THE PODIUM: In public education, funding matters — but so do a host of other factors

Author: Van Schoales - January 11, 2018 - Updated: January 31, 2018

Van Schoales

While we appreciate a shout-out for A+ Colorado’s research and advocacy for more quality schools in Colorado in Paula Noonan’s column, “A+ Colorado slams public schools – but sidesteps issue of school finance,” she misrepresents our work and advocacy agenda. We are deeply committed to sharpening the public dialogue about how to improve public education, including critical discussions around finance.

Educational improvement is difficult and complicated — and funding matters, as we have commented in nearly every A+ Colorado report. But so do leadership, program design and pedagogy, culture, support and accountability for student success.

We invite readers to review our website (link to site at ‘website’) and recent reports on the state of Colorado school districts and districts like Aurora and Denver that highlight districts and schools where the promise of an excellent education shines bright and also sadly where that light is still too dim.

Our most recent report, A Seat at the Table, uses Colorado’s Department of Higher Education data to show which Colorado high schools get which groups of students into our nation’s most selective colleges and universities. Contrary to Paula Noonan’s critique, throughout the report, A+ Colorado describes the relationship between wealthier high school communities and higher percentages of students getting into selective colleges.

A Seat at the Table illustrates that while a student’s family income and their high school community matter, there are other factors that have an impact on a students’ access to a selective college, such as a college-going culture, support for college-level courses in high school, and quality high school counseling. School funding also plays an important role; many schools in Colorado are not adequately funded, but it is far from being the only component for school quality or a silver bullet.  For example, even the country’s highest spending state, New York, has worse academic outcomes for students than Colorado according the nation’s report card NAEP.

Now let me share some of the falsehoods about A+ in Noonan’s editorial.

History of Supporting Finance Equity. A+ Colorado supported Amendment 66 because this school finance proposal better targeted the learning needs of students whose families were low-income, who were emerging multilingual and learning English as a second language, who had disabilities, and who were highly gifted. It also provided more centralized funding for low-income communities with far lower tax bases who are unable to raise money locally. We believe that Colorado’s current funding of schools is neither adequate nor does it equitably target student and community needs. This is true at the state level, and within the vast majority of school districts.

School funding also plays an important role … but it is far from being the only component for school quality or a silver bullet.  For example, even the country’s highest spending state, New York, has worse academic outcomes for students than Colorado..

Local Funding Increases. In communities that are able to support their schools locally, A+ has been a strong proponent of mill levy overrides that support classrooms and operations, and bonds that help districts access capital.

Funding Parity. A+ Colorado has always advocated that public charter, innovation and district-managed schools receive the same levels of funding for operations and facilities.  Charter and innovation students should not be treated less, nor should they be advantaged by funding by districts or the state of Colorado. Colorado took a large step last year in ensuring local charter schools receive voter-supported local mill levies, yet there is still not parity. Tracking funds from the district level to the school level — whether operated by a charter or the district itself — is a complex matter. Additionally, Noonan’s critique of the additional dollars that charters receive from philanthropy leaves out a large part of the conversation about equitable access to resources: most public school districts also seek philanthropy themselves (and have their own foundations), and PTAs in rich communities often raise large amounts of money for schools that is not reported. At A+ we advocate for better transparency around central office, charter management organizations, and school-level expenditures for charters and district-run schools alike.

The facts matter, more so than ever today, when public policy is driven by partisan ideology rather than practical solutions to our communities’ biggest challenges.  We can only improve Colorado’s public schools through a thoughtful, thorough, non-partisan analysis that looks at what is working, what is not working and what can work for all of our students.  A+ Colorado will continue to shine a light on successful Colorado public schools while pushing for changes to ensure that every Colorado student can attend a great public school.

Read The Podium weekly; it’s where prominent players in Colorado politics address the big issues of the day.

Van Schoales

Van Schoales

Van Schoales is the chief executive officer of A+ Colorado, a Denver-based advocacy organization that promotes permanent, sustainable and constant improvement in Colorado Public Schools.