Schools will reopen, and when they do we must welcome students back to a more equitable, safe and dynamic learning environment. One that meets the promise of public education that all students, parents, families, and educators deserve, no matter their ZIP code.
Public schools at their core are for and by the people. They are essential to our democracy. Quality public schools help us create a shared affirmative vision of a fair and inclusive society and build civic and cultural power — especially for marginalized communities.
As policymakers come together to make important decisions about the future of our public schools, they must involve educators in their decision-making and prioritize:
Support a more equitable tax system. Elected officials should get creative in generating revenue now. All options should be on the table, including an emergency tax bill that mirrors Fair Tax Colorado/Initiative 271. It’s unfair Colorado’s middle class pays a larger share of their income in taxes than the top 5% of earners. Asking the wealthiest Coloradans to pay a little more can make our tax code fair by providing relief to 95% of Coloradoans and generating much-needed revenue for our public schools and other vital public services.
Make budget cuts equitably. Currently our public education system is underfunded by $572 million, which represents a 7% cut. K-12 funding bore the brunt of the budget cuts during 2008 Great Recession and still has not been made whole. Our system cannot withstand additional cuts. Legislators should generate new revenue and cut other areas of the budget prior to considering additional cuts to our public schools.
In-person learning and public school. Educators are going above and beyond under unprecedented circumstances to meet student needs, but despite this, students are still losing the valuable in-person, face-to-face teaching and learning that we know has the greatest impact on student success. Public officials must unconditionally oppose any attempt to funnel resources away from communities with vouchers and other privatization schemes, while recommitting to civil rights protections and opportunities for our students and educators guaranteed under the law. Officials must acknowledge that distance learning is not a long-term solution and must prioritize dollars to ensure that we can safely return to providing in-person teaching and learning. This is the most equitable and impactful way to serve students.
Social emotional supports. Collectively, society is experiencing trauma, and many of our students are experiencing individual trauma, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Educators were already worried for the well-being of their students before COVID-19, knowing the state was not providing the funding to meet students’ basic physical and mental health needs. Students and their families have even greater needs today, especially in communities of color. Now more than ever, our students need the resources and supports that didn’t exist prior to the pandemic. It’s urgent that budget cuts at the local and state level stay far away from these crucial student supports.
Community schools. We must come together to provide the schools our students, educators and communities deserve. Our schools sit at the center of our communities and must provide access and opportunity through:
- A strong and proven curriculum that provides a rich and varied academic program
- Community support services woven into the fabric of the school that support students and their families
- Family and community partnerships that are deeply engaged, together, in decision-making, governance and advocacy
- A highly-qualified and diverse workforce that is supported and included in decision-making and part of shared-leadership teams
- A strong networked grid of public services that support students and their families with deep and targeted investments in our communities.
Attracting and retaining high-quality educators. The last thing anybody wants is further disruption in the lives of students. A stable, fairly-compensated education workforce is key to providing students much-needed stability. Colorado suffered a major educator shortage prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Colorado offers the least competitive teacher pay in the country; the state cannot afford to make an already dire educator shortage any worse. Our Education Support Professionals are critical to supporting our students and our public school system and we cannot sustain layoffs or cuts to these critical roles. Colorado will receive about $3 billion in the federal economic relief package, with an estimated $121-134 million earmarked for K-12 education investment. This money is meant to help school districts pay their employees and keep our public schools adequately staffed.
Dismantling of inequitable and racist structures. The COVID-19 pandemic shines a bright light on the structural racism and inequality that has existed all along in our communities and the public education system. The repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic are especially brutal for communities of color, immigrants, and women who face unique challenges, including access to public services like health care and paid sick leave. In addition, immigrant communities and students are increasingly vulnerable given the current anti-immigrant environment and fear that isolates these communities from services. People of color and immigrants are less likely to have the privilege of working from home and practicing social distancing during the crisis. What impacts the health and strength of our communities directly affects students and schools. We are in an economic crisis and the effects on public school budgets and communities will be devastating, especially in rural areas and communities of color. Our reaction to this crisis must ensure that we don’t leave our most vulnerable students behind, and that we march toward closing inequities for black, brown, and low-income students.
Pausing the costly test-and-punish accountability system. The current accountability system relies on costly high-stakes testing that has proven to be biased and inequitable. Our low-income communities and communities of color have been disproportionately and negatively impacted by this system. We have educated our students under this system for more than a decade with no evidence that excessive testing is closing the achievement gap or helping educators to improve their practice. In a time of deep budget cuts, this system must be paused so we can focus our scarce dollars to provide the supports and resources that will close the opportunity gap and help educators meet student needs and improve their practice. Now more than ever, we must divest from for-profit standardized testing corporations and invest in supporting our students and educators. A pause would allow us time to audit our current system and create a process where educators, parents and policymakers can work together to develop a more equitable and effective system of accountability.
Elimination of unfunded mandates. Colorado’s tremendous economic rebound from the Great Recession in 2008 did not restore funding cuts to public education. Since 2008, our public education system has suffered more than $8 billion in cuts and this year alone, the Budget Stabilization Factor is withholding $572 million dollars from our students and educators. During that same time, lawmakers implemented numerous unfunded mandates. Until our public education system is made whole, all unfunded mandates from the state should be rolled back. School districts should get to decide what makes the most sense and what they have the resources, both financial and human, to continue in their communities.
Increase transparency and accountability of spending. All schools, including charter schools not overseen by an elected board, must increase the accountability and transparency of how they are investing their tax and stimulus dollars. Educators and parents must be involved in budget decisions and should have easy access to information about where public dollars are going.
