Dr. Margaret McLaughlin—University of Maryland full Professor of Special Education; Dean of Research and Graduate Education, College of Education and National Expert on Special Education Finance and Policy
- Expert opinion: State is not providing a sufficient amount, nor is it providing it in a rational way to allow the districts to provide for what each individual child needs. Therefore the district must rely on general funds, which puts at risk student’s ability to receive FAPE (free appropriate public education).
- The state has an obligation (under federal IDEA legislation) to ensure that all students who are eligible receive FAPE; however, the state of Colorado is “abdicating” their fiscal responsibility because the local share is shouldering the bulk of the financial burden for special education costs.
- Current special education funding formula is not a reasoned structure and it needs a cost study, in addition to an examination the assumptions that current cost structure is based on. The system is a tiered funding system, and the amount of money allocated to students in each in each tier is not based on research. The amount for tier one has remained flat, and shown no indication of rising with inflation or the actual rising costs of providing services.
- A rationing of special education services is occurring in Colorado.
- IEP (individualized education plan) teams are faced with lack of adequate resources.
- Based on aggregate data from the last decade for students with an IEP, students with disabilities progress in key areas (eg. graduation, test scores, etc.) are not progressing. There is a huge achievement gap between students with disabilities and students in regular education classes. Based on data from state performance plan, students with disabilities scores are lagging and in some areas declining, instead of showing progress in comparison to similar student’s data from across the country. Further, there is also a gap between the graduation rates for students with disabilities and students in general education because the students with disabilities graduate at a lower average rate than their general education peers.
Ty Ryland—President of Sierra Grande School Board
- In 2005, the district started to cut spending. They have cut $205,000 from the budget, including busing, teachers, programs, and activities.
- Local control of education has been taken away because the district has to teach to the state standards. The district has no flexibility or funds to offer classes other than those necessary to meet mandates.
- The district applies for and receives limited grant money to help fund some programs or services. However, grant funding is neither sustainable nor reliable. Generally, when grants go away, so do those programs.
- The district recently received a BEST grant to help with $1.2 million dollar roof repair, but to accept the money the district has to be able to find enough money to make a 20% match. The district submitted a letter of hardship, that if it were to be accepted, would mean that they would only have to find enough money to make a 10% match. The letter of hardship was denied, and consequently the district is afraid that they will have to turn down the whole grant because they cannot afford the 20% match.
Buck Stroh—Superintendent of Creede School District for last nine years; began working for the district 32 years ago as a teacher.
- Creede has no track for students to run track practice; instead they run down the main street in front of the school.
- The most recent bond that the district passed was in the 1970’s, and it paid for a new gym. That gym floor is now falling apart.
- If the district passed a new bond, the most it could raise would be $6.7 million. Yet estimates for the cost of a new building range from $16.1 to $22 million dollars.
- Long-term elementary principal and secondary school principals each took a pay cut this year to first year teacher salary.
- 96% of land in the district is forest service, so the district can’t develop a tax base. The Federal Secure Rural Schools Act is vital to Creede. It provides 22.2% of the district’s revenue. If the act is not reauthorized, things will be extremely difficult for the district going forward.
- For the 2011-2012 school year there is a $197,000 budget gap that will be slowly closed by cutting $70,000 a year for the next three years.
Matt Keefauver—Elementary school teacher (4th grade) for Montezuma/Cortez Public Schools
- 65-70% of student in his school qualify for free and reduced lunch. He buys snacks with his own money for students who cannot afford to bring in their own snacks.
- Classroom budget has for classroom supplies has been slashed to $0. This year they have grant money to pay for supplies. Last year they asked students to bring one ream copy paper as a part of their school supplies, but only 5 of 22 students could afford the extra supply.
- These students’ educational experiences should not be held back because students lack the most basic supplies, and he pays for the supplies with money from his own pocket. He is always asking himself do we have the things we need to get the job done for the day. Also, at the end of each school year, he saves scraps of paper, used markers, and bits of pencils to use for the next year.
- His teacher salary in Cortez is not enough to make ends meet. For the last four years, there has been no raise in the teacher salary. In addition to the salary freeze, this year teachers will have to take two furlough days, which means that teachers will $540 from their paychecks, and also it means two less days in the classroom with students. Further, he works three part-time jobs to help pay for the supplies, field trip, snacks, and other materials that he buys for his students with his own money. It is exhausting to work at all of these part-time jobs in addition to his teaching responsibilities.
- The district has no money for field trips, so he works three jobs in addition to his teaching position. He paid for a field trip for his students to Crow Canyon himself so that his students could have the chance to have an enriching experience to further engage them as learners.
- He is sharing his testimony to be a voice for his students because they deserve the same opportunities as every other student. It is unfair that his students in Cortez have to do without the things most people have had as students, or even the things that students from six or seven years ago had.
- When he started teaching 15 years ago, because he felt it was his calling, he never imagined that he could ever consider leaving the profession, especially because financial reasons. And yet, that is exactly the impossible decision he is facing.
Justine Bayles—Middle school science teacher from Cortez
- As a science teacher, she lacks the resources to be an effective science teacher. She lacks the adequate supplies to give students the opportunity to learn science, especially as the kinesthetic and experiential learning experience that ideally science class should be.
- Cortez textbooks are so out of date that they predate the 9/11 tragedy from a decade ago. In addition, students have to share books and teachers have to coordinate the rotation of the books to give students access to curriculum materials. There are not enough books to send homework home, which slows the pace of progress that students can make.
- In terms of technology, 600 students share two computer labs in the Cortez middle school. Yet, the new Colorado science standards are 50% technology based. Cortez will not able to meet those standards because of lack of technology available to the students there.
- As a teacher, she is concerned about college readiness of her students, because she knows that the students will not be able to be as tech-savvy or prepared to enter college or the workforce as their peers from wealthier districts.
- Only 58% of Cortez students graduate from high school.
- She told the story about a student of hers who wrote her a letter about how this student wanted to be able to grow up and provide for his own family the kind of life he never had as a kid. She said that education is the only way to break the negative cycle that this student described, but was very sad because this student had not yet learned the necessary skills to make the changes he wanted for his life. This student never returned to school.