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Rise & Shine: Marketing plays a growing role in Denver schools

EdNewsColorado - 3 hours 33 min ago

School choice

As the city's school choice system evolves, DPS and charter schools are employing marketing specialists to tell their schools' stories. ( Denver Post )

Little Ones

A House panel passed funding increases for kindergarten and preschool, but it's unclear just where the money will go. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Show what you know

The idea of a "competency-based degree" is increasingly popular. ( KUNC )

Stay Fit

Students at Aspen Academy are taking a 90-day fitness challenge. ( 9 News )

Onward and Upward

Peak to Peak Charter School in Boulder has raised funds to provide scholarships for its college-bound seniors. ( Daily Camera )

IRL

9 News spotlights an online learning academy in Douglas County that's expanding its offline programming. ( 9 News )

Cloud Ceilings

Students contributed design ideas for a new school building in Colorado Springs. ( Gazette )

Always on My Mind

Aurora state representatives are concerned about student loan burdens, state testing. ( Aurora Sentinel )

What's in a name?

In Louisiana, providing funding for promising minority students to help boost their IQ scores and get them into gifted programs. ( Hechinger Report )

Categories: Urban School News

Panel passes kindergarten, preschool funding bills, but divisions remain

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 23:18

The House Education Committee on Monday passed two bills intended to increase funding for both preschool and full-day kindergarten, but the discussion highlighted differences over which program should have the highest priority.

House Bill 15-1020, a measure that would increase state financial support of full-day kindergarten, passed 10-1, with only one Republican voting no. But House Bill 15-1024, which would provide more funding for the Colorado Preschool Program, only passed on a 6-5 party-line vote, with majority Democrats on the winning side.

The two issues consumed much of a hearing that lasted more than six hours.

The primary impact of the committee votes is to keep the ideas alive. The real decisions on the two proposals will come much later in the legislative session, when lawmakers wrestle with and finally decide the broader issue of school funding for 2015-16.

The kindergarten proposal would cost $236 million, while the preschool plan adds up to $11.3 million, according to initial estimates by legislative staff.

Republican Rep. Jim Wilson, a retired superintendent from Salida, has made a crusade of increasing kindergarten funding.

The state provides districts with .58 percent of full per-pupil funding for each kindergarten student. “As a state we claim to have a K-12 system. We do not. We have a .58 system,” Wilson told the committee.

A majority of Colorado’s 178 districts offer full-day kindergarten, but they pay for it themselves or, in some cases, charge tuition. “We have a K-12 system only because the districts are footing the bill,” Wilson said, adding that districts spend $207 million on full-day kindergarten.

If the state picked up the tab, districts could use that $207 million for other educational needs, including preschool, he argued.

Three witnesses supported the bill – two school superintendents from Wilson’s district and Bill Jaeger, lobbyist for the Colorado Children’s Campaign, which is a strong supporter of the preschool bill.

Jaeger supported the kindergarten measure but in a nuanced way. “We encourage you to think about a long-term strategy to implement the goals of Rep. Wilson’s bill.”

Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, was the only no vote on the kindergarten bill.

The discussion took a different turn on HB 15-1024, whose funding would allow expansion of the Colorado Preschool Program from 28,360 students to 31,360. The program primarily serves four-year-olds who meet a specific definition of being at-risk. The program is offered both through schools and non-profit groups.

“The funding for this program has not kept pace with the need,” said prime sponsor Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood.

There are a couple of fault lines on this issue, which cropped up during committee discussion.

On one side, Wilson argues that school districts should be able to choose whether to devote state early childhood money to preschool or to full-day kindergarten, depending on their individual needs. A 2014 increase in early childhood funding went into what’s called the eCare program, which allows districts to choose how to spend the money. Some preschool advocates think too much of that money went to kindergarten.

“Why should we think we know better than the educators” in deciding how to use the money, Wilson asked.

Other Republicans are skeptical of the value of preschool and prefer that young children stay at home until kindergarten.

A parade of witnesses from advocacy groups – the Bell Policy Center, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Together Colorado, Mile High Montessori, and others – testified for the bill, while two parents opposed it.

The committee also voted 6-5 (same partisan split) to advance House Bill 15-1001, another Pettersen-sponsored effort that would provide funding to education schools and non-profits to pay for scholarships for early childhood educators who want more training in their field.

Wilson said he’d be interested in amendments that would require scholarship recipients to both finish their degrees and work in the field for two years, and Pettersen said she’d be open to discussing those.

“We look forward to earning your votes,” she said to the committee Republicans.

Panel rejects change in school age requirements

The committee also split 6-5 on House Bill 15-1053, with Democrats voting to kill the bill. The measure would have changed the required age to enroll in school from six to seven and allowed students to leave school at 16 instead of 17.

The bill was sponsored by freshman Rep. Kim Ranson, R-Littleton, who told the committee, “This bill will allow the decision making to rest with the parents rather than the school authorities. … It simply gives parents additional time with the special cases” such as children who aren’t ready for school, illnesses, and family crises.

Ransom said the compulsory attendance ages were seven and 16 as recently as a decade ago.

Three parents testified in favor of the bill, while a representative of the Colorado Education Association opposed it.

Native American tuition bill advances

A bill that would expand resident-rate college tuition to a wider range of Native American students passed House Education on a 6-5 vote, with majority Democrats supporting and Republicans voting no.

To be eligible for the lower rate, students would have to be registered members of one of the 48 tribes with recognized “historic ties” to Colorado. One of the witnesses supporting the bill was Marshall Gover, president of the Oklahoma-based Pawnee Nation. Pawnees once lived in Colorado before white settlement. A long list of other witnesses supported the bill.

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, sponsored a similar bill during the 2014 session. It got all the way through the House but died in the Senate Appropriations Committee late in the session, primarily because of cost issues. The potential cost of House Bill 15-1027 is tough to predict, given that it’s not known how many such students currently attend state colleges and pay out-of-state tuition, nor how many new students might be attracted. (See the best guess by legislative staff in this fiscal note.)

With Republicans now in control of the Senate, the tuition bill may not have good prospects there regardless of financial considerations.

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: What do graduation rates really mean?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 18:40

Last week the Colorado Department of Education released spring’s graduation and drop out numbers. The state saw a slight increase in graduation rates, and for the eighth straight year a decrease in dropout rates. You can read our coverage here, here, and here.

Denver Public Schools was among the school districts who celebrated an uptick. Superintendent Tom Boasberg had this to say:

It’s an enormous positive change for our community to have more students finishing high school, ready to go on to college and career. In today’s economy, it’s actually essential.

