Editorial: Schools are getting more funding per-pupil, they should keep the best pandemic programs

Estimated read time 4 min read

As Colorado schools face the end of federal pandemic-related funding, they should do everything possible to maintain and expand the most successful projects they launched using almost a $2 billion in one-time funding.

The Denver Post’s Jessica Seaman reported that Aurora Public Schools are doing just that – finding space in the budget to keep summer school programs set up to help kids recover from the learning loss during the school shutdowns of 2020 and 2021.

Denver Public Schools budgeted next year to keep about 10% of the pandemic-funded programs, including $4.4 million for Saturday school, Summer Connections and Generation Teach at certain locations. Another $2.2 million was budgeted for mental health programming.

Unfortunately, DPS did cut a pilot program that provided clinical psychologists to work with students in about a dozen schools who otherwise might have fallen through the cracks despite suffering from trauma and anxiety. In all, Denver schools is trimming 90% of the programs that it had funded with pandemic aid. Many of those projects – like air quality monitoring done to reduce the risk of COVID transmission — need to get axed but if something was moving the needle, helping students and teachers, then DPS should dig deep to find a way to fully fund the program.

Unlike Jefferson County Public Schools, which is projected to run a deficit in the 2024-25 fiscal year, Denver Public Schools’ financial outlook is good. (Jefferson schools officials refused requests from The Denver Post to be transparent about what pandemic-related programs were coming to an end and to discuss the district’s dire budget outlook described in a newsletter from the superintendent).

In Denver, however, general fund revenue increased by $72 million over the last fiscal year. Most of that increase has gone to help offset the cost of teacher raises and increasing pension costs, which DPS reports have grown by 21% since 2022, straining the budget. But enrollment in schools has not dropped as dramatically as feared, thanks in part to refugees from Venezuela and migrants from other parts of South and Central America.

It would be a mistake for Colorado schools to drop critical mental health programs for students next fiscal year simply because the federal pandemic funding expires in September. Especially services that could help the new foreign students.

Something has shifted among Colorado’s students. Driven by irregularities during the pandemic many children and teens are having a harder time navigating social interactions and academic settings. Teachers and principals need more support than ever, and Colorado schools should prioritize funding for programs that show proven results.

Teachers need paraprofessionals in their classrooms more than ever, and students need on-campus counselors.

The budget has been approved for this year, but DPS officials must do the truly hard work of finding ways to move money around to fund the programs piloted during the pandemic with one-time dollars that truly worked.

And this includes using the new policy on school closures to make certain that the district isn’t wasting money keeping tiny, poor-performing schools open when nearby schools have empty classrooms and seats for students and teachers.

Closing schools is never easy, but the sooner Denver shutters schools and redraws attendance boundaries to strategically eliminate both racial and socioeconomic segregation, the faster the district can focus resources on proven programs to help students learn and thrive in this city.

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