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$5.8 billion schools budget gets final stamp of approval

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 17:24

Criticism from watchdog groups aside, School Board members on Wednesday unanimously approved a $5.8 billion budget while conceding that it was problematic to use a one-time accounting maneuver to erase a deficit.

The Civic Federation and Access Living, two groups that analyze the budget, did not support the budget's approval and slammed the maneuver, which allows the district to include property tax revenue that typically would count for the 2016 fiscal year in 2015 instead. 

Using this maneuver and adding in reserve cash gives CPS about $916 million in one-time money to balance the budget and funnel an additional $250 per student to schools.

Board member Henry Bienen said that he and his colleagues realize that the 2015 budget is a “stop gap budget. …It is being done in the absence of real [funding] reform." Board President David Vitale said the board moved forward because it couldn't justify not using the maneuver and then cutting school budgets, citing the possibility of something happening to change the district's fiscal situation next year. “We all approach it with the interest of our children in mind,” he said.

District leaders and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have been accused of using the maneuver to avoid making difficult financial decisions in an election year.

Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro admitted that the maneuver does little to solve the problem long-term, with state funding down and pension payments due after a pension "holiday" expired.

Access Living’s Rod Estvan told the board it should pursue a property tax cap increase.  “This is not a popular issue,” he said, noting his neighbors want to lynch him for bringing it up. “We need to begin to have that discussion.”

Simeon's electrician program and other cuts

Despite the additional money given to schools, speakers at the meeting reiterated complaints about budget cuts. Under student-based budgeting, schools that lose enrollment lose money, and principals and local school councils, instead of district officials, must make decisions about what programs and positions to keep and which to drop. 

One example is the electrician program at Simeon High, reportedly the last electrician program in the city. Chief of Networks Denise Little said it was cut because there was little interest in the program and few students earned credentials, prompting an angry response from Ald. Howard Brookins (21st Ward) and Michael Brunson, Chicago Teachers Union recording secretary. They said that there should be some comprehensive central decision making process when it comes to cutting or putting in place vocational programs.

“These decisions should not be made on the school level,” said Brookins. He noted that Simeon still has two barber classes and that electricians have the potential to earn far more money than barbers.

Brunson added that he believes that the city’s violence is connected to poverty and joblessness, noting that electrician jobs pay well and that getting young people into such jobs could help solve the problem.

Vitale said he plans to ask for a briefing on the district’s career and technical education programs.

Another recurring theme was charter funding vs. funding for traditional schools. Board member Andrea Zopp asked Ostro to explain that money follows students and that much of the issue has to do with enrollment. (Yet charters are getting other increases, in addition to the $250 per student, Catalyst found, with the district's goal of making charter funding equitable with funding to district schools.)

Roberta Salas, whose children attend Murphy Elementary, said that this year’s increase didn’t make up for the money the school lost last year. Enrollment has been stable in the past three years, yet Murphy lost $600,000 last year while receiving only a $150,000 increase this year. She said her school is still struggling to come up for money for fine arts teachers.

“We don’t have money to fund our wonderful and vibrant neighborhood school,” she said.

But INCS executive director Andrew Broy said that it makes complete sense that charter schools, which are getting more students, are also getting more money.

“This is not about disinvesting in one school over the other,” Broy said. “This is not about pitting one school against the other. We think the policy prioritizes parent demand. Student based budgeting puts decision making where it should be."

Categories: Urban School News

Teachers at George Washington High file grievance over imposed schedule

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 14:38

Daniel Singer, an English teacher at Denver’s George Washington High School, has been stood up.

His principal was supposed to call him weeks ago, he said. But he’s still waiting.

The call, which was supposed to happen in early July, was to set a date for Singer, one of the building’s union representatives, to meet with the school’s teacher leadership team and the principal to finalize and approve the school’s master schedule, the document that sets teachers’ and students’ workload.

GW principal Micheal Johnson and his administrative team had published a draft schedule for teachers, but because that teacher leadership team was cut out of the process for next school year, union leaders claim, the document is invalid and in violation of its contract with Denver Public Schools.

With no signal from Johnson to collaborate, the Denver teachers union last week filed a formal complaint with city’s schools administrators.

A meeting has been scheduled for Aug. 12 between the district and the union.

The official grievance is the latest development to rile some of the southeast Denver community of parents and teachers since district officials announced their plans to open access to the high school’s storied International Baccalaureate program. School officials hope that the changes will expand educational opportunities for more of the school’s students. But the announcement sparked a firestorm among some parents who feared the move would water down the IB program’s academic rigor.

While the changes to the IB program aren’t supposed to take effect until the 2015 school year, the process by which officials made the decision has drawn the ire and skepticism of some teachers and a vocal group of parents.

And now anxiety over those changes appears to have been aggravated by their concerns over which teacher will be in which classroom and whether district officials will keep their word to leave the IB program as it is for one more year.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Billy Husher, a union organizer, referring to principal Johnson’s alleged disregard for collaboration.

A DPS spokeswoman said the district had no comment pending a full review of the grievance.

But Husher counters district officials have known about the lack of clarity in the scheduling process since late spring.

According to an email dated May 16 recapping a meeting between Husher and Greta Martinez, the district’s assistant superintendent of post-secondary readiness, the district in an earlier meeting had agreed that staff should provide input on the schedule.

Days after the school year ended, with still no meeting, Husher filed a grievance with the district. Husher said he withdrew his grievance at the request of the human resources department so that a school-level resolution could be found.

That’s when Singer, one of the building’s union representatives, reached out to Johnson.

“He said he was going to call me in early July and he never did,” Singer said. “In my seven years [at GW], it’s never been done this way.”

Meanwhile, many parents, already incensed over the changes to the IB program, began firing off letters in late May to district officials and school board members demanding to know who would be leading their students classrooms.

George Washington parent Joel Witter, who sent a letter, told Chalkbeat this week that district officials responded that because scheduling decisions are personnel matters, they wouldn’t be able to comply.

“We don’t know if the [IB] economics teacher and the biology teacher are going to be the teachers my son thought he was going to be spending time with,” Witter said.

And that ambiguity is feeding fears that teachers who haven’t previously taught in the IB program will end up teaching IB students for multiple years, Witter said.

“My son has loved the school so far, he loves his friends and teachers,” Witter said. “But, we have very serious concerns about the direction the school is going. We may send his younger brother somewhere else.”

Categories: Urban School News

Schools get improved ranking in annual health scorecard

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 14:10

A scorecard released today by the Colorado Health Institute found that Colorado schools have made progress over the last year in health policy and programming. Overall, schools were rated “mid-high” in the “Reaching Our Peak 2014: Scorecard for a Healthier Colorado” report, compared to “mid” last year.

Several state and federal legislative changes were highlighted for positively affecting the school health environment over the last year. These include $700,000 in new state funding for the Safe Routes to School programming, after federal funding for the program ended this month. Also cited was a new state law allowing third- to fifth-graders who qualify for reduced-priced school meals to henceforth get the meals for free. (Students in kindergarten through second grade already get this benefit.)

The scorecard also mentioned significant statewide increases in school breakfast participation over the last five years, with additional jumps expected this year and the following year as the state “Breakfast After the Bell” law phases in.

On the early childhood front, the report cites $45 million in federal Race to the Top funding earmarked for various initiatives aimed at improving school readiness. The report also praises the addition of 5,000 new preschool and full-day kindergarten slots in 2013-14 through the Colorado Preschool Program, but cautions that the gains are not keeping up with the need.

Also mentioned in the report is an effort by the Colorado Education Initiative, with financial support from Kaiser Permanente Colorado, to create a new streamlined school health data system called The Colorado Healthy Schools Smart Source. That system will be scaling up over the next year. In addition to legislative and policy trends, the schools section of the report highlights a program on the Eastern Plains that arms students with disposable cameras to document healthy and unhealthy aspects of their lives.