But one of Boasberg’s bosses, school board member Barbara O’Brien, cautioned:

A lot of people have worked very hard to increase graduation rates and lower dropout rates. But we have to keep the eye on the prize—students who can do college or career level work without remediation after high school.

That brings us to our question of the week: How complete a picture do you think graduation rates give us about what is happening in schools?

Each week, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Elected board controversy, more on testing and learning time

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 11:10

One of the most divisive issues that came up at Saturday’s mayoral forum was the elected school board proposal. Voters in 37 wards will get the chance to vote on a non-binding resolution asking whether they want an elected school board instead of a mayoral-appointed board. (Here’s a quick take on the history behind the current selection process.)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is against the measure, suggested that it’s a moot point given that new Gov. Bruce Rauner isn’t in favor of the idea, while a bill to change how  board members are chosen hasn’t gained much traction in the Legislature. “I don't think we should actually convince (or) trick people by having a political campaign issue as a way to fixing our schools,” Emanuel said, according to a Tribune story.

The mayor’s challengers all support an elected board. During the forum in the Loop, hosted by the Chicago Women Take Action Alliance, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said an elected school board would bring needed accountability, while Ald. Bob Fioretti said conflict-of-interest issues were “running amok” within the current board. "We all ought to be embarrassed by what we see at CPS at this point,” the alderman said.

2. Major caveats on closing success: Chief Operating Officer Tom Tyrrell resigned his $180,000 position, effective Friday, in order to become the state’s Central Management Services director, according to the Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune. A former Marine colonel, Tyrrell was hired in spring of 2012 to oversee the closing of 50-some elementary schools--the largest mass closure of schools ever. His job was not only to move the children, but to also move massive amounts of furniture and to try to sell off the buildings.  

District officials have declared success. However, only one-third of students enrolled in the new schools designated for them, far less than the 80 percent Tyrell predicted. Also, the district wound up spending $30 million to move materials from the schools and secure the buildings, three times the $8.9 million initial contract. Only one shuttered school building has been sold.

3. Social media law: CPS won’t compel students to give officials their passwords to Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram and any other social media platform, according to an article in DNAinfo. A new state law gives school districts the right to design their own cyber-bullying policies, which could include allowing school administrators to force students to provide their passwords. CPS spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said that CPS’ policy calls on staff to monitor public items on social media, but not to try to access private pages. The district’s policy, she said, takes bullying of any type seriously.

But a downstate Belleville school district already used the new law and forced some students to give up passwords, which has led to numerous inquiries to the American Civil Liberties Union, Illinois chapter spokesman Edwin Yohnka told DNAinfo. Yohnka said the ACLU is troubled by the new law and believes compelling students to give up their passwords crosses the line. In fact, Yohnka said that the ACLU is against any policy that give schools power to punish students for activity outside of school and would rather see that left to parents.

4. Testing, testing: The use--or overuse, in critic’s eyes--of standardized tests has become arguably the biggest controversy in education these days. Testing is one thing that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan refuses to budge on, despite a growing national backlash: Annual standardized tests should remain mandatory under any rewrite of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In an interview on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz breaks down why many teachers feel testing has distorted the learning process and what states and schools could do instead to assess learning. Kamenetz is the author of a recent book “The Test: Why our schools are obsessed with standardized testing--but you don’t have to be.”

5. More on learning time:  Children in high-poverty public schools don’t have access to the extra learning time that students in wealthier schools routinely take advantage of. The latest issue of Voices in Urban Education from The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University tackles learning time from this perspective of equity.

A national cross-section of authors write about using learning time in new ways in schools in poor neighborhoods. Among the programs noted are the TIME Collaborative of the National Center on Time and Learning and the Ford Foundation, through which 39 schools are each adding 300 hours of time to the school year for all students (the equivalent of 50 days for a 6-hour school day).

The authors of one article make a critical point: Children in poor neighborhoods often experience considerable stress in their family life--unstable housing, lack of medical and dental care, community violence and so on--that impacts learning time by making it more likely they will miss class and more difficult for them to concentrate on academics.

In Illinois, education officials have asked for an additional $5 million in fiscal year 2016 for extended learning time activities. This year, the Illinois State Board of Education received 141 applications for learning time grants but only had money for 51 projects. The additional funds would allow ISBE to serve approximately 50 more sites--though sadly, given the state’s fiscal problems, the funds aren’t likely to materialize. Typically these programs are funded with federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers monies; last December programs in Chicago got about half of the state’s share of some $34 million in these federal funds.

The Center on Education Policy also came out with a report on expanded learning time last week.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Neighbors, police concerned about fights near Denver high school

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 10:00

Schools and the City

Bucking national trends, Denver is enrolling more students. And more of them come from middle-income homes. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Violence

School and police officials are concerned about a spike of student fights near East High in Denver. ( Denver Post )

get out of testing free card

A small rural school district was the first to apply for a testing wavier from the state — even if they aren't legal. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Good, but great?

Positive trends in Denver's graduation and drop-out rates continue. But some question how prepared students are for life post-high school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

unfinished business

Jeffco Public Schools isn't sharing the status of a $600,000 project to create a universal data dashboard. ( 9News )

Question of the week

Chalkbeat readers said the state needs to make funding more equitable. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Funding squabbles

Colorado House Republicans are upset that Democrats have killed their school funding bill that had broad support. ( Denver Post )

Decisions, decisions

It's School Choice Week in Colorado. ( KDVR )

By August, Denver Public Schools will have 200 schools, including 53 charters for parents to choose from. That makes marketing a need for school leaders. ( Denver Post )

And school choice options are creating a cutthroat environment, as schools in the Colorado Springs region vie for students and the money that accompanies each filled seat. ( Gazette )

seeing is believing

Students at Monarch High in Boulder are learning everything from cellular function to math equations in 3D. ( Daily Camera )

Out of school context

A Douglas County school board member is defending a school field trip to a mosque. ( Douglas County News Press )

A million chances

A Boulder charter school is setting up a $1 million endowment to pay for college scholarships. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Positive trends in Denver graduation, drop-out rates continue

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 07:00

As Denver Public Schools marked seven consecutive years of improved graduation rates last week, the city’s education community celebrated the gains while stressing that there is still work to be done.

The district’s graduation rate increased from 61.3 percent in 2012-13 to 62.8 percent in 2013-14, and its overall drop-out rate declined from 5 percent to 4.5 percent, according to data released by the Colorado Department of Education last week.

