Big shots face off

Higher ed funding bill sparks high-level differences

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia makes points on higher education bill as sponsor Mark, Ferrandino, speaker of the House at right, listens.

It’s rare to see vigorous public debate between the speaker of the House and the lieutenant governor, especially when they’re from the same party. But a proposed higher education funding bill brought out just that at a House Education Committee hearing Monday.

At issue is House Bill 14-1319, a proposal by House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. In broad terms, it would shift funding to “access” institutions, such as the community colleges and Metropolitan State University, and target some funding to state colleges and universities based on such performance indicators as graduation rates.

In addition to highlighting differences between Ferrandino and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who’s also executive director of the Department of Higher Education, the hearing also revealed divisions between research universities and smaller rural colleges on one side and Metro and the community colleges on the other.

Although Ferrandino has been working on the idea for a long time, the bill surfaced publically only on March 13 and immediately raised big questions in the higher education establishment (see story).

Some observers questioned the timing of the bill so late in the legislative session and speculated that Ferrandino was pushing for a “legacy” measure, given that he’s term-limited so will leave the legislature after this session.

In response to criticism and questions, Ferrandino wrote a whole new version of the bill even before Monday’s three-hour hearing. Further changes are expected, given continued concerns. The panel didn’t discuss possible amendments nor vote on Monday and may consider the bill again on Wednesday.

Ferrandino’s amendment would give the Colorado Commission on Higher Ediucation a greater role in fleshing out the new funding system, but Monday’s hearing made clear that he hasn’t eliminated all concerns about the bill.

A key element of the bill is the proposed requirement that 52.5 percent of higher education funding be funneled through the College Opportunity Fund, a mechanism that provides tuition discounts to resident undergraduate students. The actual per-student amount has fluctuated up and down (mostly down) in recent years as state revenue declines have forced lawmakers to cut higher education funding. While 52.5 percent is about what has been allocated to stipends in recent years, many college leaders oppose locking that percentage into state law.

In his testimony Garcia made it clear that the department doesn’t feel the bill makes a significant change in the current system. “This funding model is based primarily on enrollment and includes some outcome-based factors,” he said.

Garcia said the bill “will inevitably shift resources” from research universities and rural colleges to large open-access institutions like Metropolitan State University and community colleges. “It’s a zero-sum game.”

He said later, “I think the bill makes a valiant effort to address really important issues” like college completion and closing ethnic completion. Bit, he added, “The current system’s that in place can work and is working.” Under terms of a recent higher education master plan, the DHE has negotiated performance contracts with all institutions, and an existing state law requires a portion of college funding be based on performance later in this decade, after certain base levels of state support for higher education are achieved.

The lieutenant governor said Ferrandino’s bill is “a too-complex way to get to where we’ve already decided we want to go.”

Ferrandino wasn’t convinced, saying, “I have to disagree. The current system isn’t working” because it’s based on an old model of allocations to institutions that penalizes schools like Metro.

The discussion was very polite, with Garcia and other witnesses all praising Ferrandino for listening to their concerns and being willing to make tweaks in his proposal. Officially, DHE is neutral on the bill.

Metro President Steve Jordan testified strongly in favor of the bill, as did Mark Superka, vice president of finance and administration for the community college system.

Representatives of Fort Lewis College, Western State Colorado University and Adams State University raised concerns about the bill, as did Todd Saliman, chief financial officer of the University of Colorado System.

“It will drive our tuition up. Students will pay more at the University of Colorado if this bill becomes law,” he said. “We think there should be access and affordability not just for the students of community colleges but also for the students of the University of Colorado.” Rich Schweigert, Colorado State University chief financial officer, echoed Saliman’s concerns.

Dick Kaufman, chair of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, echoed the concerns of others when he said, “The basic problem here, I think everybody knows, is that we don’t have enough money in the system.”

Ferrandino said he would work on additional amendments to the bill, although he’s not willing to compromise the 52.5 percent earmark for tuition stipends. “I would leave it up to the committee on that issue.”

Read the current version of Ferrandino’s bill here.

STEM in Colorado

Colorado lawmakers are stepping in to help prepare students for the state’s booming tech sector

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students at Northglenn High School who are studying biomedical science work on an assignment. The class is part of the school's STEM offerings.

More Colorado students could be building smartphone apps by the end of next school year.

In an effort to prepare students for the state’s booming technology job market, lawmakers are considering three bills that would beef up access to computer science classes and provide students with new credentials after they leave high school.

A Chalkbeat analysis last year found that only about two out of every seven students in Colorado have access to courses in STEM — short for science, technology, engineering and math.

The bipartisan bills could change that, increasing access to computer science courses for the state’s black, Latino and rural students, and — for the first time — begin to define what a quality STEM program is.