Besides rating schools, the annual Reaching Our Peak scorecard measured progress in four other categories, including aging, communities, health care and workplace. The only one besides schools that made improvements this year was communities, which moved from “low-mid” to “mid.” Aging stayed the same at “low” and workplace stayed the same at “mid.” Health care moved from “mid-high” to “mid.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teacher, staff turnover rises in Dougco

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 10:06

Creative financing

Lower-than-projected marijuana tax revenues for school construction are the latest example of education’s disappointing experience with taxes on things like gambling and drugs to help fund schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Bang for the buck

A charter-friendly think tank found charter students — despite a lack of equal funding — on average meet or beat their peers enrolled in district-run schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Staff churn

Teacher and staff turnover has risen in the Douglas County schools but is on a level similar to the rest of the state. ( Castle Rock News-Press )

School bid advances

A proposed charter high school in Falcon School District 49 gained approval from the district's board of education Tuesday night, but it will not be tied to voter approval of a November bond issue. ( Gazette )

More time in Texas

Mike Miles, something of a reform darling when he was Harrison's superintendent, has won a contract extension as superintendent of the Dallas schools. ( Dallas Morning News )

Young philanthropist

An Erie second grader spearheaded a $2,700 fundraiser to help rebuild a school playground damaged by arsonists. ( Boulder Camera )

Perception and reality

A new study suggests that American principals overestimate the number of poor students in their schools, compared to international standards of economic disadvantage. ( NY Times )

Lawyering up

The Louisiana battle over the Common Core State Standards is going to court, with a suit filed Tuesday against Gov. Bobby Jindal, who's had a controversial change of heart on the issue. ( Huffington Post )

Categories: Urban School News

“Sin taxes” an unsteady revenue source for education

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 17:25

Revenue from marijuana taxes earmarked for Colorado school construction looks like it may be just a quarter of the amount projected this year — and that’s just the most recent example of education’s disappointing experience with taxes on things like gambling and drugs to help fund schools.

Education interest groups and policymakers generally haven’t pushed for such taxes and are skeptical of the reliability of those revenues. But gambling interests repeatedly have tried to attract votes by promising that education would get a slice of various schemes to expand gaming. Yet another such measure is expected be on this November’s ballot.

Why do non-education interests like to tie schools to ballot measures?

“If education is polling well, they figure out a way to tie education to it,” said Tracie Rainey, executive director of the Colorado School Finance Project, a research organization.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, agreed that tying such tax proposals to education is a useful marketing tool. “They know that will help sell their measure,” she said. “People like sin taxes because they don’t themselves as being taxed. They think it’s fine for other people to be taxed.”

The problem for education leaders is that such targeted taxes don’t pay the bills.

“There aren’t enough sins in the state to fully fund the K-12 system,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.

Taxes on marijuana were initially projected to bring in $40 million a year, but the real figure may be closer to $10 million in the current budget year.

While marijuana tax revenues are expected to grow over time, the slow start is reminiscent of a 2008 constitutional change that was predicted to provide more than $50 million a year for community colleges from gaming taxes. The actual revenues are projected to be just $6.7 million in 2014-15.

“There aren’t enough sins in the state to fully fund the K-12 system.”
- Sen. Mike Johnston

“Dollars from sin taxes are so fragmented. … It’s always such a piddling amount,” Urschel said. “It’s never a solution to the funding of K-12.”

But others think education has little choice but to rely on such revenues. The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires public approval of all tax increases, and proposals to raise taxes for education historically have fared poorly at the ballot box.

“The legislature in Colorado cannot have a real and open debate on school finance and then fund it,” said former Sen. Bob Hagedorn, an Aurora Democrat who is a backer of this year’s casino initiative. “We’ve had to get creative in ways to find additional revenue.”

Marijuana revenues not living up to hopes

Amendment 64, the 2012 constitutional change that legalized adult recreational use, requires that the first $40 million in excise tax revenues go to the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program. In 2013 voters approved Proposition AA, a companion ballot measure that authorized the 15 percent excise tax rate on transfers of marijuana from greenhouses to retail stores, plus a 10 percent tax on retail sales.

Hopes & RealitiesMarijuana/Construction

  • $40M projected
  • $10M actual

Gaming/Comm. Colleges

  • $50M+ projected
  • $6.7M


  • $100M projected
  • ??? actual

But BEST is projected to receive only about $10 million in the current budget year.

Tax revenues – and hence money for BEST – have been lower than projected for a variety of reasons. For starters, revenue projections for a business that didn’t exist legally were very difficult to make.

Experts and observers cite factors such as many users continuing to buy medical marijuana, which is taxed significantly less that recreational marijuana, and the fact that many local governments haven’t permitted sales of the drug as reasons that revenues haven’t lived up to expectations.

Another factor may that the excise tax hasn’t been collected on some transfers of marijuana inventories to recreational stores.

A complex marijuana tax law passed in 2013 established the tax on marijuana grown for retail sale, but it did not create a tax on medical marijuana. But only stocks of medical marijuana existed before recreation sales became legal last Jan. 1. So, following the law, the Department of Revenue allowed businesses to make tax-free, one-time transfers of medical marijuana inventory to retail operations. That had the side effect of reducing projected revenues to the BEST program by an undetermined amount.

“That is one factor why the excise taxes were lower,” said Larson Silbaugh, an economist with the Legislature Council, the General Assembly’s staff research arm.

The Department of Revenue wasn’t able to provide a number for the amount of tax-free transfers. But Matt Samuelson, a Donnell-Kay Foundation staff member who follows the BEST program, predicted that “it’s going to be a significant number, a seven-figure number.”

While there were no guarantees, that $40 million figure was widely assumed to be what BEST would receive.

“Everyone had been straight up assuming there would be $40 million,” said Mary Wickersham, former chair of the state Capital Construction Assistance Board and now director of the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the University of Colorado Denver.

That number certainly was tossed around a lot last spring as the 2014 legislature debated overall school funding. Lawmakers sometimes correctly hedged the amount as “up to $40 million,” but that qualification often got lost in the debate.

Samuelson, who said he always felt the estimate was too high, said, “I’ve always had concerns about the $40 million number as a talking point.”

Beyond talking points, there even was some vigorous fighting over how to use the money. BEST supporters wanted all of it go to the state’s school construction fund. But there also were bids to use the money for construction of kindergarten classrooms or for charter school facilities. In the end, BEST got most of the money, and charters got a small slice.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, tried to remove the earmarks from the marijuana excise revenues. “I told them the number would be smaller” than forecast. But I didn’t win that one,” said Steadman, vice-chair of the Joint Budget Committee.

Instead of the $40 million, legislative economists last month issued these estimates for excise tax collections:

  • $3.6 million for the second half of the 2013-14 budget year
  • $10.1 million for the current 2014-15 budget year
  • $10.6 million in 2015-16
Kathleen Gebhardt / File photo

“It’s going to be a long time before we see $40 million,” said Kathleen Gebhardt, a current member of the BEST board.

Despite the squishiness of the $40 million figure, Johnston said, “I think it was very worth having the debate” ahead of time over how to use the money. “This was the legislature’s correct place to step in, so I think it was very worthwhile.”

Officials who track marijuana revenues agree that the revenue picture may improve, but that’s difficult to predict as well.

In their June revenue forecast, legislative economists wrote, “The marijuana revenue forecast is based on only four months of data. … There will likely be changes in the price and consumption of marijuana as the adult-use market matures.”

Natalie Mullis, the legislature’s chief economist, said, “We are a lot more confident in our forecasts than we were a year ago” but that it may take as long as a decade for marijuana revenue forecasts to be as reliable as those for other taxes.

Any excise taxes above $40 million plus retail marijuana taxes go into a special fund that’s used for enforcement, health education, research and other programs related to marijuana. Retail tax revenues also are lower than projected.

A small slice of that money, $2.5 million, is supposed to go to the Department of Education for grants to schools districts to help train school nurses in recognizing signs of student marijuana use and in counseling.

Jeff Blanford, CDE chief financial officer, said, “Currently, we expect to receive the full $2.5 million, but we are also aware that may change.”

Why BEST supporters worry about the shortfall

The BEST program, created in 2008, combines revenues it receives from leases and royalties on state-owned lands with local district matching funds to pay back lease-purchase agreements that are used to build new schools and do major renovations, mostly in rural and smaller districts. The program also makes direct cash grants for smaller renovation projects.

But state law caps annual debt payments to $40 million a year. The program basically has reached that limit, meaning no big projects will be funded in the foreseeable future. BEST has recommended $67.9 million for 2014-15, significantly less than the $105 million in projects for 2013-14 and the $273 million in projects for 2012-13.

Urschel said it’s “frustrating that some of our capital construction is dependent on a growing and unpredictable industry.”

Johnston said he’s “hoping” it might be possible to find more BEST funding during the 2015 legislative session. “We’re in the midst of an all-of-the-above discussion.”