Observers in and out of the district said the numbers are just one part of the story about whether students are being adequately prepared for their post-high school lives. This is especially true in Colorado, where each district sets its own requirements for graduation.

“A lot of people have worked very hard to increase graduation rates and lower dropout rates,” said DPS board member Barbara O’Brien. “But we have to keep the eye on the prize—students who can do college or career level work without remediation after high school.”

But district and state officials touted the improvement. “We know there is still a lot of work to do, but we’re always encouraged when we see growth,” said Judith Martinez, the director of the Colorado Department of Education’s Office of Dropout Prevention and Student Reengagement.

Gains over time

The four-year graduation rate in the state of  Colorado increased this year to 77.3 percent.

In Denver, the portion of students graduating in four years has increased dramatically since since 2006-07, when just 38.7 percent of students who had entered as freshman four years before graduated on time.

That’s neither notably better nor worse than districts with comparable student income levels.

How Colorado calculates its four-year graduation rate:
(Number of students receiving a regular diploma within four years of transitioning from 8th grade during the 2013-14 school year)DIVIDED BY
(Number of students transitioning from 8th grade at the end of the 2009-10 school year plus number of transfers in minus number of verified transfers out)
EQUALS
Four-Year “on-time” Graduation Rate
Note: The state first adopted this formula in 2009-10 after federal requirements for tracking graduation rates changed. It has since calculated the equivalent rate for the 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2008-09 school years.  
Source: Colorado Department of Education

There was significant variation between schools: At North High School, the graduation rate increased more than 12.9 percentage points between 2012-13 and 2013-14, while at Manual High School the graduation rate dropped for the second year in a row, to 57.1 percent from 62 percent, after a turbulent year.

Many of the students who do drop out of school are in the district’s alternative schools, which enroll students who have special needs or who are identified as “high-risk.” Last year, 21.8 percent of alternative school students dropped out, compared to 2.1 percent in non-alternative schools.

Gaps among racial and ethnic groups, males and females, and subgroups of students identified as having special needs lingered. For instance, 73.5 percent Denver’s students who identified as white graduated in four years, compared to just 39.5 percent of American Indian students. (See charts for more detail.) 

At a time when the district’s high-income population is growing faster than the number of low-income students, low-income students still graduate at a lower rate than their peers: 56.9 percent of economically disadvantaged students graduated on time.

Kate Neal, the director of programs and evaluations for Colorado Youth for a Change, an organization focused on dropout prevention and recovery, said that this mirrored trends in the rest of the state.

She said Denver’s improvements were tied partly to several recent district and community efforts. One is a program that identifies students on the verge of dropping out before they leave school, created with Colorado Youth for a Change. Another is the growth of credit recovery programs, which allow students who don’t have the credits they need to graduate to catch up on coursework quickly.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg attributed the improvement to the work of the district’s teachers, principals, and guidance counselors.

Searching for meaning A sign on the wall at North High School in Denver. North’s graduation rate was this year’s “most-improved” in DPS.

Colorado is the only state that has no state-level set of graduation requirements, other than that all students must take a civics course.

Van Schoales, the director of A+ Denver, a research and advocacy nonprofit, said that means it’s not always clear that earning a diploma signifies that a student has gotten a strong education. “We need to make sure diplomas are actually meaningful,” he said.

DPS students in public Colorado colleges and universities are more likely than their peers in the rest of the state to require remedial courses, according to the Colorado Department of Higher Education. But that number dropped significantly between 2009 and 2012.

Nicole Veltze, the principal at North High School, said that her school had been encouraging students to take more or more rigorous courses than current DPS currently requires.

“Over the last few years, we’ve increased our expectations for students above and beyond the DPS requirements,” she said. “We expect our students to graduate without needing remediation.”

Meanwhile, holders of high school diplomas still fare better in the job market than those without a diploma.

“It’s an enormous positive change for our community to have more students finishing high school, ready to go on to college and career,” Boasberg said at a press event at North High School on Thursday. “In today’s economy, it’s actually essential.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rural Merino district first to formally seek testing waiver

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 19:15

The 315-student Merino School District in northeastern Colorado is the first to formally seek a waiver from some state testing, following up on an “offer” made earlier this month by the State Board of Education.

Superintendent Rob Sanders, at the Capitol earlier this week to testify at a hearing, told Chalkbeat Colorado that he’d dropped the paperwork off at the Department of Education. A CDE spokeswoman said Merino’s was the first waiver request received.

“We realize you were told by Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tony Dyl, that you do not have the authority to pass this kind of motion,” read a letter from the Merino school board that accompanied the resolution seeking the waiver. “We also understand the Commissioner of Education is consulting with the Attorney General’s Office to determine the legality of the directive. Yet, the burden of these tests and the negative impact they are having on our ability to set educational standards and priorities to meet the needs of the students and to provide opportunities for innovation and creativity mean we cannot wait any longer.”

On Jan. 8, the State Board voted 4-3 to direct the commissioner of education to grant waivers to districts that want to opt out of the first part of the state’s language arts and math tests that will be given this spring (see story). Unlike past exams, the new tests will be given in two parts, the second near the end of the school year. The State Board resolution offers a waiver from the first part.

The attorney general’s office has advised CDE that such waivers aren’t legally permitted, but a formal opinion is being prepared. Education Commissioner Robert Hammond has said he won’t act on any waiver requests until he has a formal opinion from the attorney general.

A split Jefferson County school board voted on Jan. 15 to seek a waiver (see story). But it hasn’t been filed yet.

After the State Board’s vote, a group called the Rural Alliance drafted a letter supporting the board’s action and prepared a model resolution that school boards could use for submission to the department. The alliance is a coalition of small districts around the state. The Merino board’s resolution follows the language of the model resolution.

The Merino schools are southeast of Sterling. The district also is known as Buffalo. The interchangeable use of the two names is a holdover from a long-ago consolidation.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: How one state is putting teachers in charge of their evaluations

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 17:47
  • Wisconsin wants instructors to take a larger role in developing the state’s teacher evaluation tool by asking them to decide how much students should be expected to learn, and how that growth should be measured. (Hechinger Report)
  • If schools want to improve student achievement, they must racially integrate their classrooms. (Huffington Post)
  • Or they should just let teachers run them. (Washington Post)
  • Some students should experience the benefit of touch. (Atlantic)
  • New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña made her most substantial changes to the district’s bureaucracy this week. (Chalkbeat New York)
  • Author of the new book “The Test” answers questions about the future of standardized testing in the U.S. (NPR Ed)
  • Vox explains No Child Left Behind, including what’s next. (Vox)
  • ICYMI: Here’s what President Obama had to say regarding education issues during the State of the Union. (EdWeek)
  • U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan live tweeted during the president’s #SOTU. (ed.gov)
  • To improve student discipline, change teacher behavior. (Slate)
Categories: Urban School News

Readers: For equitable results, give schools equitable funding

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 17:35

On Tuesday, we asked our readers “How can Colorado schools become more equitable?”

