Teacher's journal: Dollar dilemma

Individualizing the Colorado education dollar for each student, kindergarten through undergrad, deserves a hard look in 2009. Difficult? Yes, but so liberating if we could ever do it. A friend on Gov. Ritter’s P-20 Commission for education reform discussed with me what the next reform step will be from the legislature and ouch, alas, it will be a funding problem that may pit higher ed against K-12 interests. The same was reported today, January 2, in the Rocky Mountain News. (not on-line yet at http://rockymountainnews.com/news/news/education)

Rep. Keith King (R-Colo. Springs) ran a bill years ago, requiring that state K-12 school funds follow the student, rather than go to the district to be divided up. It didn’t pass because many, mostly liberals, felt that this was the elephant’s nose under the tent for voucher spending. King returns this year as a state senator. Let's hope he tries the idea again.

While attending graduate school to become an administrator, we learned a great deal about school funding, how it differs from state-to-state, and unfortunately, that it truly is an equity fight between the haves and have nots. States like Colorado attempt to equalize funding between wealthier communities and poorer districts, but a survey to the state legislature by me and a school colleague found that the majority of legislators in Colorado for the 2003 session, did not know the difference between equal and equity. Equal funding is exactly that. Each district receives the same per student funding across the board. Equity in funding takes a look at the individual districts and the students who are enrolled and pays the district based on student needs.

While in graduate school, I wrote that we not only need equity in funding, but we need to devise a method so that we base student funding on student needs. A special education student with mild dyslexia has additional funds from the federal government sent to the state, and a special education student with multiple disabilities should have much more. Federal funds are sent to state departments of education and are funneled to districts for poor students, students who parents are migrant workers, English language learners, and students performing significantly below grade level (Title I) to name a few. If state, local, and federal funding for each student followed the student to the student’s school, then we would have equity in funding. But let’s do one better. Schools are funded based on the October 1 count. If a student leaves the school after October 1, the new school does not receive funding for that student. We need to develop a system whereby the student’s school is paid every six weeks so that it can accurately follow students. In migrant and urban communities, student transience is a real issue.

Now, if we figure out how much we fund each student kindergarten through grade 12 with state funds, then we can do the same with the higher education spreading the four year funding over six years beginning at the eleventh grade level if needed. This will allow students who need remediation or who need to take little steps with special programs to get the funding they should be given, and usually do not get. Success breeds success and some students are capable of taking on more post-secondary responsibilities than others. This will give hope to many who have none and allow the brightest to move at an appropriate pace. While other students may decide to take a more traditional route, waiting to attend college after their senior years, they will have more to spend over four years.

I know a little about taking college classes early. If I had stayed in high school for a boring fourth year, I would have graduated in 1971. Instead, before my seventeenth birthday, I attended classes at a local community college. Back in the day, my tuition for a full-time class load was $225.00 per semester plus books! Who knew? It gave me a start and by the time I turned 18, I earned 30 credits. (It is kind of a pain these days getting my transcript, though, from this school since its on microfiche)

To repeat: We need to think outside of the box when it comes to education funding, and truly put student needs first. Individualizing K-16 funding would be a huge step.