Gaming expansion no boon for community colleges

Amendment 50, a constitutional change passed in 2008 with nearly 59 percent of the vote, is a top example of a sin tax that hasn’t lived up to its promises of helping education.

Front Range Community College in Westminster

The measure increased betting limits and allowed longer opening hours at casinos in the historic mining towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, the only places in the state where casinos currently are permitted by the constitution. (There also are two Native American casinos in southwestern Colorado that aren’t subject to state jurisdiction.)

To sell the plan to voters, drafters of the amendment dedicated a slice of the expected additional gambling tax revenues to the state’s community colleges. The group behind the amendment even named itself Coloradans for Community Colleges.

Nancy McCallin, president of the community college system, recalled, “The gaming industry came to us after they decided to include us.”

She said community colleges endorsed the amendment because, “At the time is was important for us to have an alternative revenue stream. Yes, we got onboard because it was extra money.”

The state voter guide issued before the November 2008 election estimated the plan would raise $29 million for community colleges in the first year, rising to $63 million in the fifth year.

But the taxes raised only $6.5 million for community colleges in 2012-13, according to the Office of State Planning and Budgeting. Revenue is expected to be $7 million when the books are closed on the 2013-14 fiscal year, $6.7 million in 2014-15 and $8.8 in 2015-16. Estimates by legislative staff economists are slightly lower.

McCallin said she always felt the estimates were too high, noting, “It’s very difficult to project revenues” from a new tax.

After the new gaming rules went into effect, two unforeseen factors combined to reduce revenues, McCallin added. Those were the recession and a smoking ban that affected casino patronage.

Education a favorite cause for gambling promoters

Even before Amendment 50, promoters of various plans to expand gambling tried to attract voters by earmarking future revenues for education.

Ballot measures in 1984, 1992 and 1996 proposed allowing casinos in Pueblo, various eastern plains towns, Parachute and Trinidad, and all promised some revenue for schools. None of them passed, showing that voters don’t always go for sin taxes.

What’s currently labeled Initiative 135, which would allow creation of casino-style gaming at the Arapahoe Park racetrack in the metro area and in the future in Pueblo and Mesa counties.

The campaign committee behind the plan calls itself Coloradans for Better Schools, and it’s supported by Mile High USA Inc., the company that owns the Arapahoe Park racetrack and a subsidiary of Rhode Island-based Twin River Casino.

The group’s website promises the initiative “will provide more than $100 million in new funds every year to enhance K-12 education in our state – without costing taxpayers a dime.” The money would go into a K-12 Education Fund, which would be distributed directly to districts on a per-pupil basis, bypassing the state’s weighted school finance formula. The campaign says would be used for such things as reducing class sizes, buying new technology, enhancing school safety and improving facilities.

Former Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora /File photo

The plan’s public proponents are Hagedorn and former GOP Rep. Vickie Armstrong, along with former Republican House Majority Leader Chris Paulson.

Paulson said, “We’re pretty confident we’re being conservative” about the $100 million estimate. Hagedorn called it “no small amount of money” even in the context of basic state and local K-12 funding of more than $5.9 billion a year.

Josh Abram, a legislative staff analyst who is helping prepare the 2014 voters’ guide to ballot measures, said his office estimates the plan would bring $80 million to schools during a partial year of implementation in 2015-16, including a one-time $25 million upfront payment by Arapahoe Park. Revenue could be $114 million in the first full year, 2016-17. (The ballot measure doesn’t include a dollar amount but says schools would receive 34 percent of adjusted gross casino proceeds – the money left over after winners are paid.)

The preliminary staff analysis assumes growth in gaming, based on the fact that Arapahoe Park is near population centers, but it also assumes existing casinos will lose business.

“About half of the money that the new casino is going to obtain from gamblers is a dollar not spent in the other towns. … There will be cannibalization,” said Abram.

The proposal already has sparked fierce opposition from mountain casino interests, whose spending helped defeat a similar measure in 2003. (That proposal wouldn’t have benefited education.)

“We really don’t understand how they got to their number,” said Michele Ames of the opposition committee Don’t Turn Racetracks in Casinos. “We’re just not clear on where the $100 million number comes from.”

She added, “It implies a rather large growth of gamblers in the state of Colorado that doesn’t seem realistic. … Their proposition is that they won’t affect the mountain casinos. That implies we’re going to double or triple the amount of gamblers.”

The Department of State is reviewing the 136,342 petition signatures submitted by the Better Schools group to determine if there are the 86,105 valid signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot.

Read the final text of proposed amendment here.

Education funding wasn’t really part of the discussion when the state’s two major gambling enterprises, the Colorado Lottery and the mountain-town casinos, were created. Voters approved the lottery in 1983, and a subsequent 1992 amendment restricted most of the revenue to open space and outdoor recreation projects. Casino gambling was approved in 1991, and a substantial portion of the revenue goes to historic preservation and the mountain communities.

Categories: Urban School News

Charter school funding changes budget landscape

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 16:45

In the past, charter school parents were a regular presence at CPS board meetings, carrying signs demanding that their schools get equal funding. But lately, these parents are nowhere to be found.

One reason for their absence is likely the negative publicity generated by the UNO Charter School Network, which sent busloads of parents but is now under federal investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. But another probable reason is the fact that charter school funding has increased substantially over the past three years.  Even leaders in the charter sector acknowledge that Chicago’s funding is close to equitable with the money given to district-run schools.

“We are substantially better off on the operating side,” says Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. Broy and others, however, still believe that money for charter facilities remains inequitable.

Yet charter funding remains hotly contested, with advocates for neighborhood schools pointing out that district schools lost $67 million in budget cuts—a figure that is close to the $62 million increase for charter schools, which are expected to get thousands more students. On Wednesday, the School Board is expected to approve a $5.7 billion budget.  

While the Chicago Teachers Union and the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand angrily accuse CPS of disinvesting in traditional schools, charter supporters insist they get no funding advantage and have gotten far less money in the past.  

“In the last two years, we have taken great steps forward,” says Beth Purvis, chief executive officer of Chicago International Charter School.

More or less?

Since fiscal year 2012, per-pupil funding for elementary charter schools has jumped 22 percent, to $7,166 from $5,873; and has risen 8 percent for charter high schools, to $8,194 from $7,188.

This year, all schools—traditional and charter alike—will receive $250 more per student. (Traditional schools say their budgets have been cut, though CPS maintains that custodians and building engineers now work under a centralized system and are no longer part of school-level budgets.) In addition to that $250, charter schools will receive another $250 for each elementary student and $50 more per high school student. 

CPS spokesman Joel Hood acknowledges that the district made budget adjustments that benefit charters above and beyond the $250 per student increase. Some charter schools are getting miscellaneous extra funding, such as for summer school, that charter schools have never been given before. 

Plus, one of the biggest “adjustments” is the additional federal grant money that will now be funneled to charters. District officials say it is the same share of federal grant money as district-run schools receive.

The federal money will include not just money for this year, but retroactive funding: Officials calculated an amount they believe charters should have been given last year and added it on to this year’s amount.

“We are really excited that charter students are now receiving their fair share of [federal] money,” Purvis says.

Finally, CPS officials made a change in how the district reports an administrative fee charged to charters. In previous years, the published per-pupil amount did not include that fee. This year, officials say they will publish the entire gross per-pupil figure, but will stipulate that the district will subtract a 3 percent administrative fee from that.

“This had the result of simplifying and making the fee more transparent, but also reduced the fee amount,” Hood says.

State funding task force convinced

CPS faced pressure to make adjustments to charter budgets from the state’s Charter School Funding Task Force. Made up of lawmakers, charter school operators and a representative from INCS, the task force was charged with making sure that district and charter schools are funded equally. Originally, the task force was focused on the provision in the Illinois law that calls for charter schools to be funded at 75 percent to 125 percent of the district’s per capita tuition, which is the amount a district would charge a non-resident to attend a school.    

Chicago’s per-capita tuition is $13,790, and the district has never come close to providing even 75 percent of that to charter schools.

After much discussion, CPS officials were able to convince the task force that per capita tuition was the wrong measure.

The task force’s final report recommended that student-based, or per-pupil, budgeting be used instead, with the range between 97 percent and 103 percent. (Districts that do not use per-pupil budgeting would use a different formula called the Charter Funding Calculation).