The most common response: If you want equitable results give schools equitable funding.

Before we see what our readers had to say, I asked our capitol editor and school funding expert to explain how schools here are funded. Here’s what he had to say:

Colorado schools are funded through a complicated formula that weights cost of living for district staff, district size, percentage of at-risk students and other factors to determine different per-pupil funding amounts for each district. Some critics feel the current system doesn’t adequately pay the true costs of educating at-risk and minority students or English language leaders, especially in districts where such students are concentrated.

And some observers feel funding is further distorted because some districts — often larger, wealthier ones — have additional revenues from extra property taxes approved by local voters, in addition to money provided by the state formula. Some poorer, smaller districts haven’t been able to raise such revenues.

That maybe why Mark Sass, a teacher and occasional First Person contributor put it plainly in our comment section:

Allocate funds based on academic need versus the current per pupil allocation.

Former State Board of Education member Ed Lyell went a little more in-depth:

Declare the total state one valuation district. Eliminate the school district boundaries in terms of property values, mill levies, and funding.  This would cause Aspen to help fund Antonito, etc.

It is archaic to even have local districts in terms of funding since the state is the primary source of funding of all schools. Up to the 1970’s local property tax paid over 60% of school funding. Now local property tax is less than 40%, and near 0 in some areas.

On another note, Chalkbeat reader Gwendolyn Eden suggested on Twitter the — very unlikely — idea of closing private schools. She got an idea from this 2012 Gawker article.

@ChalkbeatCO Close all private schools. http://t.co/d4o78WGOx0 @WarrenBuffett

— Gwendolyn Eden (@gwennebrask) January 21, 2015

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter.

Categories: Urban School News

Comings & Goings: Foley, Hilsabeck, DeClemente, Shah, Papineau

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 16:08

Karen G. Foley has been appointed president and CEO of Juvenile Protective Association. JPA, founded in 1901 by Jane Addams, works with and on behalf of children and families in some of Chicago’s most challenging neighborhoods. Prior to joining JPA, Karen served as president and CEO for The Hope Institute, president of Chicago Scholars, and executive vice president and head of global marketing at CNA.

Alison Hilsabeck has been named provost of National Louis University with responsibility for the National College of Education and the college of professional studies and advancement, as well as all departments that support students’ academic, professional and personal goals. She previously served at NLU’s college of education as associate dean, dean, and executive dean, and was vice provost for academic programs.

CPS has created four manager positions for the Office of Student Health and Wellness. Tarrah DeClemente is the new manager of student wellness, Sujata Shah will serve as manager of student health, and Kenneth Papineau will be the manager of vision and screening. The manager of PE and health education position is yet to be filled.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones: vjones@catalyst-chicago.org

Categories: Urban School News

As Denver Public Schools enrollment booms, poverty rate drops

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 10:00

The flock of construction cranes downtown and in Cherry Creek, rising rents and new businesses across the city are often cited as signs that Denver is booming. More people are moving to the city. Denver looks different now than it did 20, 10, or even five years ago.

Want more evidence of change? Look at who’s attending Denver Public Schools.

In a sharp reversal from the recent past, the number of DPS students from higher-income families is growing faster than the number from lower-income families.

The percentage of students from low-income families has been shrinking incrementally for three years now. And DPS and state officials are projecting that the new trend is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Neighborhoods like Stapleton and River North are gentrifying, and more middle-class families are staying in the public school system. There’s also evidence that more families are moving out of poverty as the Great Recession recedes.

But some of the forces at work are more surprising: State and local officials point to the longer-term changes in who attends public schools wrought by the shrinking economy, the steady improvement in the district’s reputation and academic track record, and even a state-funded contraceptive program.

A confluence of trends

DPS is growing more quickly than any other school district in the state. In 2000, the district enrolled 70,955 students; this year, it had 90,150. For most of that time, both the number and percentage of the district’s students who lived near or at the poverty line—$23,850 per year for a family of four in 2014—were increasing at a steady pace.

School systems often use families’ eligibility for federally-subsidized meals as a means of tracking poverty. Families with an income that is 130 percent of the poverty rate are eligible for free lunch. Those whose income is 185 percent that rate are eligible for reduced-price lunch.

In 2000, 61 percent of Denver students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. By 2011, that had increased to 73.6 percent.

But the 2011-12 school year marked a turning point. Since then, the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch has been dropping, to 72.2 percent in 2012-13, 72.1 percent in 13-14, and 69.7 percent this year.

The percent of students eligible for free lunch dropped more quickly, from 66 percent in 2012 to 65 percent in 2013 and 62 percent in 2014.

Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, the real number of students eligible for free-and reduced-price lunch combined increased slightly, by some 150 students. The number of students eligible for free lunch declined for the first time in years.

Citywide, the total number of people in poverty increased from 2008 to 2010, said Elizabeth Garner, Colorado’s State Demographer. “But overall, things are definitely improving since 2010.”

That lines up with statewide trends: The poverty rate in Colorado schools overall decreased from 41.9 percent last school year to 41.6 percent in 2014-15.

But both state and city are bucking national trends. According to a report released earlier this month by the Southern Education Foundation, the number of low-income students in the country’s public schools has increased in recent years, to 51 percent in 2013.

Changing numbers

Garner said that while the total population under 18 in Denver dropped between 2008 and 2013, more residents now are sending their children to the Denver school district.

“Our capture rate of middle-class families is going up,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said. Before, he said, more families were transferring to nearby suburban districts or opting into private schools. “Especially in middle school, the quality and reputation of our schools has gone way up.”

The trend has not been evenly spread throughout the city, however. Gentrification in certain neighborhoods has had a major effect, Boasberg said.

Still, Boasberg said that he hoped that the declining poverty rate would allow for increased socioeconomic diversity in Denver schools. “I think the more diverse we are as a district, that helps us in our efforts to have greater diversity in our individual schools.”

State and district officials said that the simultaneous reduction in free-lunch eligible families and increase in reduced-lunch eligible families indicate that some families are moving out of poverty as the economy recovers from the Great Recession.

