This year, this change is expected to bring in an additional $91 million in school funding across the state. Once fully implemented, it will bring in an estimated $288 million a year. For Eagle County, this increased funding by $744,111 this year.
“The most significant impact of this change is the reallocation of funding sources coming from the local level instead of the state, which in turn provided more state funding to go towards paying down the Budget Stabilization Factor,” Mutchler wrote, adding that this enabled the district to support compensation and staffing increases made earlier this year in collaboration with the teacher’s union.
Budget stabilization factor
According to Mutchler at the board meeting, for the 2019-20 school year, the state Legislature cut school financing and increased the budget stabilization factor due to an expected economic downturn.
The budget stabilization factor is a percentage reduction to each school district’s total funding. According to the Colorado General Assembly, this factor allows the state to ensure “that revenue is sufficient to pay the state’s share of total program funding for K-12 public schools, as well as the other expenses of state government.”
However, this year, the School Finance Act returned the stabilization factor to the amount it was in the 2019-20 school year, generating an additional $668.80 per student for next school year, according to Mutchler. With its projected student enrollment, this would be an additional $4.6 million in funding.
She also added that eliminating this factor entirely, by fully funding the current factor, could go a long way in increasing Colorado’s overall funding for schools.
“However, even by doing that, Colorado school districts would continue to rank at the low end,” Mutchler wrote.
Room for improvement
While this year’s finance act represents a step forward for Colorado and educational funding, the state still has a long way to go. Colorado has continually ranked as No. 43 in K-12 funding across all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Plus, according to Mutchler, the state is consistently $3,000 below the per-pupil spending average in the U.S.
“Adequately funding and adjusting the formula to provide equitable funding for all districts across the state would go a long way in making a difference for our students and staff,” Mutchler said.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.