Though none of the task force’s recommendations have been incorporated into law, CPS officials write in the budget book that they had to make adjustments to satisfy the task force. As a result, CPS convinced the task force that its model “provides equity for operating funds," according to the budget book.

Purvis says that while charter schools are grateful for the additional money, they, like district-run schools, suffer because Illinois continues to under-fund education. The lack of money prevents some higher-performing charter networks from opening schools in Chicago, she says..

Purvis says that she and other operators are concerned about next year. It’s estimated that the district will once again have a big budget deficit, but that Mayor Rahm Emanuel (should he win re-election) and district leaders won’t be as quick to use one-time accounting tricks to close a budget hole, as happened this year.  

“It is a scary time,” Purvis says.  


Categories: Urban School News

Report: Charter school students do better on NAEP — despite less funding

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 15:22

Taxpayers are getting a better bang for their buck when students attend charter schools, a new report from the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform concludes.

The charter-friendly think tank, in its latest report, found charter students — despite a lack of equal funding — on average meet or beat their peers enrolled in district-run schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, is administered every two years to a representative sampling of students in fourth and eighth grade. The Arkansas researchers compared results of students at both district-run and charter schools and how much each institution received in tax dollars to determine the taxpayer’s return on investment. 

The report found charter schools to be more cost effective: For every $1,000 invested, charters on average gained an additional 17 NAEP points in math and 16 points in reading compared to district-run schools.

Colorado charter schools were slightly above the national average in their return on investment, according to the report.

The authors concluded this happens for one of two reasons. Either students in charters, with fewer public dollars, score significantly higher on the NAEP or students in charters, with significantly fewer public dollars, score equal to or slightly lower on the NAEP.

The institution, which is financed in part by the Walton Family Foundation, stopped short of recommending more public dollars should be sent to charter schools.

“We can conclude from our evidence, that charter schools are more productive at current funding levels,” said researcher Patrick Wolf. “They are operating more efficiently. But if the funding gaps were closed, all bets would be off. Charter school performance could increase, stay the same, or shrink. We just don’t know.”

Both the NAEP and school finance data used in the report are from 2011. The report did exclude some states because they either don’t have charter schools or they don’t break out their charter school data in NAEP results. Between one and four percent of a state’s student population are enrolled in charter schools. The NAEP sampling reflects that.

In Colorado, NAEP data was collected and used in the Arkansas report from about 260 charter students and 2,400 district-run students who took the test in 2011.

Disclosure: Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of The Walton Family Foundation. 

Report: The productivity of charter schools DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1227010-the-productivity-of-public-charter-schools' });
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado slips in child well-being ranking

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:30

farm to school table

A northern Colorado school district is launching a food hub in an effort to get more local food into school cafeterias around the region. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

bad news

Colorado slipped in a national ranking of child well-being. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

charter on the horizon

An application for a new charter high school in Falcon School District 49 is up for consideration by the school board tonight, but the school would still be dependent on the passage of a bond issue that would pay for the school's building. ( Gazette )

colleges not ready

As schools around the country adopt the Common Core as an attempt to prepare students for college, a new report says colleges themselves aren't aligning their programs to the standards. ( Hechinger Report )

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Well-being of Coloradan children worsened in last year

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 08:31

Despite improvements in education and health, Colorado’s children’s overall well-being is worse than almost half the nation’s, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The annual report rates states using metrics in four areas, including education, economic well-being and health. Colorado ranked 22nd overall, a slip of one spot from last year.

According to the report, 18 percent of Coloradan children were living in poverty in 2012, up from 14 percent in 2005. The percentage of children whose parents lack secure employment rose from 24 percent in 2008 to 28 percent in 2012. Despite these shortfalls, Colorado’s national ranking in economic well-being rose from 19th to 18th place.

The state’s education ranking dropped from 9th in the country to 11th, despite an improvement in the number of children attending preschools, fourth-grade reading proficiency, eighth-grade math proficiency and the number of high school students graduating on time.

Melissa Colsman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Education’s Teaching and Learning Unit, said the state has made several changes in education over the last couple of years, so it is hard to see the impact yet.

Colsman did, however, attribute improvements in reading and math proficiency to the state’s new academic standards and an emphasis on tracking and promoting early literacy through the READ Act.

“We’ve had a focus on literacy for a number of years,” she said.

In health, the state’s ranking improved from 45th in the nation to 39th. But that improvement came despite some troubling indicators in the areas of health and well-being. For example, 30 percent of children lived in single-parent homes in 2012, up from 27 percent in 2005. There was also an increase in children living in highly-impoverished areas, up from 2% in 2000 to 9% in 2012.

Tara Manthey, communications director for the Colorado Children’s Campaign (CCC), said Colorado’s ranking is relative to the progress of other states. For example, Colorado’s child poverty rates are increasing at a much higher rate than many other states, which in turn affect its rank.

Bill Jaeger, vice president of early childhood initiatives for the CCC, said the report creates a jarring comparison between gains in education and losses in childhood poverty and economic security.

“Despite (increases) in childhood poverty, we’re seeing more kids in school, better scores in reading and math, and more (high school) graduates,” Jaeger said. “We need to celebrate the gains we’ve seen in these areas, especially with the hard times these families are facing.”

Read the full report here.


Categories: Urban School News

In quest to put more local foods in school cafeterias, district treads new ground

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 15:52

Last fall, Denver Public Schools had a zucchini problem.

The district’s school farms had produced a bumper crop of the vegetable, some of which had been damaged by hail. Administrators couldn’t use it all as a fresh ingredient in school meals, but they didn’t want it to go to waste either. That’s when they turned to their northern neighbor, Weld County School District 6, for help.

Under the leadership of Nutrition Service Director Jeremy West, the Weld 6 team  grated and packaged 445 pounds of the product, most of which was returned to Denver for later use in zucchini muffins. Those muffins were served to DPS students one day in February.

“It’s great having that kind of partnership,” said Anne Wilson, the Farm to School coordinator for DPS. “Had he not been able to process it, we might not have been able to use it.”

Grating zucchini for students in another community may sound like an odd project for a school district, but it fits perfectly into West’s ambitious plans to turn the district into a food hub that will help put more locally-grown foods on the plates of Weld 6 students as well as those in other districts.

While food hubs come in many forms—often stand-alone wholesale distribution centers–their general purpose is to aggregate, process and redistribute local products to area customers. Such operations can help buyers circumvent some of the problems that otherwise make local purchases challenging. These include connecting with small local growers, cobbling together the necessary quantities of ingredients, navigating storage and delivery logistics, and tackling time-consuming food prep tasks such as washing and chopping hundreds of pounds of produce.

A food hub is hardly typical terrain for a school district, but many think it’s a worthwhile endeavor with the potential to break new ground in the farm-to-school movement. Deborah Kane, national director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program, described West’s food hub plans as unique, then added, “not just unique, but brilliant.”

She said school districts across the country regularly call her program wondering how to source and obtain local products. Often, her answer is, “Try to find a food hub.”

In Weld 6, several factors appear to make the concept a good fit, at least theoretically. In addition to a huge central production kitchen, a rare breed in the school food world, the project complements the district’s recent conversion from heat-and-serve food to scratch-cooked meals.

There’s also the district’s location in one of Colorado’s most bountiful agricultural counties. Weld County has 3,525 farms, more than any other Colorado county, and is second only to Las Animas County in total farm acreage, according to the USDA’s 2012 Agricultural Census.

“We just have a great opportunity in Northern Colorado to really tap into local agriculture,” said West. “If we can’t get it done here, I’m not sure where we can get it done.”

A gradual launch

Conversations about a possible food hub in Weld 6 began about three years ago. West heard about the concept from members of the Colorado Farm to School Task Force and was intrigued. The district had recently re-opened its long dormant central production kitchen, which, in addition to 11,500 square feet of food prep space, had about 20,000 cubic feet of refrigerated storage and 85,000 cubic feet of frozen storage.

“The thought was, ‘How can we make that concept work in a functioning kitchen that already has staff, that already has some infrastructure?’” said West. “That’s why it became attractive to look [at].”

Currently, there are five food hubs in Colorado, according to the USDA’s food hub directory. These include cooperatives in Denver and Fowler and private companies in Colorado Springs, Delta and Fort Collins.

Around the same time West began learning about food hubs, staff at the Weld County Department of Public Health Environment were also becoming interested in the concept. For them, the primary goal was to keep more Weld County products in the region.

