This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at ckbe.at/newsletters
Tammy Johnson oversees special education services in five rural school districts in southwest Colorado as the executive director of the Uncompahgre Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
And she also puts in time as a preschool special education teacher — doing assessments, writing student education plans, supervising classroom aides — because there’s no one else to do the job.
Administrators in the districts she serves “know that I’m not available in my office to put out fires now that I have to leave my office to work in Norwood with preschool kids,” she said.
A long overdue boost to Colorado special education funding is buying Johnson some relief soon. By pooling their share of new state funding, the UnBOCES and the five school districts plan to hire an experienced preschool special education teacher at $56,000 a year.
“And oh my gosh, we might be able to pay our folks a little salary increase, enough for them to stay,” Johnson said.
The additional funding comes from the 2023-24 state budget and a related special education funding bill and enables Colorado to meet funding commitments it made in 2006 but never honored.
The formula developed back then proposed that school districts get $1,250 for every student with an individualized education plan and another $6,000 for students whose needs cost more to meet, such as students with autism or specific learning disabilities, students who are deaf or blind, those with traumatic brain injuries or who have significant emotional disabilities.
But instead of meeting that obligation, Colorado lawmakers essentially funded special education out of budgetary leftovers. As recently as 2018, Colorado was paying school districts less than a third of what lawmakers had promised for special education students.