Follow the money

All Indianapolis districts gain state dollars under Senate budget plan

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students at Sidener Academy in Indianapolis Public Schools read or do homework.

Indiana Senate Republicans want to boost funding for teacher bonuses and reduce losses for school districts serving lots of poor students, according to a budget plan released Thursday.

The Senate proposal calls for raising education funding by $358 million, or 3.25 percent, over the next two years — the most of any state budget plan presented this year. Per-student funding would also increase slightly to $5,274 in 2019, up from the $5,088 school districts received in 2017.

The plan includes few surprises, but marks the next phase of the state’s budget negotiations. The House proposed a smaller $273 million, 2.8 percent funding increase for education last month, although the House plan would include higher per-student funding. Much of the Senate increase appears to come from the provisions for teacher bonuses and poor students.

According to Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, chairman of the budget-making Appropriations Committee, the funding increase includes $40 million per year directed at the “complexity index,” which determines how much extra money districts receive to educate poor students. That will primarily benefit urban and rural schools, he said. Based on changes to how that formula is calculated, most districts still lose complexity dollars, but in the Senate plan, the losses are less steep than what the House projected.

“We thought that Indiana has a good reputation across the nation as funding those who have the greatest needs, so we thought we needed to work on that a little bit more,” Kenley said. “I think it’s an equitable result.”

Democrats applauded those increases, though the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Karen Tallian, said they weren’t enough.

Under the Senate’s budget, every district in Marion County sees its basic state aid and per-student funding increase, including Indianapolis Public Schools, which would receive cuts in the House plan.

Growing suburban districts like Zionsville and Hamilton Southeastern would get sizable funding bumps from the Senate, while shrinking districts, including East Chicago and Gary, would lose state money. But overall, the state’s poorest districts seem to fare better under the Senate’s plan than the House’s.

The Senate’s budget also adds back in $40 million per year for teacher bonuses, which the House had removed from earlier proposals — one of a number of changes proposed by state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. The bonus program would work slightly differently than it has in years past, and dole out money based on school enrollment rather than ISTEP scores. The change comes after wide disparities in last year’s bonuses were criticized by educators across the state.

“We think, number one, that we need to make sure we get more money to the classroom teacher,” Kenley said. “We think teachers everywhere that are doing a good job should be rewarded for that.”

The Senate’s new plan would distribute $39 per student to each district in the state. That money would then be divvied up among teachers rated “effective” or “highly effective.” Of that money, up to 50 percent could be added into a teacher’s base salary. That would help teachers boost their future pension payments, which year-end stipends do not, Tallian said.

Like the House budget plan, the Senate budget increases funding for English learners, but it weights that funding toward schools where English learners make up at least 5 percent of their enrollment. Overall, an additional $11.5 million is set aside for those schools over the next two years.

The Senate plan also adds in requirements for virtual schools, mandating that they report information about class size, teacher-per-student ratios, and how often teachers have in-person meetings to the education department each year. Those schools wouldn’t qualify for the English-learner or teacher bonus grants, and would only get 90 percent of the basic per-student funding amount from the state, as they do now. The House’s plan would increase that to 100 percent.

The state’s voucher program would see its funding grow over the next two years under the Senate plan, as with the House plan. Indiana is projected to spend more than $156 million by 2018 and $167 million by 2019 on the program, up from $146 million in 2017. The Senate also includes those figures as a budget line item, rather than just as part of the funding formula, which Kenley said was more transparent. Tallian agreed.

“It’s a great move that we’ve been calling for for several years,” she said.

The Senate budget also includes:

  • $16 million per year for the state’s preschool program, a $4 million increase per year. The proposal also allows programs from all 92 counties participate, rather than the current five — similar to bills that passed out of the Senate earlier this year.
  • $1 million per year for a home-based early education program called UpStart.
  • $500,000 per year for dual language immersion programs.
  • $1 million per year to “align” initiatives regarding science, technology, engineering and math education.
  • $12.5 million per year for the Charter and Innovation Network School Grant Program.
  • Funding increases for special education and honors grants.
  • Funding increases for Advanced Placement and PSAT testing.

taking initiative

Parents, students press Aurora school district to pass resolution assuring safety of immigrant students

A reading lesson this spring at an Aurora family resource center. (Kathryn Scott, The Denver Post).

As a mother of four U.S.-born schoolchildren, but being in the country illegally herself, Arely worries that immigration agents might pick her up while she is taking her kids to school one day.

But what worries her more is that her children could be picking up on her fears — and that it might hurt their focus in school. She’s also concerned for those immigrant students who could be at risk for deportation.

“There are a lot of us who are looking for the security or reassurance from the district — most of all, that our children will be safe,” said Arely, who spoke on the condition that her full name not be used because of her immigration status.

Dozens of Aurora students and parents, including Arely, are pressing the school board of Aurora Public Schools to adopt a proposed resolution for “safe and inclusive” schools that they say would help. While the Denver school board adopted a similar resolution in February, their peers in Aurora have yet to act.

“Knowing that Aurora doesn’t yet have a resolution makes me feel insecure,” Arely said.

A district spokesman said in an email the resolution won’t be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, on Tuesday, but that it would be “part of the Board’s open dialogue.”

“Anytime the Board is contemplating a community request, the Board first openly discusses their interest in a public forum,” spokesman Corey Christiansen said. “If there is interest, the Board would decide to move forward at a future meeting to issue a statement.”

Two board members reached for comment Wednesday — Dan Jorgensen and Monica Colbert — both said they supported the resolution.

“I believe that not only do we have a legal obligation to serve all students, more importantly, we have a moral obligation to make sure that all of our students are in safe and inclusive environments,” Jorgensen said. “This resolution is about doing the right thing, including providing a public statement of support and directing reasonable action on behalf of all children in our schools.”

Colbert said not supporting the resolution would deny the strength of the district’s diversity.

“In a district like Aurora where our biggest strength is our diversity, for us not to adopt a resolution such as this would be not well serving of our students,” Colbert said.

The document presented by parents and students would direct the school district to ensure officials are not collecting information about the legal status of students or their families, that they keep schools safe for students and families, and that a memo the district sent to school leaders in February gets translated and made available to all families and all staff.

The memo outlines the procedures Aurora school leaders should follow if interacting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at a school.

The resolution also calls for district officials to write a plan within 90 days for how to react if an immigration enforcement action prevents a parent from picking up a student from school.

The parents and students started sharing concerns at end of last year after President Trump’s election stoked fears in immigrant communities.

Working with RISE, a nonprofit that works with low-income parents to give them a voice in education issues, the parents and students researched other school district resolutions and worked on drafting their own.

“We didn’t want any words that seemed as if they were demanding,” Arely said. “We just want equality for our children.”

Anjali Ehujel, a 17-year-old senior at Aurora Central High School, said she has seen her friends suffering and worried a lot recently. The most important part of the resolution for her was making sure her fellow students were no longer so distracted.

“This is important because we all need education and we all have rights to get education,” Ehujel said.

Another student, Mu Cheet Cheet, a 14-year-old freshman at Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, said she got involved because she saw other students at her school bullied and depressed as they were teased about the possibility of being deported.

“For refugees they would just watch because they didn’t know how to help,” Cheet said. “When I came here, I also wanted to feel safe.”

Cheet, who came to the country as a refugee from Thailand seven years ago, found that working on the resolution was one way she could help.

More than 82 percent of the Aurora district’s 41,000 students are students of color. The city and district are one of the most diverse in the state.

“We really hope APS approves this resolution given it’s the most diverse district in the state,” said Veronica Palmer, the executive director of RISE Colorado.

Here is the draft resolution:



FINAL Resolution to Keep APS Safe and Inclusive 4 21 17 (Text)

maybe next year

Senate Republicans kill bill that would have taken broad look at public education in Colorado

Students at Vista PEAK Exploratory in Aurora work on a math assignment. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

A Republican-controlled state Senate committee spiked a bill Wednesday that was meant to spark a broad conversation about the future of Colorado’s public schools.