Leslie Beckstrom, healthy eating and active living coordinator for the department, said while there were also preliminary conversations with two area food banks about housing the food hub, District 6 ultimately proved to be the most workable option.

“They have three months in the summer, which also coincides with the large growing season here in CO,…when there’s not a whole lot going on,” she said. “There’s some really nice overlapping unused capacity so to speak.”

This crate of chopped onions in the freezer in the Weld 6 kitchen represents the type of product that the food hub could eventually sell to customers.

Initially, customers of the “District 6 Food Hub” will probably include other school districts in northern Colorado, particularly some of the dozen that participate in a group-buying cooperative with Weld 6. But big districts like Denver Public Schools, which has already contracted with West on a couple small processing jobs, are also potential customers. So are institutions such as hospitals, nursing care facilities and food banks.

All told, it’s expected the “District 6 Food Hub” will take about three to five more years to roll out.

“It’s still a toddler,” laughed West.

Krista Garand, supervisor of school nutrition for the Durango school district, knows the feeling. She’s also in the process of taking baby steps toward what she described as a “food hub-like activity” but not a full-fledged food hub.

With the help of a $100,000 USDA grant she’s creating a new receiving center out of some poorly used space next to the high school cafeteria. The new center will give Garand more space to receive and stage local products for both Durango and four neighboring districts that collaborate on farm-to-school programming.

“The potential of it is that we can take larger deliveries, store them properly and trace them a little more closely,” said Garand.

Why local?

Many Colorado school districts, including Weld 6, already seek out local products through their farm-to-school programs, although what’s considered “local” varies widely. A recent national “Farm to School Census” found that 26 percent of respondents defined local products as those from within the state, while 21 percent said they should come from within 50 miles and 13 percent said within 100 miles.

Currently, some districts spend around a quarter of their food budgets on local items, ranging from Palisade peaches to grass-fed beef. In Weld 6, that number is 22 percent, but West hopes it will eventually grow to 50 percent with the help of the food hub.

Some of that local yield may even come from the district itself eventually. This summer West and his staff are working to rehab several unused greenhouses at two of the district’s high schools. There’s also a district-owned plot of land that he has his eye on as well.

The rationale for local food depends on who you ask, but many people believe that just-harvested local items taste better than those picked in far-away fields and shipped long distance. There’s are also arguments around reducing environmental impact and teaching consumers about their region’s seasonal rhythms.

But perhaps one of the biggest reason for buying local is the economic impact.

“Part of Farm to School, especially in Colorado, is honoring the fact that we are an agricultural state number one,” said Julia Erlbaum, a member of the Colorado Farm to School Task Force and founder of Real Food Colorado.

“If you’re buying local ingredients that money is staying in your local environment.”

Beckstrom said some farmers also feel strongly about seeing their products stay local.

“Being able to grow it and sell it to Weld 6 and they know it’s going to feed local kids has that really good heart feel to it,” she said.

There’s also no doubt that demand for local products is growing among consumers, even in school cafeterias. Garand said it’s not unusual for her to hear from parents who plan to send their children through the lunch line on days when local products are featured. These include things like beef, potatoes and wheat that’s incorporated into a pancake.

Testing, testing

As West’s food hub plans unfold, he’s taken on several test projects to help determine what services to offer eventual customers. In addition to the zucchini job for DPS, he also worked with the Windsor school district to convert that district’s surplus frozen butternut squash into a squash soup. In both cases, Weld 6 kept a small amount of the final product as payment.

In addition to the zucchini, Weld 6 ran some tests for DPS to see whether bell peppers could be frozen for use in the district’s stuffed pepper entree. West said such jobs have helped the district not only test out potential products but also given him a sense of how much labor it takes to do complete various processing tasks.

With many districts, even big ones like DPS, lacking the spacious, well-equipped facilities that West has, it’s possible that the Weld 6 Food Hub will offer prepared foods to customers too.

“If they like our chili and we’re making mass quantities of chili for our students, what would it look like for us to also make additional chili that we sell?” asked West.

Making the money work

While the zucchini-for-labor barter system has worked well enough during the initial phase of the food hub’s gradual launch, the long-term plan calls for a dedicated food hub manager and a model that’s financially self-sustaining.

Up until now, grants from the Colorado Health Foundation, the USDA Farm-to-School program and the Colorado Department of Agriculture have helped with planning and start-up activities. And Beckstrom said it’s likely additional grant funds will be needed to create the manager position.

“It’s going to require some seed money,” she said.

Still, Beckstrom is optimistic that with a food hub manager, the operation will eventually turn a profit that can help the hub grow and expand.

“I do think it’s possible,” she said. “That’s why I’m really impressed with Jeremy because he kind of has that entrepreneurial spirit in him and that’s what it’s going to take for a food hub within a school district environment to…thrive.”

Erlbaum said given that a school district’s primary mission is to feed school children, the creation of a food hub in that context necessitates a slow, strategic approach.

“School districts… need to be able to stay within their budget line,” she said.

Erlbaum said among potential revenue sources for a district-based food hub are increased school meal participation, driven by tastier, locally-sourced items, and fees for hub services provided to customers. West said there’s also the potential to lower food costs through volume buying as more districts sign on.

“Our gain is that we get better pricing and more local into our system,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

YMCA child care workers back at negotiating table on pay, health care

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 11:31

More than a year and a half after voting to unionize, YMCA child care workers in Chicago have yet to agree on a contract with the large, not-for-profit organization.

Workers and management went back to the bargaining table two weeks ago, but have not yet reached an agreement on issues such as pay increases or reduced health insurance costs.

Now, organizers say they are seriously considering a strike vote, which could temporarily cripple early childhood programs at the 12 YMCA of Metro Chicago sites, with about 160 workers who joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in November 2012.

“The pay is really, really low,” said Aurora Cavazos, who holds a master’s degree in early childhood education yet makes just $15 per hour as an Early Head Start teacher at the North Lawndale YMCA. “Some of the people who work there have gotten degrees and have gone elsewhere. I believe children need quality education, but they’re not paying me quality wages.”

YMCA spokeswoman Sherrie Medina said she couldn’t comment publicly on ongoing union negotiations.

“We’ve exchanged proposals, and have had thoughtful and energetic conversations,” she said. “We respect the collective bargaining process and can’t comment further.”

SEIU organizers say they empathize with smaller community agencies that administer Chicago’s Head Start and other early childhood programs, and whose budgets rely mostly on government funds. Instead of taking an antagonistic approach with management, workers at three other unionized sites in Chicago advocate for increased government resources alongside their bosses.

But it’s another story with the YMCA of Metro Chicago, which in 2012 reported annual revenues of more than $100 million plus some $276 million in assets, according to public records. There, workers have taken a more aggressive tone in their campaign for higher wages and lower health care costs.  SEIU organizers said workers want the YMCA to supplement Head Start and preschool workers’ pay with funding from donations to the YMCA and gym membership fees.

Low wages are a long-standing problem for Illinois’ childcare workers, even as the educational requirements for the job have steadily increased in recent years. A 2013 salary and staffing survey prepared on behalf of the Illinois Department of Human Services found that the median hourly wage for Chicago’s early child care teachers was $14.27; that is, just under $30,000 per year. Assistant teachers, on average, make just $10 per hour.

Other unionized child care workers

Workers at the other three unionized Chicago child care sites -- Ada S. McKinley Community Services, Centers for New Horizons, and Mary Crane Center – do not have contracts either. A fourth unionized child care site, Marcy Newberry Association, closed last year.

SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana also represents some 28,000 home-based workers who provide care to children from needy families through the state’s Child Care Assistance Program. In exchange for dues, SEIU represents these workers in negotiations with the State of Illinois.

It’s unclear whether that representation would be affected by this month’s Supreme Court decision that ended mandatory union dues for Illinois’ home-based health care workers who are also paid by the state. The decision could open the door to challenges to union requirements for other categories of home-based workers, including those in child care. No such challenges have been filed.