But Garner said the recession led to a web of other changes. For one, more than 10,000 of the city’s foreign-born residents left the city between 2008 and 2013 as the economy bottomed out. She said there were also fewer low-income Hispanic residents in 2013 than in 2008.

Garner said that the gloomy economy may also have helped spur more affluent citizens to send their children to the public schools. “Some people who could previously afford private schools were now choosing to send their children to public schools.”

“That will push down the share of people in poverty or the share who are eligible for free and reduced lunch, because you’re adding people on the higher end,” Garner said.

Another wrinkle: The state demographer said there has been a decline in the number of children aged 0-5, partly due to the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a state program that funded contraceptive devices for women. That program is credited with lowering Colorado’s birthrate by 40 percent over five years.

Garner said the steepest drops in birthrate were among women under 20, who, she said, are more likely to live in poverty. Children in that age group are not yet in school, but could be part of projections that lower-income regions will see fewer students in school.

Budget, academic implications

The changing demographic may eventually be reflected in academic performance in some of the city’s schools: Often, students from higher income brackets score better on standardized tests.

The change will also have funding implications for Denver schools. School districts receive state and federal funds to support low-income students.

Mark Ferrandino, the district’s chief financial officer, told the DPS board last week that the district is projecting a decrease in the revenue it gets from Title I—a pot of federal money targeted at high-needs schools—as both Colorado and Denver have a smaller percentage of at-risk students than in the past.

Ferrandino said the district would make cuts to central office programs to avoid affecting school budgets.

“The reason why the state and federal governments tie funding to free and reduced-price lunch is that there are often higher needs for those kids,” Ferrandino said.

“Relatively, from a budgetary perspective, it means less money coming in,” he said. “But from an overall societal perspective, it’s good news.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Senate panel kills proposed tuition cap

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 09:56

Inside 2014 graduation rates

The percentage of Colorado high school students who graduated on time rose to 77.3 percent in 2014, a nearly 5 percentage-point increase since 2010. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Some key stats in the graduation rates are illustrated in five graphics. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

More on grad rates

Districts along the Front Range take a look at their graduation and dropout rates. ( Gazette, Chieftain, Daily Camera, Denver Post, CBS Denver )

No go at Capitol

A bare, 5-4 majority of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday killed a measure that would have set a 6 percent cap on annual tuition increases by state colleges and universities. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Preschool funding

When it comes to trends in state preschool funding, Colorado runs with the pack. It was one of 28 states (and the District of Columbia) to increase preschool funding from 2013-14 to this year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Impact of creativity

A study finds arts programs can help struggling schools like Denver's Noel Community Arts School. ( 9News )

Serving special kids

A Chaffee County school has received special approval from the Department of Education for its autism program. ( Chaffee County Times )

Looking to grow

A tiny school in the mountain town of Rico hopes to gain new students from its growing neighbor. ( Telluride Daily Planet )

Commentary

A guest columnist argues that all Colorado families need greater access to charter schools. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado’s high school graduation rates in five graphs

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 22:22

The Colorado Department of Education today released graduation, completion, and dropout rates for the state’s high schools. Overall, the graduation rate, or students who complete high school in four years, is up.

The state’s dropout rate also dipped for the eight consecutive year, albeit by just 0.1 percentage points. That’s about 120 fewer dropouts statewide than in 2013.

You can read more about the trends here. Or you can look at these snazzy charts. A note, this analysis is our first stab

Colorado graduation rate by gender, race

As expected, high school girls graduated at a higher rate than boys, though boys are closing that gap slightly by about 1 percentage point. Meanwhile, white students graduated at a higher rate than either black or Latino students.

The big 15

Changes in graduation rates among the state’s largest 15 school districts were mixed. Aurora Public Schools and Colorado Springs District 11 saw the largest gains with 3 percentage points each. Meanwhile, the Falcon school district saw the largest drop, 24 percentage points.

The big 15’s gaps

Achievement gaps between students of color and their white peers vary among Colorado’s 15 largest school districts. It’s clear that some school districts –Mesa (Grand Junction), Aurora, and Cherry Creek, for example —  do a better job of graduating black students, while school districts like Colorado Springs District 11, Greeley, and Pueblo do a better job of graduating Latino students.

Graduation rates — mostly up — at state’s struggling schools

More students graduated last year from seven of the 10 school districts on the state’s accountability watch list. That’s good news for the students and the school districts that are at risk of losing their accreditation. While the state mostly judges schools on how much students learn year to year, graduation rate is a critical factor. It’s unknown whether the boosts, especially in Sheridan, will be enough to stave off state intervention.

Some poorer districts graduating more students than others

Denver Public Schools has nearly doubled its graduation rate since 2006. But it still has a long way to go to catch up to the state’s average — and to get bragging rights on Colorado districts with similar demographics. Here’s a look at some of the state’s largest and poorest school districts’ graduation rates.

Categories: Urban School News

Senate panel not persuaded, kills tuition cap bill

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 21:12

A bare, 5-4 majority of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday killed a measure that would have set a 6 percent cap on annual tuition increases by state colleges and universities.

Although Senate Bill 15-062 was sponsored by the panel’s senior Democrat, Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, and all five committee Republicans voted against it, the nearly two hours of discussion really weren’t partisan.

Rather, committee members of both parties complained about the bind created by state underfunding of higher education – which has driven rising tuition – and the legislature’s inability to do much about it.

The bill would have indefinitely capped annual resident undergraduate tuition increases at 6 percent, although colleges could have applied for waivers in years when the legislature didn’t increase higher education funding by at least the rate of inflation.

Kerr said tuition increases were one of the issues he heard about most frequently while campaigning for reelection last year.

State colleges and universities took substantial reductions in state support after the 2008 recession shrank state revenues. In compensation, lawmakers gave colleges the flexibility to raise tuition by up to 9 percent a year – or at a higher rate if approved by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

With revenues improving, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Kerr last session won a $100 million increase in higher education funding – along with a 6 percent cap on increases for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 budget years.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing a similar bump for higher education in the next budget year, but there are widespread concerns those sorts of increases won’t continue for long.

Citing other future demands on the state budget, Department of Higher Education lobbyist Kachina Weaver told the committee, “It’s extremely unlikely that we’re going to continue those kinds of funding levels” in the future.

Given that, committee Republicans were reluctant to limit colleges’ options to respond to variations in state support. “It seems to me we need to give some flexibility to higher education,” said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs and chair of the committee.

“I think we should be very careful about capping their options,” said Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker.

