From the Statehouse

Funding bill gets final House approval

Updated 12:45 p.m. April 30 – The House Tuesday voted 52-12 to pass the bill needed to fund K-12 education in the coming school year.

Text of Monday story follows.

The bill needed to fund K-12 education in the coming school year breezed through preliminary House consideration Monday evening.

Pile of cashThe easy passage of Senate Bill 13-260 was in contrast to some of the suspense around the bill in the Senate Education Committee (see story) and the drama both on the Senate floor (see story) and in the House Education Committee (see story).

For school districts, the bill is a welcome change from the school finance bills of recent budget-cut years. Total program funding, the combination of state and local funding that pays for basic school operations, would rise to $5.5 billion, increase of about $210 million. Average per pupil funding would rise from the current $6,479 to $6,652, a 2.7 percent increase. (Get more details on the bill here.)

Sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, proposed a successful amendment to require that 75 percent of any excess state revenues at the end of 2013-14 go into the State Education Fund, the dedicated account used to supplement education funding. As the bill came from the Senate, only 50 percent of the surplus would have gone to the education fund.

There was a brief out-of-left-field moment when Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, proposed amendment to eliminate a tax exemption for newspaper advertising inserts and put the $6 million raised into special education. No one was quite sure where that came from, and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, went to the podium to note that Republicans usually oppose elimination of tax exemptions. The amendment was defeated.

Asked why the bill moved so quickly on the House floor in contrast to the drama at earlier stages, one lobbyist quipped, “They’re tired.” The 2013 session has to adjourn by May 8.

Also on the move Monday

• The House overwhelming rejected a conference committee report on House Bill 13-1081, the controversial bill to create a new grant program for districts programs in comprehensive human sexuality education. The House wants a new conference committee to talk about language in the bill related to abstinence education.

• The House Education Committee gave 12-0 approval to Senate Bill 13-214, the measure that would require the Building Excellent Schools Today program to maintain a reserve equal to annual lease-purchase payments and give the legislative Capitol Development Committee final review of BEST lease-purchase project lists.

• House Education was divided on Senate Bill 13-193, which passed on a 7-6 party-line vote. The measure is intended to encourage increased involvement of school accountability committees in school improvement plans, would require school districts to have a designated staff member as a parent contact and allow the state Department of Education to hire a parent involvement specialist.

Committee Republicans were skeptical of the need for the bill and its cost. Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, even attempted to amend the bill to include the text of his defeated House Bill 13-1172, which proposed a parent trigger law and an A-F grading system for schools. That went nowhere.

• The Senate gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 13-279, which would require new school buildings to meet various energy efficiency standards.

• The Senate State Affairs committee passed House Bill 13-1257, which would give CDE oversight of educator evaluation systems when districts choose to create their own.

Budget bill now law

Gov. John Hickenlooper Monday signed Senate Bill 13-230, the 2013-14 state budget. The bill contains base funding for K-12 education, which will be augmented by money in SB 13-260 (see above). The bill also includes $31 million in additional funding for higher education, a boost of $5.3 million in need-based financial aid and about $102 million for college campus construction and renovation projects.

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.

language proficiency

Educators working on creating more bilingual students worry new state requirements aren’t high enough

A second grade class at Bryant Webster K-8 school in Denver (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Colorado educators who led the way in developing high school diploma endorsements recognizing bilingual students worry that new legislation establishing statewide standards for such “seals of biliteracy” sets the bar too low.

Two years ago, Denver Public Schools, Eagle County Schools and the Adams County School District 14 started offering the seal of biliteracy to their students. The three districts worked together to find a common way to assess whether students are fluent in English and another language, and recognize that on high school diplomas. Advocates say the seal is supposed to indicate to colleges and employers that students are truly bilingual.

A bill passed by state legislators this year that will go into effect in August sets a path for districts that want to follow that lead by outlining the minimum that students must do to prove they are fluent in English and in another language.

According to the new law, students must meet a 3.0 grade point average in their English classes and also earn a proficient score on the 11th grade state test, or on Advanced Placement or IB tests. For showing proficiency in the second language, students can either earn proficient scores on nationally recognized tests — or meet a 3.0 grade point average after four years of language classes.

Although educators say the law sends a message of support for bilingual education, that last criteria is one part of what has some concerned.

“It allows for proficiency in a world language to be established solely by completing four years of high school language classes,” said Jorge Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “Language classes in one school district may have a different degree of rigor than they do in another.”

The second language criteria should be comparable to the English criteria, several educators said. In the requirements set by Denver, Eagle County and Adams 14, students must at a minimum demonstrate language proficiency through a test score, or in some cases with a portfolio review and interview if a test is not available.

The three districts also catered their requirements based on what each community said was important. In Adams 14 and in Eagle schools, students must perform community service using their language skills. Students also have to do an interview in both languages with a community panel.

“Our school district team developed the community service criteria because we wanted our kids to have authentic practice in their languages,” said Jessica Martinez, director of multilingual education for Eagle County Schools. “We also wanted students to be a bridge to another community than their own. For example, one group of students created academic tutoring services for their peers who don’t yet speak a lot of English. Another student started tutoring her mom and her parents’ friends so they could get their GED.”

The state law doesn’t require students to do community service. But it does allow school districts to go above the state’s requirements when setting up their biliteracy programs.

“Thoughtful school districts can absolutely address these concerns,” Garcia said.

Several school districts in the state are looking to start their own programs. In March, the school board for the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs voted to start offering the seal. Summit School District also began offering the seal this year.

Leslie Davison, the dual language coordinator for Summit, said that although her program will change in the next year as she forms more clear requirements around some new tests, she will continue to have higher requirements than the state has set.

This year her students had prove proficiency in their second language by taking a test in that language. They also had to demonstrate English proficiency through the ACT. In addition, students did oral presentations to the community in both languages.

“Their expectations aren’t as high as mine are,” Davison said. “We’ll probably stay with our higher-level proficiencies. I do have some work to do in terms of how that’s going to look for next year, but I certainly don’t want to just use seat time.”

Meanwhile, the districts that started the seal are increasing their commitment to biliteracy so as many students as possible can be eligible to earn seals in the future.

The Adams 14 school district in Commerce City is using Literacy Squared, a framework written by local researchers for teaching students to read English by strengthening literacy in the native language. The program is being rolled up year by year and will serve students in 34 classrooms from preschool through fourth grade in the fall.

In Eagle County, Martinez said parents have shown such a strong demand for biliteracy that most elementary schools are now dual language schools providing instruction to all students in English for half of the school day and in Spanish for the other half.

Both districts are also increasing the offerings of language classes in middle and high school. The options are important for students who are native English speakers so they too can become bilingual and access the seal. For students whose primary language is not English, the classes can help ensure they don’t lose their primary language as they learn English.

Of Eagle’s 25 students who graduated with a seal of biliteracy this year, 17 were native Spanish speakers and eight were native English speakers.

“We want all kids to see their bilingualism is an asset,” Martinez said. “It’s huge for them.”