Illinois is one of 14 states where home-based child care workers that receive state funding have the right to unionize, according to a recent study by the Washington-based National Women’s Law Center.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Noble Charter changes, TIFs and teacher turnover

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 10:17

Noble Street Charter School Network often boasts that its schools are the highest-achieving non-selective schools in the city. And, while it is true, Noble does not have students test in, critics have charged that its admissions and discipline policy keeps out unmotivated students and pushes out unruly students. But this year, under pressure, Noble has abandoned big parts of both policies. In its renewed contract with CPS, Noble agreed to stop requiring students to go to an “information session” before applying. Also, they have to make clear that the essay is optional. State law states charter school admission should be decided through lottery. This comes on the heels of Noble announcing in April that it will stop charging students $5 for a detention. Noble founder Mike Milkie defended the discipline policy, which is still stricter than CPS, in a Catalyst Chicago op-ed. It will be interesting to see if the charter school operator can maintain its academic status without these policies.

Will we find out more?….We’ve heard repeatedly that charter schools push out problem students. We reported in 2010 that one in ten charter school students transfers out, even though there is supposedly a waiting list for the coveted seats. An upcoming report from a researcher who worked on the well-known CREDO (Center for Research on Educational Outcomees) charter studies out of Stanford University will take a look at push-outs from charters in dozens of cities, according to Chalkbeat New York. The researcher says there’s no evidence New York City’s charters are guilty of the practice, but that other districts are. No word in this article on whether Chicago will be part of the new report, but previous CREDO studies have included Illinois and Chicago.

On its way… DNAinfo reports that the city's planning commission has approved Walter Payton’s annex. The annex will expand enrollment by between 300 and 400 students. Currently, the school has about 940 students. The project will be paid for with $17 million in tax incremement financing money. The TIF money was one of the justifications Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave for building the addition, even as other schools are overcrowded and desperately could use the addition. 

It is worth repeating that deciding which capital projects will get the go-ahead based on how much they can collect is a losing proposition for poor neighborhoods. In a nutshell, TIFS allows cities to to use new tax dollars in specific geographic areas to fund economic development (as property values -- and taxes -- rise after the TIF district is created) .

So how much is being collected in TIFS? ... Cook County Clerk David Orr has made it easier for the public to see how much tax money is being collected in these controversial entities.   Orr says that  “”it’s very hard to find the necessary information to make a good judgment about what’s the purpose of this enormous expansion. Clearly there’s still a lot of work to be done to make it easier to follow the TIF money trail.” Orr has a primer on TIFs here  and a video here. When talking about schools, TIFs are important because tax money that otherwise would have gone into the public coffers instead is diverted into these special pots. As a result, TIFs have many critics, including the CTU and the Chicago Reader columnist Ben Joravsky. 

The high cost of losing teachers... Illinois spends up to $71.7 million per year replacing teachers who quit, according to a new analysis from the Alliance for Excellent Education that pegs the national cost at $2.2 billion a year and reiterates the well-known and distressing fact that poor students of color are most likely to attend schools with the worst turnover. That’s about the same price tag for replacing the 4000 Chicago Public Schools teachers who left in 2011 and 2012, according to cost estimates from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future that we reported In our spring issue of Catalyst In Depth on teacher turnover.  Turnaround schools posted the highest attrition, even after the initial firings that are part of the turnaround model. In other words, the teachers who were brought in to be part of the turnaround--most of whom were rookies--swiftly quit, often citing the long hours, tough environment and the pressure to quickly raise test scores.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Gambling group is hijacking education funding issue, claim ballot question opponets

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 09:48

Teacher talk

Four teachers and a superintendent share the highs and lows of teaching — and recruiting good teachers — in rural schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Horse Race

Opponents to a possible state ballot question that would constitutionally allow the expansion of casino gambling to horse race tracks say supporters are hijacking education funding to see their issue pass. ( Colorado Statesman, KDVR )


Secrecy and exclusion — and possible Colorado Open Meetings Act violations — among Greeley-Evans board members led to the resignation of Superintendent Ranelle Lang, costing the tax payers nearly a quarter of a million dollars. ( Greeley Tribune )

"Keeping" a promise

President Obama is expected to announce today 60 of the nation's largest school districts have signed on to his "My Brother's Keeper" initiative. Those schools will be responsible for expanding quality preschool options and provide early intervention services to African-American and Hispanic students in higher grades. ( New York Times )

Let's Fly A Kite — err, fire a rocket

Students at Denver's East High School partnered with their younger peers to build rockets as part of a summer STEM program. ( 9News )

Good news for good behavior

A Boulder school plans to implement a behavior program that rewards student for good behavior with gift cards rather than punish them for bad behavior. School officials report there was a 9 percent drop in students being sent to the office last year during the school's test run. ( Boulder Daily Camera )

shelter city

The Denver Post's editorial board says Mayor Michael Hancock's decision to seek federal funding to help temporarily house a fraction of the thousands of Central American children caught illegally crossing the U.S. border. ( Denver Post )

Who's on first?

As Colorado launches its first turnaround network for failing schools, Chalkbeat's Indiana bureau examines how that state has handled five of its lowest-performing schools. It's investigation found rampant confusion over who is in control and hundreds of thousands of tax dollars in jeopardy. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

State of the Union

The new leader of the nation's largest union, the National Education Association, has inherited a tenacious relationship with the White House. And it appears the relationship will only continue to strain. ( MSNBC )

testing testing

As the nation debates the merits of standardized testing, a professor shares tests — without high-stakes attached — can be useful to inform instruction and increase retention of knowledge in students. ( New York Times )

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: School segregation, Chicago-style

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 17:33
  • In Chicago, high schools are segregated by students’ prior academic achievement. (WBEZ)
  • A postscript about the cheating scandal in Atlanta’s schools is a tragedy all around. (New Yorker)
  • The billionaire, right-wing Koch Brothers are trying — and succeeding — to influence what schools teach. (HuffPo)
  • In Philadelphia, out-of-date textbooks put poor students at a disadvantage when prepping for tests. (Atlantic)
  • The president of the Eagle Academy Foundation argues that standalone middle schools should be abolished. (Daily Beast)
  • The struggling Detroit Free Press is doing away with its high school journalism program. (CJR)
  • An educator says recruiting more teachers of color won’t solve schools’ problems. (Jose Vilson)
  • Against trends, here’s an argument in favor of ed tech that isn’t student-centered. (Annie Murphy Paul)
  • A parent argues against the culture of competition among children. (Deadspin)
  • Sweden ran with vouchers and doesn’t have improved student performance to show for it. (Slate)
  • In New York City, some schools disproportionately punish students with long suspensions. (New York World)
Categories: Urban School News

A portrait of the challenges of rural teaching, in teachers’ own words

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 14:21

HOLYOKE, Colo. — Nic and Allie Balog’s decision to take teaching positions in the Holyoke School District, a small district on the eastern plains, was based at least in part on a case of mistaken identity.

“There’s a Holyoke, Mass., which looks a lot different” from the rural Colorado town of about 2,000 inhabitants, just 20 minutes from the Nebraska border, said Nic Balog. “The whole time I was driving out here [for my interview], I was like, ‘What is this oasis in eastern Colorado that I’ve never heard of?’”

But in the end, the couple was drawn by the lure of the small town and decided to stay.

Rural administrators say they must rely on this sort of rare lucky catch to attract teachers to their remote districts, where pay is often lower than in urban centers and the towns offer fewer amenities. And the even greater challenge, convincing teachers to stay, often requires administrators to look outside the school building for solutions.

Holyoke’s superintendent Bret Miles recruits candidates like the Balogs who he thinks will find a reason to stay, although he says he’s often happy to get anyone. One tactic he’s had some success with is finding local candidates, either by getting alternate teaching licenses for folks who have other expertise or by drawing back locals who have left. Nearly a third of Holyoke’s teachers graduated from the school where they teach.

Chalkbeat spoke with a group of Holyoke teachers about what drew them to Holyoke — and what made them stay.

Abby Einspahr, math teacher, Holyoke Junior High School

I grew up here. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher…[But] I did not decide to stay here. I decided to go into Lutheran education.

But when her position in a private Lutheran school in California was cut, she ended up back in Colorado, teaching in nearby Yuma. Then the high school principal in Holyoke lured her back. That’s a common practice in rural districts, where teachers are often poached from nearby schools, creating a game of musical chairs of open teaching positions in rural areas.

Einspahr returned to her hometown where she hadn’t lived for several years, which created its own set of social challenges:

The friends I did have coming back are at a different phase of their life. They’re married with kids and coming back single is hard.

It also meant returning to a community where the lines between work and personal are blurred.

I changed greatly from who I was in high school and who I was in college to living in California for six years. I was completely different person, coming back here. I have kids in my class going, “Well, your brother, right?” They have perceptions of me based on my siblings, my parents, my cousins, my grandparents. I have nieces and nephews in school.

Einspahr just finished her first year back in Holyoke but she still isn’t sure whether she’ll stay.

Maury Kramer, math teacher, Holyoke Senior High School

In many rural and remote districts, administrators turn to talent that already exists in their community to recruit teachers. Kramer is one of those, a former auto technician who now teaches the higher levels of math at the high school.

I grew up here in Holyoke. I really failed at college the first try and ended up raising a family. So I moved back here to work with my dad on the farm and that went to trouble in the eighties. So I just had to work around here and raise a family, raise six kids through the school system.

After, while they were starting to go to college, because of my job and things changing there, I knew I wanted to find something else. Helping them with homework and every job I’ve had I’ve been teaching or training students in some way or another. So that kind of led me to [teaching]. So I went back to school online in 2003, finished in 2008, tutored for a couple years, finally started here in 2011.

He uses his deep roots in the community in his classes, to deal with students and pull in the town’s history.

It’d be really hard for me to teach where I don’t know anybody. Here, I know everybody in town. I also know what kids’ parents do and I can make math more applicable to them. So kids whose folks work in construction, we can talk about the triangles in the house, how they work in the rafters or…using the Pythagorean Theorem rather than a laser or a GPS or something.

And he often knows kids’ families and their issues and can adjust to students’ needs.

Sometimes you don’t know everything but you know something is going on so you can be a little less restrictive of them.

Nic and Allie Balog, social studies and special education teachers, Holyoke Senior High School

Sometimes, the barriers are as simple as a lack of housing. When the Balogs first moved to Holyoke to take up teaching positions, there was only a single house in the entire town available for rent. The house lacked amenities and was in rough condition.

Nic Balog: When the wind blew, the curtains would blow open and move [even with the windows closed].

Eventually, the couple purchased a house, that was in better shape.

Nic Balog: It probably kept us here, to be honest…Conveniences like the garbage disposal and air conditioning made Holyoke a lot more livable.

But the transition wasn’t easy, especially for Allie Balog.

Allie Balog: I’ve never been away from my family. I know it’s only two and a half hours. But for me that was still hard. And not only that, I love to shop and go out and do things. I couldn’t do any of that. That was what I felt at first.

But I think doing it together, we always had each other at the end of the day, you know playing cards in our house for three months straight, because we didn’t have anything to do.

When the couple first accepted the position, they arrived with a group of five other young teachers. Today, only one of that group still teaches in Holyoke, along with the Balogs.

Allie Balog: We have a life here and I don’t know if that’s true for the others. You have to try really hard to fit in with people. Once you do and you are willing to do that, people are willing to do the same back to you.

Bret Miles, superintendent, Holyoke School District

Getting teachers is harder and harder for rural districts, as pay stagnates and cuts made during the recession linger.

It used to be that we’d sit down and say, “Any elementary opening, we’ll be able to fill that.” Social studies, no problem, we’ll fill that anytime of day…Now, all of them are really hard to find. We’re going into the last week of June and we haven’t filled our social studies opening, which used to be no-brainer.

We’re trying to make the work environment so attractive that people will just want to stay. So we try to improve technology, we try to make sure we focus on a collaborative structure for how we make decisions in the district.

We have to have all those other things working because we don’t pay as well as in the city. That’s a really a school finance formula issue, partially.

And the competition for a small pool means districts are competing with each other for candidates.

At the baseball game in Haxtun last weekend, I spoke with the elementary school principal there. It took her five offers to hire a fifth grade position. We found out two of them had interviewed in every school in northeast Colorado [including Holyoke] and only one of us gets him.

So Miles has started to search for teachers farther afield.

Tomorrow, we will interview international candidates because we haven’t had a math teacher application…we’re Skyping with someone in the Philippines.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado Springs officials acknowledge problems at youth correctional facility

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 10:42

safety patrol

Colorado Springs youth correctional officials acknowledged safety problems at a juvenile facility, and the contract to provide educational services at the facility is also changing hands. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

open arms

Denver officials are applying for a grant to help convert a residential treatment facility into housing for unaccompanied immigrant children. ( 9News )

picking a yardstick

The University of Colorado's Board of Regents discussed how to best measure its progress towards its strategic goals. ( Daily Camera )

at an impasse

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is among a group of legislators trying to simplify the college financial aid process, but the bill is likely to get stuck in Congressional gridlock. ( Vox )

how a bill becomes a law

More than 100 Latino high school students participated in a mock government program at Colorado State University. ( Rocky Mountain Collegian )

lend a helping hand

A new respite care center aims to help families of children with special needs. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

Just a reminder: Find out more about integrating arts into your classroom tonight!

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:08

Are you spending the summer looking for inspiration about how to make your school a more creative place when the new year starts? Interested in weaving the arts more seamlessly into your instruction, but not sure where to start? Or just looking for some great local art?

Then join us tonight for our  event “Coloring Outside the Lines: Integrating the Arts into Your Classroom.” We think it’s going to be really cool and hope you will also.

Registration starts at 4:30 at the Clyfford Still Museum, and from there you’ll embark on a scavenger hunt through Golden Triangle art galleries.

Then at 6:15, we’ll re-group at the museum to have a discussion about how to get more arts instruction into your schools and classrooms. The discussion will include panelists Barth Quenzer, whose teaching approach we profiled earlier this week, as well as Diana Howard, a retired Denver principal and founder of several arts integration schools, and the Still Museum’s Tori Eastburn. (If you can’t make it for the art walk, you’re still more than welcome for the panel.)

To whet your appetite for the event, take a cool interactive tour of Quenzer’s classroom here.

Hope to see you there!

Categories: Urban School News

Budget critics air laundry list of school cuts

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 10:57

With a new mandate that students have daily gym class and a policy calling for more arts instruction, school librarians are becoming increasingly rare, speakers charged at hearings on the district’s budget. At the Kennedy-King College hearing, one of three held late Wednesday, speakers also criticized cuts to Simeon High’s career education programs, cuts to welcoming schools that took in students displaced by closings, the additional money being funneled to charters and a plan to save $6 million by reorganizing bus aides for disabled students.

Rhonda McLeod worries that aides will be shuffled around and children won’t get to know them. “They need to feel safe,” said McLeod, who noted that there is already a long delay in getting bus routes set up and that she has had children get lost.

In previous years CPS officials sat stone-faced at hearings, but this year, they tried to answer questions when they could. In regard to charters, Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro told the audience that money follows students and CPS is funding charters because students are choosing to go to them.

Asean Johnson, the student who was featured in CNN’s “Chicagoland” speaking out against the closure of his South Side school, asked the panel whether the continued opening of charter schools puts CPS on the right side of history or on the wrong side.

“That is a question,” he said.

“We will have to reflect on that,” Ostro answered.

A number of speakers were upset that district officials blamed a big pension payment for budget problems and one CTU member pointed out previous long pension holidays, even in good years when the district could have afforded to make their entire contribution.

“Saying you don’t have money is like a gambler saying that they went to Horseshoe [casino] and then telling the landlord they have no money to pay the rent,” she said. 

More librarians lost

CPS schools are getting a $250 per pupil increase, but must pay teachers raises and are pressed to make difficult decisions—including, the speakers pointed out, to librarian positions.

Megan Cusick, who leads the CTU’s librarian task force, said last year, 140 schools lost their librarians and another 60 schools laid off their librarians this year. That means that more than half of CPS schools do not have librarians. Yet CPS promised that schools would be better resourced after the closing of 50 schools last year, she said.

Cusick was followed by Marie Szyman, president of the Chicago Teacher-Librarians, who took issue with a claim that CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made at the last board meeting that there was a shortage of available librarians. She said she knows of 200 of them ready to go work today.  

“With the Common Core emphasis on literacy, I am mystified that libraries are closing,” she said. “How can our students become “college ready” without adequate instruction in research and exposure to literature which librarians provide?”

Figuring out exactly how many librarians are budgeted for next year is difficult. The budget only lists 21 librarians, though there are likely more. Under student-based budgeting, in which schools are given money for each student, not for specific positions, there is no money provided specifically for a librarian. Principals, along with LSCs, must decide if they want a librarian and weigh the decision against other positions they might need or want—and now the district has new policies calling for daily gym class and 120 hours of arts instruction per week.

Under the old system, schools were given one physical education teacher or librarian for every 600 students. Schools with fewer students got money for half-time positions.

