John Barry—Superintendent, Aurora Public Schools
- Students in Aurora Public Schools speak over 96 languages and represent 126 countries. 80% students of color, 40% ELL, 69% students in poverty as measured by free and reduced lunch; 40% mobility rate.
- District is attempting to take on the Colorado paradox: CO “is the 2nd largest educated workforce among states but we import most of our talent.”
- District is able to create “islands of success,” but they are not able to replicate them quickly enough across the schools because of the millions of dollars of cuts in the last few years. The district has faced state mandated budget cuts: 6.2%, or $17 million, cut last year and 8%, or $24 million, cut this year. These cuts are an “incredibly hard hit on the education system.” There have been $70 million dollars in total cuts since he started as superintendent.
- District holds belief in the fact that every student can learn and this is central to their vision for the future. There are challenges associated with poverty, but “can’t use them as excuses.”
- There has been a “steady decline in resources available to close achievement gap and accelerate student achievement.”
- “We have cut to the bone to go everywhere we can possibly go to find every dollar under every rock” [and] to not cut from the classroom, but if they face more cuts in the future there will be no way to avoid a RIF [reduction in force].
- Mr. Barry noted the difference between velocity and acceleration and said that the district is on steady velocity vector of “incremental improvement” pass the state average for standardized test score. In the meanwhile, “we are leaving kids behind.” Within the current funding structure, they will never be able to accelerate change and improve student achievement.
- Many students who try to get into the military do not meet the minimum qualifications, which result in “dire consequences” to our national security.
- 480 kids on waitlist for pre-school, and the list is growing because the state only provides sufficient funds for 1300 pre-school students to attend when there are about 1800 pre-school aged students in the district.
- Aurora has $250 million dollars in unmet capital needs.
Dr. Lisa A. Escárcega– Aurora Public Schools Chief Accountability and Resource Officer
- ELL students face unique challenges:
- Socio-cultural—acculturation is a challenging process for both the school and the student.
- Part of the challenge is that ELL is such a varied group.
- Economic challenges—correlation between second language learning and free and reduced lunch: 75% of ELL students qualify for free and reduced lunch.
- Academic challenges—taking student with little to no English, and get them to access content, while also teaching them English; and further challenges to keep them from losing what knowledge they come to school with.
- Once an ELL student is enrolled in a district, they receive only two years of ELPA funding from the state, but research consistently says that it takes at least 4-7 years for a student to reach English proficiency.
- There is a “large and significant” achievement gap between ELL students and English speakers, and this gap tends to widen as students get older. This gap can be attributed to the lack of successful ELL programs. District would like to improve quality of existing ELL programs and they already have components of these programs present, but a quality program requires evaluation to implement necessary changes over time; however, the lack of funding has prohibited such improvements to already existing programs.
- The current funding levels are not sufficient to close the achievement gap.
Lucinda Hundley—former Superintendent of Student Support Services in Littleton; Special Education expert
- Insufficient funding for special education in CO. In 2010 17% of SpEd costs came from the state, 14% percent from the Federal level, which leaves 70% for the local share. The net effect of this has been to take money from the school’s general fund to back fill money for special education.
- “I think there’s a flaw when you build a system based on the money available, not based on actual need.”
- Not meeting AYP targets for students with disabilities, but they could improve achievement with more resources.
- Any law that impacts students also impacts Special Education students.
- Cannot refuse to provide special education services based on lack of resources.
- School districts are the “payer of last resort.”
- Current special education is “tremendously underfunded.”