Jousting begins over school funding in 2020 legislature
State proposes cost-of-living changes, local education leaders scoff
EAGLE — Colorado’s 2020 legislature doesn’t start for more than a week, but fussing about funding has already begun, this time over cost-of-living calculations in schools.
The Legislative Interim Committee on School Finance put forward a draft framework for distributing the funding the state spends on education.
Local education leaders say it could “devastate” schools, and adds no new money to the funding formula.
Summit County Democrat calls it ‘targeting’
Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Summit County Democrat, proposed changing the way the state’s schools are funded, including a shift in cost-of-living-adjustments, known as COLA.
McCluskie says state lawmakers want to be more “targeted” with those dollars.
McCluskie said that, for now, the state has earmarked $1.1 billion for COLA. It’s part of the state’s per-pupil funding formula — around $6,900 per student as a statewide baseline. That equation includes the number of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. That’s 37% of Eagle County Schools students.
“The idea is to be more targeted with our dollars,” McCluskie said.
Local education leaders are not fans
Eagle County Schools Superintendent Phil Qualman is no fan of the proposal as it stands, saying it could remove the cost-of-living adjustment and “devastate” school districts in high-cost areas.
“This would cause more harm than good,” Qualman wrote in a letter to state lawmakers. “The COLA factor supports much more than resort communities, and its elimination would cause tremendous disruption to schools across the state.”
Schools don’t exist in vacuums, insulated from the economies that surround them, Qualman wrote.
“Districts must be able to attract and retain quality educators. The COLA factor helps us do that, particularly in expensive economies. Its elimination would devastate programs as the best teachers would be forced to relocate to districts with cheaper costs-of-living,” Qualman wrote.
Colorado’s COLA factor includes the cost of standard goods, like cereal and housing, but it also includes things like health care and transportation.
The proposed changes would make school funding more unstable than it already is, Qualman wrote.
“School districts have limited control over revenue, other than local community support through mills and bonds. The current school funding model is neither consistent or reliable. It seems unconscionable to compromise the limited predictability we currently enjoy with such an egregious change.
“This is not the kind of work we need from our legislators. Don’t waste time quibbling over pennies when the real problem takes dollars to solve,” Qualman wrote.