From the Statehouse

Full bite of K-12 cuts is 6.1%

Despite being billed by Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration as 4.6 percent, the full impact of cuts to basic state support of K-12 education in 2010-11 is 6.12 percent, Colorado school districts learned Tuesday.

CapRitter111009Ritter and budget director Todd Saliman unveiled the budget plans to reporters last Friday and formally submitted it to the legislative Joint Budget Committee during a packed hearing Tuesday afternoon.

In both forums, and in documents presented both days, the K-12 cut is listed as 4.56 percent, or $260 million. That’s calculated against the amount of school aid in the current 2009-10 budget.

The full proposed cut is $374.1 million, or 6.12 percent, according to a Department of Education spreadsheet distributed to all school districts Tuesday afternoon. That cut is calculated against the full amount school districts would otherwise have expected to receive in 2010-11.

The cuts for the state’s 10 largest districts are significant. Here’s a rundown:

  • Adams 12 – $18.2 million
  • Aurora – $15.9 million
  • Boulder Valley – $12.1 million
  • Cherry Creek – $22.4 million
  • Colorado Springs 11 – $12.9 million
  • Denver – $33.8 million
  • Douglas County – $25.2 million
  • Jefferson – $35 million
  • Poudre –  $10.7 million
  • St. Vrain Valley – $10.9 million

Other major districts and their proposed cuts include: Academy ($9 million), Brighton ($6.5 million), Commerce City ($3 million), Eagle ($3 million), Greeley ($8.2 million), Lewis-Palmer ($6 million), Littleton ($6.4 million), Mesa ($9.6 million), Mapleton ($2.4 million), Pueblo City ($7.5 million), Pueblo County ($3.6 million), Thompson ($6.3 million) and Westminster ($4.5 million).

The cuts are in total program funding, which is enrollment multiplied by a per-pupil base amount and then adjusted district-by-district by what are called the “factors” – such things as cost of living, district size and at-risk students. The largest factor is cost of living, which is what the administration proposes to trim to achieve the budget cuts it needs. The budget proposes a new “equity” factor, which is a calculation used to ensure that every district gets the same percentage cut.

Lobbyists, bureaucrats and others packed the JBC hearing room during the governor's budget briefing Nov, 10.
Lobbyists, bureaucrats and others packed the JBC hearing room during the governor's budget briefing Nov, 10.

On top of the $260 million being cut from the factors, the governor is proposing to not spend an additional $94.7 million that otherwise would have been added to school spending in 2010-11, bringing the total cut to $354 million from an original estimate of $5.8 billion in spending for that year. Part of the overall cut is  $110 million that originally was part of the 2009-10 education budget but which lawmakers are expected to pull back in January. When that happens, districts will receive about 2 percent less than they originally expected this school year.

A separate pot of state school aid called categorical funding isn’t affected by the proposed cuts. That money is used to support transportation, special education, gifted and talented and some other programs and totals about $492 million in the current, 2009-10 budget year. The governor’s office also proposes to basically hold funding steady for full-day kindergarten and the Colorado Preschool Program.

However the reductions are calculated, the reduced funding could be felt at the school level in larger class sizes, staff layoffs, flat or reduced salaries and other service reductions.

But, lots can happen before the final amounts of state aid are determined. Changing enrollment patterns could hurt some districts and help others Quarterly state revenue forecasts in December and March could change the budget picture for good or ill. And, while the governor starts the bidding every year with his proposed budget, the final budget is written and approved by the legislature.

And, the proposed cuts at some point may fall under a legal cloud, because same education advocates believe the governor is too narrowly interpreting Amendment 23, the constitutional provision that mandates annual increases in K-12 spending if enrollment and inflation rise – and then tacks a 1 percent bonus on top. In the past the legislature basically has applied each year’s A23 multiplier to all K-12 spending. Ritter in essence is proposing it be applied only to part.

Some advocates will push to blunt education cuts by raising state revenues. Ritter is proposing raising about $130 million in revenue for the 2010-11 budget but ending about a dozen tax credits and exemptions, including the sales tax exemption on candy and soft drinks.

Some interests may lobby for more, but it’s also possible that the legislature won’t approve the full Ritter revenue menu, meaning deeper spending cuts would have to be made. Spending on K-12 schools, which consumes about 44 percent of the state’s general fund, is a large target.

For higher education, Ritter’s budget anticipates a decline in state and federal stimulus support from the current $706 million to $650 million. But, total college and university spending would grow slightly to about $1.98 billion, because the governor is proposing another 9 percent tuition increase for Colorado resident students.

Other features of Ritter’s proposed $7.1 billion general fund budget include a 2.5 percent pay cut for about 25,000 state employees, another suspension of the senior homestead exemption, a $28 million cut in Medicaid, transfer of $26 million in tobacco settlement money into the general fund and a delay in the opening the state’s new maximum security prison.

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CSI New York

Will you close my school? Transfer school staff, parents and students worry about the new federal education law

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
A class at Brooklyn Frontiers High School

Jamie Hawkins marched to the front of a Brooklyn auditorium Tuesday night holding two pieces of paper.

One had information from her son’s Individualized Education Program, which showed that when he entered high school, he read at a second-grade level and did math at a sixth-grade level. The other, she said proudly, proved he graduated from high school.

The reason her son finished school is he attended Brooklyn Frontiers High School, she said, one of several schools in New York City designed specifically for students who have fallen behind.