Some lawmakers hoped House Bill 1287 would help sell voters on raising taxes to better fund the state’s schools. But the Senate State, Military and Veterans Affairs committee voted 3-2 along party lines to kill the legislation, which would have created a series of committees to examine the state’s education laws and make recommendations for changing them.

Republicans objected to the bill because they didn’t want to create more bureaucracy, and they thought it was a ploy to raise taxes.

The bill’s demise was a defeat for a group of the state’s most authoritative lawmakers on education policy. It was one of the top legislative priorities for state Reps. Millie Hamner, a Dillon Democrat, and Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican. Both serve of the state’s budget committee and rallied lawmakers around the bill.

Rankin called the bill the most important of his legislative career.

“I’m bitterly disappointed, although it was expected,” he said. “I certainly don’t intend to give up. We’ve worked for over three years to move this idea forward. We thought we built a bipartisan coalition that was interested and wanted to help. We thought we were making really good progress.”

Hamner also expressed dismay over the bill’s death.

“To die quietly like that in Senate was really, really surprising and disappointing,” Hamner said. “Do we still have a need to establish a vision for the future of our kids? Yes. Apparently we’re going to have to do that without our Senate majority.”

Last-minute amendments brought by state Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican, to address Senate GOP leadership’s concerns could not save the bill.

Supporters of the bill said the legislature needed to step in to help rethink Colorado’s education landscape holistically, not with piecemeal legislation. The state’s laws are outdated and clash with 21st century expectations, they said at Wednesday’s hearing.

“Our current collection of policies and laws have failed to keep pace with changes in expectations of our education system,” said Mark Sass, a Broomfield high school teacher and state director of a teacher fellowship program, Teach Plus. “We need a deliberate and collaborative conversation in our state, as to our vision of education.”

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said he supported the goal of the bill. His name was listed as a sponsor when the bill was first introduced. But he said he eventually concluded the bill was the wrong approach.

“I’m not sure this is the solution to get us there,” he said. “It’s time for us to take a bottom up approach. I get nervous about standing up and staffing and financing another government program.”

After the committee hearing, Sass said Republican lawmakers failed to realize their unique role in Colorado shaping statewide education policy. The state’s constitution gives no authority to the governor, the education commissioner or the State Board of Education to create a strategic plan.

“We need someone to drive this conversation,” he said. “If the legislature won’t, who will?”

Priola said in an interview that he had hoped for more time to lobby Senate leadership and members of the committee. Instead, he said he’d try again next year.

“We live in a state with 178 school districts and thousands of schools,” he said. “There can’t be one way of doing things, but there also can’t be 1,000. There has to be some commonality on what we’re doing and what direction we’re heading.”

Rankin was less committed in trying again next year.

“I want to think about,” he said. “I don’t think this elected, term-limited legislature with the background they come from can develop the kind of leadership needed for this movement.”

The death of House Bill 1287 puts another bipartisan piece of legislation on shaky ground.

House Bill 1340, sponsored by state Reps. Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, and Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, would create a committee of lawmakers to study and make changes to the way Colorado funds its schools.

The state House of Representatives was expected to hold its final vote on that bill Wednesday morning. But Democratic leadership pushed the vote by a day.

Some Democrats in the House saw the two bills as a package, while Republicans in the Senate saw them as competing. With partisan rancor flaring in the waning days of the session, House Democrats could return the favor and kill the finance study bill.

Rankin, the House Republican, said he hoped his chamber’s leadership would let the finance study bill move forward. He introduced a similar bill two years ago but was unable to get the bill through the legislative process.

“I think it’s a good idea to take a hard look at school finance. Maybe we can get some dialogue going,” he said, adding that he believes lawmakers still need to think about a strategic plan for its schools.

Hamner, the House Democrat, said she also supported the finance study.

“I think their bill will be just fine,” she said. “Unless the Senate decides to kill it in State Affairs.”