The first bill scheduled to be debated by the House Education Committee on Monday would require schools to include technology in lessons alongside traditional subjects, such as English and civics.

It would also require the education department to create lessons to help educators teach computer science as a standalone course, and set up a $500,000 grant program to help train them.

“Kids need to be up to speed on these things in order to function in the current marketplace,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Canon City Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors, along with Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat. “The more they’re attuned to the technology of the times — all the better. It will help them in college and getting their job and careers.”

The technology sector is the fastest growing in Colorado. There are an estimated 13,517 open computing jobs in the state, according to Colorado Succeeds, an education reform advocacy group that represents the state’s business community.

Some states have already made the shift to include technology in their learning standards. In Arkansas, which made the change in 2015, officials say the new standards have already started to break down stereotypes about who can do computer science.

“What we’re trying to do is to make computer science a normal part of their academic lives,” said Anthony Owen, the state director for computer science education in Arkansas. “When we make it normal for everyone, it’s abnormal for no one.”

A second bill under consideration in Colorado would make mostly technical changes to the state’s new P-Tech schools, a model that mirrors a New York City school that partners with IBM to give students work experience and a path to an associate’s degree while in high school.

The model allows students to stay in high school for up to six years — which has caused schools that house P-Tech programs to worry about their graduation rates.

House Bill 1194 would change the way the state calculates graduation rates to avoid penalizing schools that have P-Tech students enrolled for an extra two years.

The third bill, House Bill 1201, would create a special kind of diploma that shows colleges and employers that its holder is proficient in STEM subjects. To get the diploma, students would have to take a variety of STEM classes, earn high marks on standardized math exams, and demonstrate their science skills through a special project they complete their senior year.

“I want to make sure, across Colorado, that we have clear expectations and that they’re equitable expectations,” said Rep. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat and sponsor of the bill. “All of our schools are doing a good job preparing our kids, but I want to be specific in terms of what our colleges and workforce is seeking in our graduates.”

The bill, however, stops short of defining what coursework students must complete. Local schools will decide that. That was important to Jess Buller, the principal of West Grand’s K-8 school who helped write the bill. He noted that different schools and districts offer different STEM courses.

“We want that STEM endorsement to be that sign of distinction, that a student completed a program and does not need the remedial work that might be required for other students,” Buller said. “The bill is specific enough, but flexible enough.”

Morgan Kempf, the STEM science specialist for Pueblo City Schools, said she is excited to offer such a credential.

In the absence of a special diploma, Pueblo Central High School, the city’s STEM school, has sought outside accreditation to give weight to its STEM courses. The school has also started handing out school letters, usually a tradition reserved for varsity athletes, to exceptional STEM students.

“It’s an extra stamp of approval that recognizes and appreciates what they’re doing and at the level of rigor they’re doing it at,” Kempf said. “That stamp of approval lets students and potential employers know they’re meeting expectations.”

power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: House Speaker Brian Bosma

PHOTO: Sarah Glen

Find more entries on education power players as they publish here.

Vitals: Republican representing District 88, covering parts of Marion, Hancock and Hamilton counties. So far, has served 31 years in the legislature, 9 of those as Speaker of the House. Bosma is a lawyer at the firm Kroger, Gardis & Regas.

Why he’s a power player: Bosma was House Speaker in 2011, when the state passed its large education reform package, creating the first voucher program for students from low-income families. Along with Rep. Bob Behning, Bosma helped develop the state’s voucher program bill as well as the bill that expanded charter school efforts that year. As a party and chamber leader, he plays a major role in setting House Republicans’ legislative agendas.

On toeing the party line: With the debate over state-funded preschool front and center during this year’s session, Bosma has expressed far more enthusiasm than his fellow Republicans for expanding the state’s program. Indeed, Bosma has long been a supporter of state-sponsored preschool. Currently, low-income families in five counties can apply for vouchers to use at high-quality preschool providers. Bosma has said he’d like to see that number triple, if not more.

Recent action: In 2016, Bosma ushered through one of the few teacher-focused bills that became law in the wake of news that some districts in the state were struggling to hire teachers. The bill created a state scholarship fund for prospective teachers, and began awarding money to students this year.

A perhaps little-known fact: In the late 1980s, Bosma worked at the Indiana Department of Education as the legislative adviser to H. Dean Evans, the state superintendent at that time. Then, as with this year’s House Bill 1005, lawmakers advocated to make the state superintendent an appointed position, a bill Bosma is carrying this year.

Who supports him: In past elections, Bosma has received campaign contributions from Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; Stand for Children, a national organization that supports education reform and helps parents to organize; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country.

Conversely, given his support for choice-based reform, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Bosma an “F” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.

Legislative highlights via Chalkbeat:

Bills in past years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Also check out our list of bills to watch this year.