The whole conversation seemed to depress Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver. After a discussion about how little support higher education receives in the context of all college and university revenue, he said, “We’re actually far worse off than we thought we were. … This sort of blew my mind, this conversation.”

Tuition is by no means a dead issue. The cap on increases could resurface this session, and if that doesn’t happen the 2016 session will face the issue. The current 6 percent cap will expire for 2016-17, and a higher education department  study on what drives college costs is due at the end of the this year, giving lawmakers fresh food for thought in 2016.

Postscript: Despite the thoughtful tone of the hearing itself, the Senate Democratic Caucus couldn’t resist taking a jab at Republicans in an emailed news release that went out shortly after the vote.

“Republicans in the Senate Education Committee rejected the bill today on a partisan vote, meaning the already heavy burdens of tuition and student loan debt on Colorado students and families will continue to escalate,” read the release. Such news releases are a common tactic used by both parties after committee and floor votes.

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Many states, including Colorado, increase preschool funding

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 20:07

When it comes to trends in state preschool funding, Colorado runs with the pack. It was one of 28 states (and the District of Columbia) to increase preschool funding from 2013-14 to this year, according to a new report published by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

Colorado’s 3.2 percent bump in funding for the Colorado Preschool Program is modest compared to expansions in California (79 percent) and Michigan (37 percent). Both states spent at least double what Colorado does even before their double-digit increases.

Still, Colorado’s $82.6 million preschool outlay is larger than in some states that posted big spending gains. For example, South Carolina increased preschool funding by 51 percent this year, but still spends a few million less annually than Colorado.

Bucking national trends around expanding publicly-funded preschool, several states decreased funding this year, including Tennessee, Florida, Maine, Nevada and Oklahoma. In addition, a half-dozen mostly western states don’t provide any public funds for  preschool. These include Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and New Hampshire.

Along with side-by-side comparisons of states’ preschool spending, the report highlights the bipartisan appeal of publicly-funded preschool. Of the 44 states with such programs, 25 have Republican governors and 19 have Democratic governors.

Categories: Urban School News

State high school graduation rate rises to 77.3 percent

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 13:42

The percentage of Colorado high school students who graduated on-time rose to 77.3 percent in 2014, a nearly 5 percentage-point increase since 2010, the Colorado Department of Education reported Thursday.

The graduation rate for 2013 was 76.9 percent.

The high school completion rate was 79.5 percent for 2014. The graduation rate includes students who got their diplomas within four years of entering high school from the 8th grade. The completion rate includes students who received GEDs or “non-diploma” completion certificates.

The department also reported the state’s dropout rate was 2.4 percent in 2014, a small dip from 2013’s 2.5 percent. That represents 118 fewer dropouts. The dropout rate was heavily influenced by students who left alternative high schools. Their dropout rate was 10 times that of non-alternative students — 16.7 percent compared to 1.6 percent.

Find your school’s 2014 graduation rate
Click here to peruse Chalkbeat’s database of 2014 graduation rates

“There is cause for optimism in these steadily improving results,” said Rebecca Holmes, associate commissioner for innovation, choice and engagement. “Many districts are doing remarkable work to move more and more students toward readiness for the day after high school graduation, even if that means giving them more than four years to get there. However, in our state as a whole the gaps based on race, ethnicity and income level are still concerning.”

The 2014 graduation statistics show gaps among different groups of students, gaps similar to those seen on test scores and other education statistics.

Here are the on-time graduation rates by gender and ethnic group:

  • Female – 81 percent
  • Male – 73.7 percent
  • American Indian – 60.7 percent
  • Asian – 84.7 percent
  • Black – 69 percent
  • Hispanic – 66.7 percent
  • White – 83.2 percent
  • Two or more races – 79.7 percent

There also were lower graduation rates for groups of students with a variety of academic challenges:

  • Students with disabilities – 54.6 percent
  • Limited English proficiency – 58.7 percent
  • Free/reduced-price lunch eligible – 64.2 percent
  • Title I students – 52.4 percent
  • Gifted/Talented – 92.2 percent

Graduation rates among school districts also vary widely, usually based on the ethnic and socio-economic compositions of their student bodies. In a few cases district rates fluctuate significantly from year to year. For instance, the Falcon district’s rate dropped from 89.8 percent in 2013 to 64.5 percent last year. The district added a new school for 2014 – the online Goal Academy whose 756 students had only a 31.5 percent graduation rate, helping to drop the district’s average.

Of the state’s districts and local education agencies, 126, or 71 percent, had graduation rates of 80 percent or higher, a key state benchmark.

Here’s a look at graduation rates for some key districts. The 2013 rate is listed in parenthesis.

The 15 largest districts
  • Adams 12-Five Star – 73.9 percent (73.7 percent)
  • Academy – 89.8 percent (91.3 percent)
  • Aurora – 55.9 percent (52.6 percent)
  • Boulder – 91.8 percent (90.9 percent)
  • Cherry Creek – 86.6 percent (87.3 percent)
  • Colorado Springs 11 – 68.2 percent (66 percent)
  • Denver – 62.8 percent (61.2 percent)
  • Douglas – 88.9 percent (88.7 percent)
  • Falcon – 64.5 percent (89.8 percent)
  • Greeley – 77.8 percent (79.9 percent)
  • Jefferson – 82.9 percent (81.4 percent)
  • Mesa 51 – 77.2 percent (77.5 percent)
  • Poudre – 81.7 percent (84 percent)
  • Pueblo 60 – 71.9 percent (70 percent)
  • St. Vrain – 83 percent (82.9 percent)
Other districts of interest
  • Adams 14 – 65.9 percent (59.3 percent)
  • Brighton – 79.8 percent (79.2 percent)
  • Englewood – 49.6 percent (55 percent)
  • Littleton – 90.7 percent (92.1 percent)
  • Mapleton – 52.2 percent (47.8 percent)
  • Sheridan – 60.2 percent (40.1 percent)
  • Thompson – 74.5 percent (77.6 percent)
  • Westminster – 57.1 percent (63.9 percent)
Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: LEARN charter opposed, displaced students, NYC centralizing power

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 08:22

More than a thousand people have signed a petition to keep a LEARN Charter School branch from opening in south suburban Chicago Heights, where the network has proposed to open a K-8 elementary school this September. It would be LEARN’s ninth campus, and its second suburban location. The Chicago-based network first expanded to North Chicago, a low-income suburb of Waukegan, in 2012.

“Until charter schools have a proven track record of being successful, I am not willing to support them,” commented one petitioner. LEARN’s website does boast higher ISAT scores than its peers. As you will remember, LEARN is the charter network that started in North Lawndale and, in 2010, won $1 million from Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network. The network is hoping for a victory after its bid to open a school in Waukegan was rejected earlier this month.

Opening in Chicago Heights would contribute to a national and statewide trend of charters expanding into suburban areas. Today Illinois is home to 148 charter schools, but the vast majority, 134, are in Chicago.

2. Speaking of charters.... An op-ed in Forbes magazine written by an economist for Moody Analytics argues that the prevalent narrative about charter schools is wrong. Adam Ozimek correctly says that most people summarize the studies on charter schools by saying that they are no better and no worse than nearby schools. Instead, he says the conventional wisdom should be that “some charter schools appear to do very well, and on average charters do better at educating poor students and black students.” Ozimek cites the 2013 Center for Research on Education Outcomes study that says: “Black students in poverty who attend charter schools gain an additional 29 days of learning in reading and 36 days in math per year over their [traditional public school] counterparts. This shows the impact of charter schooling is especially beneficial for black students who in poverty.”

The debate isn't likely to die, however. Charter school critics question whether there are other factors that separate poor black students at charter schools from those in traditional schools, such as family involvement and ability to get them into the charter school. Further, they point out that many charter schools have highly disciplined environments that often push students out and perhaps leave those who are better performing.

3. More on displaced students… The Consortium on Chicago School Research’s big study on students displaced by last year's closings doesn’t say much that has not already been said about closings. Still, the study is a major deal because Mayor Emanuel is defending the closings as he runs to keep his job. Also, the decision is a defining part of his legacy and Chicago’s history. The Chicago Tribune dealt with it through an editorial. They note that as they interview aldermanic candidates for potential endorsements, many of them are still angry about the closings, something the editorial says is understandable. But according to their assessment, the study shows the results were mixed if not good. The best thing, according to the Tribune, is that one-fifth of students made it to top-rated schools--a "glass half-full" view. Yet they note one of the biggest problems pointed out by the study: Parents did not feel like they had enough time to do research and find the best school for their children.

Though the story is more nuanced, the Sun Times headline is a coup for Emanuel: “Most CPS students whose schools closed switched to better schools: report." In it, Todd Babbitz, one of the architects of the closings, said the findings were affirming “that we succeeded in sending the vast, vast majority of those students to schools that were more highly rated.”

Declaring success or failure based just on this study is premature, though. The Consortium has not had a chance to study how students fared once they got to their new schools. One early indication of problems is that six welcoming schools would have had their ratings plummet had CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett not used her authority to grant them higher ratings. One of them, Leland in Austin, would have gone from a top-rated schools to one of the lowest-rated in the district.

4. Retaking power in NYC… New York City Chancellor Carmen Farina is getting ready to re-establish the power of the central office, according to a New York Times story. By doing so, she will be reversing moves made by former chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who sought to give principals more freedom and make the central office more of a service center for schools. According to the article, studies on Klein’s network system showed that it cut spending in central office by 22 percent, but also that some networks were less effective than others.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio and Farina say they believe this system left the struggling schools with too little supervision. Also, because all schools were doing their own thing, it was hard to get a quick answer to questions about schools.

Of course, under Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett, CPS’ power structure is fashioned more like Klein’s and Bloomberg’s. However, Chicago principals complain that they have little autonomy. As the New York Times article describes, New York, like other big urban school districts, has tried many structures as the pendulum of power swings from being centralized to being nested in the schools.

5. Student privacy concerns … Apart from remarking on improved high school graduation rates and test scores, President Barack Obama largely stayed away from issues related to K-12 education during his State of the Union address on Tuesday. He did, however, reiterate an earlier call for legislation to protect students’ online information in order to ensure it’s not sold to schools or used for targeted ads. The issue has been gaining importance as school districts across the country -- including Chicago -- increasingly turn to online learning tools to supplement classroom learning.

In a story about how local parents and educators are dealing with student privacy concerns, the Chicago Tribune explains that because some of these tools require “teachers or students to enter all sorts of data — from names to grades to personality traits — thus raising questions that educators had not faced before: Will information a teacher or child shares stay available in cyberspace with the potential to be brought up years later by college admissions officers or employers?”

Education Week wrote about other educational issues touched on by the president, including  his proposals for free community college and tripling an existing $1,000 per child care tax credit for working families -- and the reaction from key lawmakers. Republican Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate education committee, “noted the lack of attention to ‘fixing No Child Left Behind’ in the speech, and said that most of the education proposals had no chance of becoming law.”

 




Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Cuomo proposes broad overhaul of NY education policy

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 07:35

Own your learning

Aurora Public Schools has a new guiding strategic document, but the inner-ring suburban district is betting student academic plans will help stop the accountability clock. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Cops and kids

Denver high school students say ongoing dialogue with police is leading to smoother relations six weeks after a series of walkouts focused on fatal police shootings of unarmed black men elsewhere in the U.S. ( 9News )

Contract talks

The Boulder Valley School District on Wednesday started a round of collaborative negotiations toward a new contract with the teacher union, the Boulder Valley Education Association. ( Boulder Daily Camera )

Bye-bye bill

A bill that would have funneled end-of-year state surpluses into special accounts for K-12 and higher education was killed Wednesday by majority Democrats on the House Finance Committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Free meals for all

Harrison School District 2, one of the Pikes Peak region's most impoverished school districts leads the state in the number of students eating free meals through a federal program that started last fall. ( The Gazette )

Testing tested

After a long stretch as the law of the land, annual standardized tests are being put to, well, the test. ( KUNC/NPR )

Reupping on reform

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to push for a broad overhaul of state education policy on Wednesday, which will include raising the state’s cap on charter schools, increasing the state’s role in teacher evaluations, and lengthening the time it takes for teachers to earn tenure. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Categories: Urban School News

After closings, 1 in 5 children land at top-rated schools: report

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 01:01

More than 90 percent of students displaced by the mass school closings in 2013 went to higher-rated schools, but less than one-fifth went to the top-rated schools, according to a Consortium on Chicago School Research report released today.

The distinction between the two categories--better performing and top performing--is important. The Consortium’s much-cited 2009 study on past school closings found that only those students who landed at top schools after a closing experienced substantial academic improvement. Students who went to schools that were only somewhat better didn't improve much academically.

The new study is the first major report on the historic closings of some 50 schools, an action that displaced more than 11,000 students. The authors call the fact that few students went to top-performing schools "problematic." However, Consortium researcher Marisa de la Torre said that nothing will really be known about how the closings affected the performance of individual students until future studies are done.

