Colorado schools have certainty on funding for this year, and closer to knowing about testing

Colorado schools now have clarity on funding for the current year and how the state plans to move forward with standardized testing — federal approval notwithstanding.

On Monday, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill that ensures districts receive the funding they were allocated last spring, despite drops in enrollment and other circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law, which took effect immediately, also directed an extra $25 million to rural schools, which can be used to fit their specific needs. Though there are no guidelines for how the money should be used, districts must detail how they spent it to the state Department of Education.

And on Tuesday morning, the Colorado Senate followed the House’s footsteps in passing a bill to restructures how Colorado Measures of Academic Success (or CMAS) tests could be administered this year, sending it on to Polis. He is expected to sign it Tuesday, as his office had a hand in crafting it.

The State Board of Education also supports the measure, but the state would still need to obtain a waiver from federal education officials. If Colorado does, then standardized testing will be limited to one subject per grade level: students in grades fourth, sixth and eighth would take math exams; those in third, fifth and seventh would take English language arts exams. Science and social studies tests would be canceled.

Additionally, CMAS results could not be used for accountability purposes this school year. The Department of Education intends to send a waiver to the federal government as soon as possible, as schools can begin testing on March 22.

Joyce Zurkowski, the state education department’s chief assessment officer called the measure “a reasonable compromise that addresses both the need for statewide data on Colorado student learning during the pandemic to inform the targeting of supports and resources, as well as acknowledges the many competing interests that schools have to meet the academic, emotional and social needs of their students and educators.”

As of last week, the feds had not responded to any of the state waivers that they received so far, Zurkowski added.

School funding stays the same

The school funding bill is typically a routine annual adjustment to money that’s allocated based on enrollment projections and other factors. But because of the pandemic and an unexpected 3.3% drop in statewide public school enrollment, the funding equation was more complex.

“There’s been nothing routine about the last year that we’ve been in and we know schools are doing more than ever to make sure that our kids stay on track,” Democratic Sen. Dominick Moreno said during a broadcast Monday of the bill’s signing. “This was a difficult bill to get right from a policy perspective and it reminded me how messed up our School Finance Act is.”

Before signing the bill, Polis said the money was “in their projected budgets, so it’s good to make sure they can meet those obligations.”

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