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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Five questions

Why this Memphis Republican supports school vouchers — but is concerned about accountability

From left: Rep. Mark White of Memphis speaks with Gov. Bill Haslam at a bill-signing ceremony at the State Capitol.

Only one school voucher bill remains under consideration in Tennessee, and it’s all about Memphis.

The proposal, which would pilot a voucher program exclusively for students in Shelby County Schools, is putting a spotlight on the 16 state lawmakers who represent Memphis and Shelby County, including Rep. Mark White.

White is one of only four from the county’s legislative delegation to pledge support for the bill, which would allow some Memphis parents to use public education funding to pay for private school tuition.

The East Memphis Republican, whose district includes Germantown, has long supported vouchers. But he’s also concerned about how private schools would be held accountable if they accept public money.

Chalkbeat spoke with White this week about the legislature’s last remaining voucher proposal, as well as a bill to give in-state tuition to Tennessee high school students who are undocumented immigrants.

If vouchers pass, what kinds of things would you look for to ensure they’re effective?

<strong>Rep. Mark White</strong>

Accountability is important. Five years ago, when we we first considered vouchers full force, I was in agreement totally with vouchers, with not a lot of limitations. But … if we’re going to hold our public schools accountable, we need to hold everyone accountable, and that’s why I want to get to the part about TNReady (testing).

Can the Department (of Education) and can (the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability) manage what the bill is asking them to do? I want to answer those questions. If we want to ensure that a student taking a voucher takes the TNReady test, who is going to oversee that? Who is going to make that happen? That’s the part I think we still need to work out if it moves forward through the various committees. It’s not good to go to the floor without all of the answers.

Most elected officials in Memphis oppose vouchers and are also concerned that this bill goes against local control over education. How do you respond to that?

I’d rather it be statewide. But you know, they’ve tried that in the past. The reason it got to be Shelby County is because we had more low-performing schools in the bottom 5 percent. And so therefore the bill got tied to Shelby County. If it was more someplace else, it would have gone there.

Shelby County Schools has made major improvements, boosting its graduation rate and receiving national attention for its school turnaround program, the Innovation Zone. Would vouchers undermine those efforts by diverting students and funding from the district?

Go back to 2002. We were looking for answers, so we started pushing charters. Those who wanted to preserve public schools fought that tooth and nail. Then we went to the Achievement School District. As a result, Shelby County Schools has created the Innovation Zone. …  Memphis is now known as Teacher Town. We’ve brought so much competition into the market. It’s a place where the best teachers are in demand. That’s what you want in every industry.

A lot of good things have come about, and I think it’s because we have pushed the envelope. Is this voucher thing one thing that keeps pushing us forward? I like that it’s a pilot, and we can stop it if we see things that aren’t working. I think trying all of these things and putting competition into the market has made things improve.

Every Memphis parent, student, and teacher who testified this week before a House education committee opposed vouchers. You’ve been steadfast in your support of them. What do you take away from hearing those speakers?

Any time you talk about children, people get passionate, and that’s a good thing. Conflict can be a good thing, because then we can move to resolve it. If you have an issue, look at it head on and let’s talk about it. If you don’t agree with vouchers, if you do agree vouchers, let’s talk about ways we can stop failing our children.

I’ve heard from just as many on the other side; they just weren’t here (on Tuesday). I’ve had an office full of people just begging us to pass this. I’ve had people on all sides want this.

I think this bill still has a long way to fly. We’ll see where it goes. But I think the challenge is good for all of us. It makes us look at ourselves.

You’re the sponsor of another bill to provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students. This is the third year you’ve filed the bill. Why is that issue important?

What I’m trying to do is fix a situation for people who want to get a higher education degree. They’re caught up in the political mess of 2017, and all we’re trying to do is say, ‘Hey, you were brought to this country, and now we want to help you realize your dreams.’ We’re not trying to address any federal immigration issue. Everyone deserves a chance for an education.