CPS officials promised that schools designated to take in displaced children would be better than those that were shuttered. However, as has been reported, some of the designated schools were only marginally better, and many of the children went to other schools: Only one-third of students actually enrolled in their welcoming school.

The researchers judged schools based on their ratings under a district system that uses multiple factors, including attendance and test score improvement. The year after the closings, some of the schools saw a significant drop in their district ratings and performance on standardized tests.

For the 2009 study, however, researchers judged schools based only on test scores. De la Torre said that researchers decided to use the district ratings for the new study because that is the system CPS uses.

The new report found that if all students had gone to their designated welcoming school, more children—27 percent compared to 20 percent--would have landed at top schools and fewer at the worst schools. Surprisingly, children assigned to low-rated welcoming schools were more likely to attend them, compared to children assigned to highly-rated schools.

To determine why, the Consortium interviewed parents from closed schools about their priorities when choosing a new school. “What we found is that all parents really want the same thing,” said researcher Molly Gordon.

The answer researchers got echoed what parents said repeatedly at the public hearings on the closings: The No. 1 factor in school choice was proximity.

West Side activist Dwayne Truss said that the decisions involve matters beyond just convenience. He noted that in North Lawndale, in particular, many of the welcoming schools didn’t make sense for parents because they were far away or in areas that parents considered different neighborhoods.

Safety was also found to be a consideration. Parents did consider the quality of the school, but researchers found that parents' definition differed from the district's. For example, the parents looked for small class sizes, good communication and things like after-school programs.

The study will be discussed at an event Thursday evening at the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts.  The event will include a screening of a documentary on the closings.

Categories: Urban School News

GOP education funding bill makes early exit

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 23:54

A bill that would have funneled end-of-year state surpluses into special accounts for K-12 and higher education was killed Wednesday by majority Democrats on the House Finance Committee.

But the 6-5 vote didn’t come until after those Democrats went to substantial lengths to compliment the GOP sponsor and stress their support for improved school funding.

House Bill 15-1058 would have put 70 percent of what’s called the annual general fund surplus in the State Education Fund and 30 percent into a higher education account. The surplus – the amount can vary widely year to year – is what’s left over after the state pays its bills, the legislature makes mid-year budget adjustments, and the state controller balances the books every year.

The K-12 transfers would have continued until the negative factor – the state’s $890 million school funding shortfall – had been eliminated.

Comparing the negative factor to an unpaid credit card balance, sponsor Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, said, “Until we get that credit card paid off … this is the responsible way to use the surplus. … We have a very large debt to K-12 education.”

He and other Republicans called it a first step toward broader and more permanent improvements in school funding. “We can’t do everything at once,” noted Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County.

Questioned by a fellow Republican, Becker acknowledged it was hard to estimate how much money the bill would raise. “This could be as much as $45 million for this year and as little as $20 million.”

Democratic committee members voiced plenty of objections: lawmakers can do this already if they want, the bill would limit the flexibility of future legislatures, and a bigger, more permanent school finance fix is needed, not an incremental step.

“Our priority as a legislature needs to be coming up with a permanent fix to the negative factor,” said Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder. (The two Beckers aren’t related.)

What she and the other Democrats didn’t mention was that a permanent school funding fix – the $1 billion tax increase known as Amendment 66 – was offered to voters in 2013 and soundly defeated.

Witnesses supporting the bill included three rural district superintendents from northeastern Colorado and representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Education Association. (The CEA gave contributions to most if not all of the committee Democrats last year but to none of the Republicans.)

Before the vote was taken, committee members spent half an hour on the peculiar legislative politeness ritual known as “explaining my vote.” That involved Democrats complimenting Becker for introducing the bill while explaining why they were going to vote no. Committee Republicans complimented Becker and explained why they were voting yes.

If the bill had been passed by the finance committee, it would have gone next to the House Education Committee. It perhaps was assigned by House Democratic leadership first to finance to avoid the political embarrassment of Democrats on the education committee voting no.

The serious discussion of school finance in 2015-16 probably won’t unfold until late March, after state revenue forecasts are updated.

Fields considering minority teacher legislation

Rep. Rhonda Fields said Wednesday she’s considering legislation designed to encourage more minority students to become teachers.

Fields talked with Chalkbeat Colorado following a Capitol briefing on a new report, “Keeping Up with the Kids: Increasing Minority Teacher Representation in Colorado.”

The Aurora Democrat was a prime sponsor of the 2014 law that commissioned the study, which was presented to a joint meeting of the House and Senate education committees.

Fields said she doesn’t have a specific proposal yet in mind but is interested in doing something that would encourage “bridge” programs in community colleges that would help direct minority students toward teacher prep programs. She said she’s also looking into way to interest minority students in teaching as early as their middle school years.

The study found that only 10 percent of state teachers are minorities, compared to 43 percent of students, and that Colorado lags behind the nation in the percentage of minority teachers. (Read our story and see the full report here.)

The study recommended that the legislature consider creating a “multi-million dollar” program of state grants to minority teacher recruitment and retention programs. Committee members had lots of questions about the report, but no legislator asked about or touched on the idea of spending that kind of money.

(In a First Person commentary posted on Chalkbeat Wednesday, UCD Professor Margarita Bianco writes about the importance of having more students of color become teachers.)

Fishing for BEST funding

Advocates of the Building Excellent Schools Today program have been hunting around for more money to fund the effort, given that BEST has hit the ceiling on the $40 million it is allowed to spend every year to repay the lease-purchase agreements that have been used to build or renovate dozens of schools around the state.

The program gets half of the annual revenues earned on state school lands, and the issue came up Wednesday when the House and Senate education committees were briefed by Bill Ryan, director of the State Land Board.

Sen. Mike Johnston tried to draw Ryan out on the issue of how to raise more funds for BEST, but Ryan’s answer was cautious. “Our job is to earn the revenue,” he said, but decisions on how to spend it are up the legislature.

He also noted that revenues from school lands are volatile because they “are so linked to commodity prices and production.” Much of the land board revenue comes from oil and gas leases and royalties.

Citing the recent dramatic drop in oil prices, Ryan said, “We do see a steep drop off coming in our revenues.”

Johnston, a Denver Democrat, said the coming revenue decline worries him and then suggested looking into how to increase interest income from land board’s permanent fund.

Ryan said state law currently requires the permanent fund be invested in low risk – and therefore low-interest – securities. Johnston suggests easing those limits, and Ryan responded, “That would be a good alternative to pursue.”

Categories: Urban School News

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