More poverty, fewer federal dollars: Suburban Denver schools face hard choices about who gets cut off

By Yesenia Robles and Sam Park, Chalkbeat Colorado

As poverty grows along Denver’s borders, some suburban schools are finding they have fewer resources to serve a changing crop of students.

School districts are seeing areas of concentrated poverty with more schools needing extra resources to address the challenges students face. At the same time, districts are receiving fewer federal dollars meant to help schools provide those services to students from low-income families. Districts can either spread out funds more widely, or narrow the focus to fewer schools and leave some students behind.

Large districts like Aurora, Jeffco, and Cherry Creek are among those grappling with how to serve more schools with higher percentages of students living in poverty.

“It’s a tough place to be in,” said Linda Reyes-Quinonez, Title I director for Jeffco Public Schools, who oversees about $8.7 million in these federal dollars for Colorado’s second-largest district. “Definitely the demographics in Jeffco have changed over the years.”

Through the Title I program, the federal government gives school districts money to help address the effects of poverty.

Schools often pay for family liaisons, social workers, paraprofessionals, more teachers, or coaches for teachers, all to help address achievement gaps, mobility, and higher mental health needs that often come with a higher concentration of poverty in a community.

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But the flow of Title I money isn’t matching up with district needs, partly because the federal government calculates poverty based on census counts of all children living in an area, not on how many students actually show up at schools. And children can enroll in private schools or cross boundary lines for school. Many schools are seeing declining enrollment as families move out, but in some cases, the students who remain are more likely to come from low-income families. Also, Congress in some years has cut funding for Title I.

The Denver school district has escaped the Title I funding squeeze because fewer of its schools qualify for Title I money. But many surrounding school districts face hard choices.