Divisions emerged Wednesday on the State Board of Education over how to respond to the federal government’s concerns about the state’s federally required education plan.
The most contentious issue involves how Colorado counts students who opt out of state tests. Students who opt-out aren’t considered part of the total number of test takers.
Federal officials, however, believe those students should be counted; they don’t want them excluded from calculations used to identify schools that need extra help through federal funds.
If the federal government doesn’t approve the state plan and finds Colorado out of compliance, the state could lose millions of dollars in federal funding — including Title I funds that are directed to schools with large numbers of low-income students.
Republican board member Steve Durham suggested there was no point in working to comply with the federal government’s guidance and called the idea that federal funding would be at risk a bluff.
Other board members suggested that there was no point in fighting the federal government and that it might not be a big ask to do as officials suggested.
No decision was made at Wednesday’s meeting. State officials are meeting next week to get more input from a committee that worked on the education plan, and the board will be asked to make a decision at its October meeting.
Staff from Colorado Department of Education told the board the state is allowed to keep its existing system in place for state accountability measures, while creating a separate calculation process to identify schools needing support for the federal government in a different way.
Schools identified under the federal calculation would have to write improvement plans, but state officials would still hold discretion about whether to direct funding to them or not, if they believe the calculations are providing accurate representations of the school’s performance and needs.
State officials also could choose to comply for now and ask for a waiver from the law after the plan is approved. The federal government told the state it would not consider waivers before plans are approved, state officials told the board.
The board could also choose not to change anything, as board member Durham suggested.
Other board members felt differently.
“I would be very worried about placing all of our Title I funds at risk,” said board member Rebecca McClellan, a Democrat.
Democratic board member Val Flores said she was prepared to vote Wednesday in favor of proceeding with creating a federal calculation that complies with federal guidance while keeping state systems intact, calling it “the wise thing to do.”
The board discussed other concerns — including that a full picture of student performance isn’t possible when students don’t test. Another worry is that schools identified as needing extra help under the federal calculations might cause panic for communities where schools might not otherwise be considered in need.
In Colorado, white, higher performing and more affluent students are more likely to opt out of tests. As a result, officials and board members suggested it is more likely that high performing schools that otherwise weren’t identified by the federal calculation would be, and that schools currently identified might not be excluded from the new lists. State education staff are running calculations trying to anticipate how many new schools might be identified or not identified based on opt-outs.