Funding & Finance

A66 gets a business group endorsement

Colorado Succeeds, the business group that focuses on education issues, on Tuesday endorsed Amendment 66, the proposed $950 million P-12 tax increase.

Hickenlooper news conference
Gov. John Hickenlooper, flanked by Colorado Succeeds leaders, urged passage of Amendment 66 during an Oct. 8 news conference.

The broader business community has been split on A66, so the Colorado Succeeds endorsement comes as welcome news for amendment supporters. Gov. John Hickenlooper attended the group’s news conference to thank leaders for their decision.

Bob Deibel, co-chair of the group’s board, said that as a businessman he cares about taxes, but that he also cares about investing in education. Saying that state government has put education reforms in place, “We are here to hold up our end of the deal and endorse Amendment 66.” (See a list of group members here.)

Hickenlooper, after thanking the group, was effusive in his support of the amendment. “This is the single most important education reform initiative in the history of the United States,” he said.

Political observers have been chattering about business views of the amendment since the proposal was being drafted last spring. The conventional wisdom has been that business support was vital to fund a campaign to help pass such a significant tax increase.

Asked about the split in the business community, Hickenlooper said opponents – and uncommitted groups – “couldn’t get their arms around the tax increase. We can live with that.”

“I haven’t heard of anyone who’s criticized the reforms” that A66 would fund, the governor said.

The amendment proposes raising the state’s 4.63 percent personal income tax rate to 5 percent on income under $75,000 and to 5.9 percent on income above that figure. Some small business people pay their taxes on individual returns, so the tax would apply to those business earnings.

Some business groups were willing to back a flat tax-rate increase but oppose the two-step system in A66.

While numerous individual executives have endorsed Amendment 66 previously, some business groups have remained neutral, notably the Denver Metro Chamber and Colorado Concern. A few, such as the South Metro chamber and Club 20, the influential Western Slope group, are opposed. (See this list of individual and other endorsements on the website of Colorado Commits to Kids, the main support group. See this page on the Coloradans for Real Education Reform website for individuals and groups opposing the amendment.)

Hickenlooper was enthusiastic in his support of A66, saying it will reduce class sizes, provide more funding for top teachers, reduce dropout rates and focus funding the students who need the most help.

He noted that Colorado has enacted an extensive list of education reforms in recent years but “we haven’t had the money to implement them.” He argued, “This is an investment, but it’s an investment that will pay off.”

On A66’s prospects, Hickenlooper said, “It’s going to be a very close election.”

Looming threat

Report: Looming financial threats could undermine ‘fresh’ start for new Detroit district

The creation of a new school district last year gave Detroit schools a break from years of crippling debt, allowing the new district to report a healthy budget surplus going into its second year.

It’s the first time since 2007 that the city’s main school district has ended the year with a surplus.

But a report released this morning — just days after Superintendent Nikolai Vitti took over the district — warns of looming financial challenges that “could derail the ‘fresh’ financial start that state policymakers crafted for the school district.”

The report, from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, notes that almost a third of the district’s $64 million surplus is the cost savings from more than 200 vacant teaching positions.

Those vacancies have caused serious problems in schools including classrooms crammed with 40 or 50 kids. The district says it’s been trying to fill those positions. But as it struggles to recruit teachers, it is also saving money by not having to pay them.

Other problems highlighted in the report include the district’s need to use its buildings more efficiently at a time when many schools are more than half empty. “While a business case might be made to close an under-utilized building in one part of the city, such a closure can create challenges and new costs for the districts and the families involved,” the report states. It notes that past school closings have driven students out of the district and forced kids to travel long distances to school.

The report also warns that if academics don’t improve soon, student enrollment — and state dollars tied to enrollment — could continue to fall.

Read the full report here:

 

Teacher Pay

Every Tennessee teacher will make at least $33,745 under new salary schedule

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Some teachers in 46 Tennessee districts will see a pay boost next year after the State Board of Education voted Wednesday to raise the minimum salary for educators across the state.

The unanimous vote raises the minimum pay from $32,445 to $33,745, or an increase of 4 percent. The minimum salary is the lowest that a district can pay its teachers, and usually applies to new educators.

The boost under the new schedule won’t affect most Tennessee districts, including the largest ones in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga — where teacher salaries already exceed the state minimum. (You can see the list of districts impacted here.)

The state’s largest teachers union lauded the increase, which will be funded under the state’s 2017-18 budget under Gov. Bill Haslam.

“Teachers statewide are increasingly struggling to support their own families on the stagnant wages of a public school teacher,” said Barbara Gray, president of the Tennessee Education Association. “It is unacceptable for teachers to have to choose between the profession they love and their ability to keep the lights on at home or send their own children to college.”

Tennessee is one of 17 states that use salary schedules to dictate minimum teacher pay, according to a 2016 analysis by the Education Commission of the States. In that analysis, Tennessee ranked 10th out of 17 on starting pay.

The 4 percent raise is a step toward addressing a nationwide issue: the widening gap in teacher wages. On average, teachers earn just 77 percent of what other college graduates earn, according to a 2016 study from the Economic Policy Institute. Tennessee ranks 40th in that study, with its teachers earning 70 percent in comparison to other graduates.

View the Economic Policy Institute’s data in full: