School Views: Changing education funding in Colorado
I recently prepared a message to our state legislators and other leaders in Colorado government related to the future of K-12 education, asking them to change the way they fund K-12 education. Presently, Colorado schools don’t have enough qualified educators to effectively teach our next generation.
Recent surveys have shown that many educators are planning to leave the profession in the next year, with many having already done so over the past year (a cited version of the complete message will be available on our district website at EagleSchools.net).
I’ve been recruiting K-12 teachers for 15 years. I used to walk into recruiting fairs teeming with highly qualified applicants. Now, whether held in-person or virtually, they’re nearly empty. Recruiters stand around shoulder to shoulder wondering, “How could this happen?”
I’ve heard through the grapevine that there isn’t a teacher shortage but rather a “willingness to work for a teacher’s salary” shortage. It’s about time that state legislators think about that and what they are going to do to remedy the situation.
Before you assume that the shortage of educators is a product of COVID-19 or the Great Resignation, understand that enrollment in Teacher Education programs started to drop in 2010 and has continued to decline for the past 12 years.
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The problem is much worse in rural parts of the state and in areas like ours with a higher cost of living.
Why aren’t teachers coming to Colorado? Colorado ranks 50th out of 50 states in Teacher Wage Competitiveness. Colorado is 45th in percent of taxable resources spent on education. Colorado spends about $3,000 less per pupil annually than the national average.
To give a real-world application of that number, in a classroom of 25 students, that equals $75,000 per year. The math says Colorado doesn’t value kids or educators, and it’s nearly impossible to make a living as a teacher in Colorado.
How are districts dealing with this?
This year 114 out of 178 school districts in Colorado serve students only four days per week. That’s 64% of our school districts, and Colorado leads the nation in districts with four-day-per-week schedules.
The Colorado Department of Education even produces a manual for how to do it. For most, the schedule change produces little in terms of cost savings. Rather, districts use it to compete in the hiring market. We should be appalled and embarrassed for leading the nation in reducing the amount of days kids spend in school.
I am asking our leaders to offer solutions that match the scale of the problem.
To get Colorado competitive with other states, can we be at least average in what we spend per pupil? Can we agree that average is a modest and reasonable goal for which we aim to support the kids of Colorado? I hope you share with me the anger and frustration that comes with pleading to achieve average as a funding target.
How far away are we from average funding?
To get to the national average for per-pupil spending, it would require at least $2 billion in additional revenue for K-12. That’s a big number, but we can’t expect to address the problem if we’re scared to talk about what it takes to fix it.
I thrive with high expectations and high accountability. I’m ready to make our schools better and to live up to any standards state legislators want to propose. But it is unreasonable to expect A+ results given D- resources. Don’t send me into the arena to recruit high quality educators with my hands bound.
We need our legislators to fund first, recognize what it takes to make us competitive, and get there. I’m asking them to propose solutions that will truly address the problem our education system is experiencing.
Unfortunately, efforts made over the past decade to address K-12 funding have been feeble. They create the illusion that legislators are making a difference, but I can assure you that efforts of that scale completely miss the urgency and magnitude of the challenge we face.
I’m asking state leaders to tackle this issue with the urgency and courage that our kids deserve.
Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. Email him at email@example.com.