What does ‘at risk’ really mean?
FRISCO – It’s hard to get a free lunch at school, and that’s a bigger problem than you might think.Kids who eat free lunches are considered “at risk” and receive extra state money. Kids who eat reduced-price lunches, fiscally speaking, are just regular kids.Here in the High Country, though, where inflated wages don’t quite match the high cost of living, struggling families might qualify for a reduced-price lunch but make too much money to receive free lunches. Schools then miss out on that extra funding.But the at-risk children are still there, official or not.
This is just one of many problems a group of educators from Eagle, Summit and Lake counties talked about with state legislators at a forum Saturday in Frisco.With state Reps. Dan Gibbs and Andy Kerr and state Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald present, this was a chance for a mass purging of all the frustrations, ideas and solutions brewing in the heads of our school leaders.Overall, the collective feeling was that Colorado has a lot of catching up to do and that politics need to be set aside at the state level.Administrators and teachers vented about standardized testing, No Child Left Behind, inadequate funding and the difficulty in dealing with a rising number of non-English-speaking students. Meanwhile, the legislators listened. They wanted a “state of the union” address, a sense of what the mountain schools are facing and ways they can attack the problems with legislation.For instance, it was agreed that the state needs to change its definition of an at-risk student to make sure families living in high-cost-of-living areas aren’t left in the cold.
This could mean simply expanding the definition to include children on the reduced-price lunch program, or it could mean completely reworking school-funding formulas with a cost-of-living factor.If the definition is changed, one problem will be getting people to apply. It was brought up that Hispanics make up a large part of the at-risk population and that many of them refrain from applying because of their legal status.The at-risk problem could have a legislative answer soon, while other problems seem to create more questions and loom endlessly in the back of an educator’s mind.For instance, there’s the eternal debate of how useful standardized tests are in schools.
The classic arguments came out strong among the educators – tests can be a great tool for accountability and sensing general trends, many people agreed, yet they can distract from and harm a more holistic and fulfilling approach to education, many people said.Tests like CSAP also would be more useful if they were graded more quickly and offered constructive feedback, some said.Another far-reaching question: How do schools deal with difficult standards set by No Child Left Behind without the money to do it? Several board members from the three districts said unfunded mandates are basically breaking the backs of local schools.The biggest, darkest question seemed to be how Colorado can increase the size of the education pie. There simply isn’t enough money to go around without stepping on another district’s toes, and everyone seemed to agree that a major restructuring of the tax system is needed to more effectively fund schools.
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