Who Is In Charge

Stimulus cash bails out CDE programs

More than $7 million in federal stimulus funds will be used to pay for an assortment of state education support programs that had lost their state funding to budget cuts or were never funded in the first place.

StockARRALogo92909The allocations were announced formally Tuesday by Gov. Bill Ritter’s office, but they had been expected for some time.

While the use of stimulus funds saves the programs for now, the money basically provides a one-time fix, and the long-term survival of the programs will depend on future state or other funding. The state’s revenue picture is grim for at least a couple more years, so continued funding of these efforts could be in doubt.

But, keeping the programs alive also is seen as a way to enhance Colorado’s standing in the competition for federal Race to the Top funds, another part of the federal stimulus program. (Ritter is using a different pot of stimulus money to shore up the CDE support programs.)

“These strategic investments will allow us to continue leading Colorado forward, and they’ll pay untold dividends down the road,” said Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, who is coordinating the state’s R2T application. That bid is being prepared and will be submitted later this fall.

Here’s a rundown of the programs and the amounts they’re receiving:

  • $1 million for a grant program that school districts can tap to develop alternative teacher compensation programs. (State funding for this was cut earlier.)
  • $500,000 to develop the new educator identifier system, which was authorized by a 2009 law but not funded. (This will be matched by $400,000 in private funds.
  • $1.5 million to expand use of the Teach for America program in Colorado.
  • $2.5 million for further work on the Colorado Growth Model data system.
  • $1.3 million to reinstate a system of stipends for teachers who hold national board certifications. There are higher stipends for such teachers who work in low-performing schools. There’s also $200,000 to reinstate a stipend program for national board assessments, which helps teachers with the costs of the exams.
  • $53,000 to help implement the state new high-school/college dual enrollment program, also created by a 2009 law.
  • $300,000 to help launch a new CDE dropout prevention office, yet another program created by the 2009 legislature but not funded.
  • $25,000 for a principal leadership program created by the 2008 legislature but also hampered by funding problems.

States will be scored in the R2T competition partly on the strength of their applications in four broad areas – standards and assessments, data systems, turning around low-performing schools and teacher and school leader effectiveness.

State education leaders freely acknowledge that Colorado is weakest in teacher and leader effectiveness, so some of the programs being funded seem intended to bolster the state’s case in that area.

Volunteer committees are preparing proposals in those four areas, and another round of panel meetings is set for next week.

Further background on Colorado’s R2T bid

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.