“He got the skills that he needed,” she explained after her testimony. When asked if he would have graduated without Brooklyn Frontiers she said, “No. Absolutely not.”

Students, teachers and parents from the city’s transfer high schools — which serve students who are over-age and under-credited — crowded into the Prospect Heights Educational Campus on Tuesday for a hearing on the Every Student Succeeds Act, which they fear will treat their schools unfairly.

These schools present a conundrum for state officials. The new law requires that schools with graduation rates under 67 percent are targeted for improvement. But for transfer schools, many people testified at the hearing, that is often an unrealistic standard.

“The language of this legislation, the ESSA legislation, puts our schools in grave danger,” said Rachel Forsyth, director of partnership schools at Good Shepherd Services, a nonprofit that works in multiple transfer schools.

So what will happen to transfer schools under New York’s draft ESSA plan? Are they really in danger? Here’s what we found out:

What does the plan currently say?

The state’s draft plan does not separate the way it evaluates transfer schools from how it judges traditional high schools — but it does gives all high schools some wiggle room.

Instead of using on-time (four-year) graduation rates, the state allows six-year graduation rates in its draft plan. That might not be enough for transfer schools, though. The average six-year graduation rate for transfer schools is 46.7 percent.

If a school does not meet a six-year graduation rate of 67 percent, it will be identified as a school that needs improvement.

Can the state make an exception for transfer schools under the law?

The state says all high schools have to reach a 67 percent graduation rate. Based on information the state’s education department has received from the U.S. Department of Education, there is no exemption for transfer high schools, state officials said.

But advocates say the law offers more leeway. Under the regulations approved by former U.S. Education Secretary John King, schools that serve special populations — such as alternative schools — were permitted to use different metrics than traditional high schools.

Those regulations have been undone by Congress, but the fact that they existed before shows the law allows that flexibility, said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of EdTrust-NY.

“We believe that the state can and should propose a different methodology for identifying specialized schools, such as transfer schools,” Rosenblum said.

What will happen if transfer schools are identified for improvement?

At one point during the hearing, a transfer school advocate gestured to the crowd and declared that if this plan moves forward, all the transfer schools represented in the room would soon cease to exist.

That is very unlikely to come to pass. Even if a school is identified as needing improvement, it would probably be several years before it could face any serious consequences under the new law, according to the state’s draft.

If a school is identified for Comprehensive School Improvement (CSI), it has three years to receive extra support and to implement an improvement plan. Then, it could be put into the state’s receivership program, which means it would likely have another two years to demonstrate improvement. If it does not demonstrate enough improvement, it risks being taken over by an outside receiver.

The state has already proven itself lenient in forcing an independent receiver on schools. So far, only one school in New York state has been threatened with takeover. According to state officials, once schools are in receivership, the state education commissioner has some flexibility in tracking their progress and determining whether schools should still be deemed struggling.

Still, any threat looms large for transfer schools, whose advocates say even if the worst-case scenario never plays out, they are still being rated by unfair metrics.

“We’re already working with kids who have been told repeatedly they are failures. Now we’re looking at a system where 90 percent of the [transfer] schools in the city will be looked at as failing schools,” Forsyth said. “I don’t think it’s really understanding the population we’re working with.”

State officials said they are aware of these concerns and will work to come up with a solution.

rules and regs

New York adds some flexibility to its free college scholarship rules. Will it be enough for more students to benefit?

PHOTO: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his 2017 regional State of the State address at the University at Albany.

New York is offering more wiggle room in a controversial “Excelsior” scholarship requirement that students stay in-state after graduating, according to new regulations released Thursday afternoon.

Members of the military, for example, will be excused from the rule, as will those who can prove an “extreme hardship.”

Overall, however, the plan’s rules remain strict. Students are required to enroll full-time and to finish their degrees on time to be eligible for the scholarship — significantly limiting the number who will ultimately qualify.

“It’s a high bar for a low-income student,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a leading expert on college affordability and a professor at Temple University. “It’s going to be the main reason why students lose the scholarship.”

The scholarship covers free college tuition at any state college or university for students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year. But it comes with a major catch: Students who receive Excelsior funding must live and work in New York state for the same number of years after graduation as they receive the scholarship. If they fail to do so, their scholarships will be converted to loans, which the new regulations specify have 10-year terms and are interest-free.

The new regulations allow for some flexibility:

  • The loan can now be prorated. So if a student benefits from Excelsior for four years but moves out of state two years after graduation, the student would only owe two years of payments.
  • Those who lose the scholarship but remain in a state school, or complete a residency in-state, will have that time count toward paying off their award.
  • Members of the military get a reprieve: They will be counted as living and working in-state, regardless of where the person is stationed or deployed.
  • In cases of “extreme hardship,” students can apply for a waiver of the residency and work requirements. The regulations cite “disability” and “labor market conditions” as some examples of a hardship. A state spokeswoman said other situations that “may require that a student work to help meet the financial needs of their family” would qualify as a hardship, such as a death or the loss of a job by a parent.
  • Students who leave the state for graduate school or a residency can defer repaying their award. They would have to return to New York afterwards to avoid having the scholarship convert to a loan.

Some of law’s other requirements were also softened. The law requires students to enroll full-time and take average of 30 credits a year — even though many SUNY and CUNY students do not graduate on time. The new regulations would allow students to apply credits earned in high school toward the 30-credit completion requirement, and stipulates that students who are disabled do not have to enroll full-time to qualify.