Prioritizing the right investments now, along with transformative solutions, will help strengthen our public schools and ensure educators have the necessary resources to provide all students with opportunities to thrive and succeed in life.
SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS ON MANDATES
The Colorado Education Association has created a list of unfunded mandates and time-sensitive reporting requirements from which it is recommending state-level relief going into the next school year and potentially beyond, through revised legislative and rulemaking fixes:
Unified Improvement Plans (UIPs). The process of creating annual District and School UIPs has not proven to be a productive process to school improvement. In fact, according to the EDAC report, 2017-2018, districts reported this time-sensitive document to be of high effort and low benefit to their median person hour costs (effort) and the perceived benefits of collections. Since 1998, the effort (cost) to submit only the major collections has steadily increased, growing by 53% over that 20-year period. Strategies to relieve data burden would include a regular review of reporting requirements with a focus of collections rated as low benefit, and a temporary moratorium on additional collections (citation available upon request).
Requested relief: Starting in the 2020-2021 school year, Unified Improvement Plans only required triannually for schools that are not on performance watch (priority improvement and turnaround).
District Performance Frameworks (DPF) or School Performance Frameworks (SPFs). Cancelling state assessments during the Spring of 2020 will impact DPFs and SPFs for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.
Requested relief: We agree with CASE that it would be preferred to use the pause in DPFs and SPFs during this time for locals to focus on developing their own frameworks based on each unique local school community’s assets and needs and their definition of a quality district and school.
State Board Setting Statewide Targets for DPFs and SPFs. The SBE voted to raise the cut scores for a performance rating (8%) in October of 2019 for elementary and middle schools and these changes are scheduled to be implemented in the fall of 2021. The implementation of this rule should be delayed until the 2022-2023 school year. Given the pause in state testing and the accountability system AND the critical focus of schools in providing much needed instruction in addition to trauma, grief counseling and mental health support to students when they reopen; it is not the time to alter ‘cut scores’ for the accountability system. This will create an extra burden on schools and districts when they need to make sure student needs are being met.
Requested relief: Do not implement changes to cut scores for accountability for the 2021-2022 school year.
Local Evaluation Systems. Given that there is a cascading effect of the waivers that have been implemented this year including the cancellation of standardized testing, the integrity of the evaluation system has been compromised. This is an area where flexibility at the local level has led to confusion and unintended consequences that we believe may further exacerbate the teacher shortage.
Rather than school districts’ conducting evaluations in the 2020-2021 school year, we should use this time to complete an analysis of the current system to make relevant changes and updates that could be implemented the following year.
Requested relief: Pause the entire evaluation system for the 2020-2021 school year and conduct an audit of the system involving relevant education stakeholders to create a plan to update or make necessary changes to the system.
Testing Requirements—Developmental Education/Assessment Plans Intervention Plans. Significant cost savings to both the State and districts, as well as creating more time within the student day to focus on learning, trauma recovery support, mental health needs, and reintegration to in building learning.
Requested relief: Continuing waiving the requirement for testing and school/district accountability for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.
Graduation Requirements and Graduation Completion Plans. This change in policy will help to ensure that we prioritize the needs of students and our communities. Due to the remote learning environment, the vast majority of state requirement options for graduation that students must meet have been eliminated or significantly delayed.
Delaying the implementation of these state board requirements would support the endeavors of students, teachers, and school districts as they focus on meeting the immediate needs of the upcoming 2020-2021 school year.
The reporting of graduation completion plan data is repetitive and can be accomplished within existing, local UIP programs rather than redirecting resources away from student learning and support in order to create new/different reports.
Requested relief: Do not implement updated graduation requirements, do not require reporting data beyond UIPs, allow districts to alter graduation requirements in response to remote learning environments for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.
READ Act and Kindergarten Readiness. Due to the implementation of remote learning across the state, our students are going to have significant needs next year, both academically and social-emotionally. Districts will need flexibility around the testing and reporting requirements of the READ Act.
Welcoming kindergarteners to school will require a focus on creating a safe and welcoming space as well as focusing on social and preparedness skills. This assessment will take away time from critical learning and focus resources away from the classroom.
Funding for 2020-2021 is based on 2019-2020 Read Act funding and so these tests will not be needed at the start of the year.
Requested relief: Continuing waiving the requirement for READ and Kindergarten Readiness assessments for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.
Colorado Graduation Guidelines. While CEA supports creating 21st century graduation requirements the current pandemic, COVID-19, will make a number of the “menu of options” for the Colorado Graduation Guidelines hard, if not impossible to achieve. Many of the plans set out by public schools to support students in achieving these goals were set based on the assumption of in-person learning, support and intervention resources, as well as stable funding and learning mind-sets for students. The critical focus of schools is providing much-needed instruction in addition to trauma, grief counseling and mental health support to students when they reopen. Additionally, a pause in statewide testing will impact the ability of many students to demonstrate they have achieved the targets set in these guidelines.
Requested relief: Delay implementation of new Colorado Graduation Guidelines through the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.
Concurrent Enrollment. Concurrent enrollment is an excellent process to help students access higher education. However, doing this right requires both funds and resources from local school districts to implement properly. The current strain on funding and resources means the variety of processes to engage in concurrent enrollment needs to be streamlined and reviewed to make sure it is sustainable.
Requested relief: Streamline the concurrent enrollment process to ensure that all students have equal access, district costs are minimized, and resources to offset costs are shared between districts, higher education, and the state.