“I stand before you today to ask you to prevent principals from having to make the dreaded decision ‘Do I need to close the library to hire another PE teacher?’” Syzman said.

Simeon’s career education loses out

Another principal decision that came under fire was the decision to close the electrician program at Simeon Vocational High School. Latisa Kindred said she was laid off after the principal and the network office decided the school could no longer afford the program, and that an automotive teacher was laid off as well.

Simeon’s enrollment is projected to drop by about 60 students and its budget is down by about $200,000.

Kindred told the budget panel that she had been able to get students certified as well as into a union. “Working with their hands gives students hope,” she said. “I want to know how [career education] decisions are made? What guidelines are principals given when they make these autonomous decisions?”

Asean Johnson’s mother Shoneice Reynolds said she was at a meeting at Simeon about these cuts on Tuesday night and many students came out to speak about the importance of the programs. “It was a beautiful meeting and we invited CPS and the fact that you did not come shows you do not care about our children,” she said.

Also, an older gentleman spoke about being able to make a living based on his participation with the electrician program at Simeon.

International Baccalaureate threat?

The schools that were designated to receive students from closed schools were also dealt big budget blows this year as they lost the extra transition funds and got less than the expected number of students.

Ald. Pat Dowell said two welcoming schools—Mollison and Wells Prep--are supposed to become International Baccalaureate schools, but will struggle to meet the requirements because of the cuts. Other schools have higher than average rates of homeless and special education students, she said.

“Teachers, parents and myself are worried that the loss of these resources will be another disruption for these students,” she said.

Given these cuts, parents and teachers struggled to understand why CPS keeps opening charter schools. Concept Charter School came under particular fire. Concept, which has more than a dozen campuses throughout the Midwest including three in Chicago and two more planned, was recently raided by the federal government’s Securities and Exchange Commission and is under investigation by the state board in Ohio.

One of the planned new campuses is supposed to be located in Chatham in a megachurch development, but the church’s spokeswoman has reportedly said they are not going forward until Concept works out its problems. Concept officials said 250 students have registered for the school and they are now looking for a new location.

CPS Chief Innovation Officer Jack Easley, who was part of the panel at the South Side hearing, said the district is monitoring the situation closely and will soon reveal how the situation will be handled.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Academic tracking and choice, selective enrollment, Concept Schools

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 10:31

WBEZ releases a big package this morning that proves what many have long charged: The opening of new charter high schools and selective enrollment schools--becoming a district focused on school choice or a “portfolio” district--has resulted in pronounced academic tracking between schools. Nearly all the high performers are in a select few schools, while charters attract average achievers and neighborhood schools now almost exclusively serve low-performers. Very few schools serve students with a wide range of academic abilities.

Education Reporter Linda Lutton looked at more than 26,000 incoming test scores for freshmen from the fall of 2012. That year and only that year, the district mandated that every high school give students an “EXPLORE” exam about a month into the school year. Check out the cool interactive graphic that allows you to check out what type of student each school attracted.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she was troubled by the findings, but did not think they made the argument that choice should be abandoned. Instead, the emphasis needs to be on improving neighborhood schools so they can attract a wider range of students, she said.

But is Byrd-Bennett’s vision realistic? One consequence of this academic sorting is that neighborhood schools have little reason to offer honors classes. Not only does the lack of accelerated classes make the school less attractive, but it also means that students have little to aspire to and might not be challenged in particular subjects they do well in. A 2011 Catalyst In Depth looked at Marshall High School on the West Side, which faced this challenge as the school had a difficult time offering honors classes, a big disappointment for the few students who qualified for them. 

Not to mention the budget… The parent advocacy group, Raise Your Hand, this week put out an analysis that they say shows CPS is spreading itself too thin by opening charter schools, while taking money from CPS-run schools. The biggest losers: Those very neighborhood high schools that are only attracting the lowest performers.

The dichotomy between charter schools and neighborhood schools was one of the many issues brought up by speakers at three budget hearings held Wednesday night. The Chicago Sun Times reported from the hearing at Malcolm X where the closings of 50 neighborhood schools hung over the discussion.  Catalyst went to the one at the South Side’s Kennedy-King College

Race is also an issue… This week, Ald. Latasha Harris, chairwoman of the City Council’s Education Committee, held a hearing on the dwindling number of black students at selective enrollment high schools, the Sun-Times reports. After the announcement of the planned Obama Prep on the Near North Side, attention was called to the increasing white enrollment at the top North Side selective schools and the dwindling black enrollment. CPS officials told the aldermen that when looking at all 10 selective enrollment high schools, including those on the South and West sides, the number of black students is actually rising. CPS officials also said they were having lawyers look at whether the district can legally insert race back into the admissions’ process. 

A little-known fact is that CPS does give extra help to some black and Latino students from the worst-performing elementary schools. CEO Ron Huberman used a provision of No Child Left Behind to open up 100 seats in the top performing schools to students from the worst performing elementary schools. As far as we know, this provision is still being used and Catalyst reported on the students who got into top schools under this program, many of whom struggled at first but eventually did well. 

WBEZ’s freshman test score analysis adds a wrinkle to this discussion. Of the 40 most academically narrow schools in Chicago, 34 of them are predominantly black.

And a pink slip goes to … the computer teacher at Benito Juarez High School who alleged that attendance records and grades were altered in order to boost the school’s ratings. DNAinfo Chicago reported that veteran teacher Manuel Bermudez got the boot, and that he believes it was done in retaliation.

CPS officials say the layoff was connected to budget cuts. Juarez is projected to get 100 fewer students next year and its budget is down by about $1 million. The principal is laying off 11 teachers, according to CPS’ proposed budget. Across the district, 550 teachers are being laid off. Meanwhile, CPS’s inspector general,is investigating the allegations into that high school administrators were cooking the books.

Troubles continue at Concept … This week, Ohio’s State Board of Education ordered an investigation into the Des Plaines-based charter school chain in response to allegations that range from attendance tampering and cheating on tests to a failure to tell parents about sexual acts performed by students in front of their classmates at a Dayton school.

Federal authorities, are conducting their own white-collar investigation into the chain of 30 schools in the Midwest, including three in Chicago. In addition, one recent news report recently detailed how the charter school chain obtained hundreds of visas for Turkish citizens to teach, while also providing trips to Turkey to state, local and federal lawmakers. The Sun-Times wrote about the chain’s political connections in December.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Poll finds education minor issue in gov race

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 10:08

Dougco evaluations

After a review requested by the Dougco teachers union, state officials found no evidence that the district’s teacher evaluation system violated state law. The review was the first under a 2013 law that requires the state to respond to complaints about district evaluation systems. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Paying for preschool

A Denver City Council panel has voted 3-1 to advance a proposed ballot language asking voters to hike and extend a sales tax to fund the Denver Pre-School Program. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teacher placement

The Colorado Education Association has filed formal notice that the Denver Classroom Teachers Association will appeal dismissal of the union lawsuit that challenges the teacher placement provisions of Colorado educator evaluation law. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

What matters

Voters responding to a poll about their preferences in the governor's race also were asked about issues, and only 5 percent listed education and 1 percent cited education funding as the most important issues in deciding how to vote. All issues polled in the single digits except for the economy, which was the top issue for 20 percent. ( Denver Post )

Philanthropy rebounds

Colorado foundations donated $646 million to charitable and community causes in 2011, up 25.4 percent from 2009, according to a new report. More than a third of that went to education-related causes. ( DBJ )

Helping students read

A Golden publishing house is putting a new focus on graphic novels aimed at teachers who increasingly are using such books to teach reading. ( Westword )

Helping hand

Volunteers in the Boulder Valley and St. Vrain districts are working to fill 9,825 backpacks with school supplies for low-income students, and they need more donations. ( Boulder Camera )

Tracking truants

The Westminster school district has been awarded a $430,000 Expelled and At-Risk Student Services grant from the Colorado Department of Education for programs to help reduce explosion and truancy cases. ( Westminster Window )

Early learning

A report by the New American Foundation recommends that preschool programs be integrated fully into elementary schools, with comparable hours and funding and with fully trained teachers. ( Washington Post )

Common Core

North Carolina lawmawkers have rejected pressure to junk the Common Core State Standards, instead opting to study the standards and improve them later. Colorado is following a similar study path on testing. ( Washington Post )

Categories: Urban School News

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