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She’s no Tony Bennett or Glenda Ritz — Jennifer McCormick is charting her own course as Indiana’s schools chief

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

For years, Indiana’s state superintendents have made huge political waves while in office.

Tony Bennett was a major Republican proponent of choice-based education reform. Democrat Glenda Ritz led an administration filled with political clashes with then-Gov. Mike Pence, a staunch conservative.

But this could be changing with Indiana’s newest schools chief, Jennifer McCormick.

More than two months into her administration and more than halfway through the 2017 legislative session, educators and advocates are praising McCormick’s focus and remain optimistic about her tenure.

“The general perception is people are finding her and her staff are good to work with,” said Betsy Wiley, head of the Indiana Institute for Quality Education, a local school reform organization that made large donations to McCormick’s campaign. “I think she’s been working really hard on making sure people know that her door is open.”

As a Republican official taking office under a Republican governor, McCormick is better positioned politically to accomplish her goals. Her relationship with Gov. Eric Holcomb has appeared relatively tension-free so far. They’ve made joint announcements about state initiatives related to STEM education and workforce development, and McCormick has been on-board with his budget proposal.

McCormick said that so far, there has been lots of talking.

“We’re not always going to agree, but at least the conversations are happening,” she said. “We have our hands and eyes and voice in a lot of the education bills that we’re concerned about, so we’ve been right there at the table offering amendments” to legislators.

But mostly, McCormick has been quiet when it comes to public state policy debates.

“I think she’s learning the ropes, and rightly so,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said. “She and her team are working closely with the state board, so I consider it very good — No controversy of any kind.”

Yet McCormick’s approach doesn’t sit as well with Minority Leader Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. He said he’s worried she’s leaving too much power to top GOP lawmakers in charge of education and not taking enough initiative at the department of education.

“I’m not familiar with any of the work that she’s doing,” he said. “The work that is happening on education is happening in the House and Senate chambers … If it’s her aim to just be ‘go along, get along, whatever Rep. Behning says or Sen. Kruse says is A-OK,’ I don’t know that she’s going to have a major role to play.”

Bosma and Pelath’s difference in opinion reflects some of the debates occurring in the Indiana General Assembly this year about whether to make the state superintendent an appointed or elected position. Part of the conversation inevitably centers around how people view McCormick’s role and it’s purpose.

It’s not clear yet if McCormick will step forward with ideas of her own or be more of an administrator who solely implements the policies of lawmakers, which GOP leaders repeatedly. But she has supported Gov. Eric Holcomb’s plan to make the role an appointed one.

McCormick has testified once this year before the Indiana Senate. During that hearing last week, she expressed concerns about testing and teacher evaluation that routinely were dismissed when Ritz was in charge, such as advocating for “computer-adaptive” tests. She also told senators there should be more conversations about how test scores are tied into teacher evaluations and whether that provision should be removed.

McCormick isn’t — and never has been — in lockstep with other Republicans on education policy. That was clear during her campaign, when, despite having mostly school choice advocates and Republicans as donors, she disagreed with GOP policies and instead advocated for changes to the school funding formula and seriously evaluating the impact of state-funded vouchers for private school.

Wiley said that although McCormick hasn’t shown herself to be an aggressive supporter of all school choice policies, such as vouchers, Wiley still thinks her organization made a good investment in backing her.

“She knows she has at least four years in that role, and she intends to do and get stuff done,” Wiley said. “If she doesn’t get credit for it along the way, I just don’t think she cares.”

Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, said he’s heard from school leaders that they’re seeing more timely responses to phone calls and emails with the department of education.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said she’s appreciated the time McCormick has made to talk with ISTA members, and she has no reason to believe she’s not going to support public schools — she’s “cautiously optimistic.”

Despite accusations during her campaign that she’d be too much like her Republican predecessor, Bennett, McCormick has not aligned herself with one particular education philosophy or camp. David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, said that independence is admirable.

“She is clearly her own woman, and I think there were some expectations,” Harris said. “She has been pretty clear that she’s going to follow the agenda and approach that she thinks is best.”