Who Is In Charge

‘Ideal’ system would cost billions more

Funding an “ideal” K-12 education system could cost nearly $9 billion a year, compared to the $6.1 billion currently spent.

Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, and education Commission Dwight Jones confer before start of meeting.
Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, and education Commission Dwight Jones confer before start of meeting.

That’s what Department of Education officials told the Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission Thursday.

The panel devoted much of its meeting to a discussion of school finance. Among other things, the group had asked CDE to provide an estimate of what an “ideal” system would cost.

The answer was about $2.8 billion a year more than the approximately $6.1 billion spent from state aid, federal grants and local property taxes.

What makes up that $2.8 billion? Here’s how Vody Herrmann, CDE school finance director, broke it down, if it were in place for the current school year:

  • $1.2 billion – Bring current spending to national per-pupil average.
  • $269.5 million – Raise teacher salaries to national average.
  • $151 million – Institute full-day kindergarten for all students.
  • $174.6 million – Provide half-day preschool for all 4-year-olds.
  • $123.8 million – Pay for dual high school/college enrollment for one-third of 12th graders.
  • $1.13 billion – Increase time in school by 20 percent.
  • $74.6 million – Hike in categorical spending required by increased school time. (Categoricals are funds earmarked for transportation, special education and other specific programs.)
  • $65.1 million – Extra kindergarten and preschool costs required by increased school time.

“We know $2.8 billion in this environment is … pie in the sky,” said commission chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder. But, he asked education Commissioner Dwight Jones to comment on what he thought about the “ideal” system.

Heath’s reference to the environment meant the state’s continuing revenue and budget crisis probably will mean state aid to school districts will be trimmed nearly 2 percent in the current, 2009-10 budget year, according to CDE.

Noting carefully that the commission had asked CDE to develop the estimate, Jones said, “In no way is this a budget I’m suggesting or a dollar amount I’m recommending.”

But, he went on to make these comments about specific ideas:

  • Teacher pay: “A quality teacher makes a significant difference. … We also know we have to stay competitive in the state in terms of teacher salaries.”
  • Longer school days and years: “We’d be asleep at the wheel” to ignore growing national discussions about this idea. But, Jones said, “Time alone does not guarantee you anything. … It’s how we shape that day.”
  • Preschool and kindergarten: At-risk kids particularly need “that solid foundation,” Jones said, adding, “Kids need to on grade level [in reading] by 1st grade.”
  • Dual enrollment: Referring to high school dropout rates and college attendance rates, Jones noted, “I would say right now we’re not doing that very well.”

“Those are big ideas that we really have to grapple with … in some cases it is going to take more money; it is going to take more time,” Jones said.

The commission is trying to come up with proposals to better ensure the long-term stability of state finances, which have been battered by the recession and by Colorado’s conflicting constitutional provisions.

The panel is in the middle of lengthy briefings and discussions about the big-ticket areas of state spending – K-12, transportation, corrections, health care and higher education, which is on Friday’s commission agenda.

There are six legislators and 10 citizen members on the commission. The citizen members range across the ideological spectrum, and some observers have low expectations about what agreements the commission can reach.

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Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”