Who Is In Charge

Quick action urged on K-12 cuts

Lawmakers need to act quickly next year to make necessary cuts in state school aid, an analyst suggested Thursday to the Joint Budget Committee – and a host of other legislators.

CapCDEBud120309The six-member JBC held its first staff briefing on proposed aid to K-12 schools for 2010-11, spending that’s threatened by the state’s fiscal crisis. The panel was joined by a dozen current or past members of the House and Senate education committees, who peppered JBC staff with questions and at times dominated the discussion.

Gov. Bill Ritter has proposed cutting nearly $300 million – basically a 6.1 percent across-the-board cut to all school districts – from the amount that state support would otherwise total in 2010-11 if school finance formulas were applied in the normal fashion. Total state and local school support is about $5.7 billion.

School aid grew 4.9 percent from 2008-09 to 2009-10 because of the provisions of Amendment 23, which requires the annual amount of aid to grow by inflation, enrollment growth and a 1 percent bonus.

The A23 formula traditionally has been used with virtually  all parts of state school aid, but Ritter is proposing it be applied only to what’s called “base” funding. Other multipliers known as the “factors,” used to equalize funding among districts relative to their costs, would be cut.

Some interests, primarily the Colorado Education Association, have raised alarms that such a move would be unconstitutional. But, many others in state government and the education community seem resigned to such a move. There wasn’t a peep about the constitutional questions during Thursday morning’s briefing.

JBC analyst Carolyn Kampman, in both her testimony and her briefing paper, told the committee that lawmakers need to act quickly on two issues next year so that school districts have adequate time to plan for cuts.

First, the legislature faces a Jan. 29, 2010, deadline to pull back $110 million in the current 2009-10 budget. School districts were told last spring not to spend their shares of that money until the 2010 legislature decided whether it needed it back.

“It’s a very short time frame to get a supplemental [a mid-year budget adjustment] passed,” she warned. “I think that the rescission should be higher, but that would be hard for districts.”

Referring to Ritter’s proposed cuts, Kampman’s briefing paper said, “If the Joint Budget Committee intends to include this proposal as part of its budget balancing plan for the General Assembly’s consideration, the committee should discuss this plan with leadership and members of the education committees to ensure that the necessary statutory changes can be enacted in a timely matter.”

Kampman said Ritter’s plan would require changes in school finance law. She also said, “You’re going to need to pass [the governor’s plan] unless someone else has a really good idea.”

Fretting about future financial demands

Analyst Bernie Gallagher, who teams with Kampman on education issues, briefed lawmakers on some of the potential costs of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, the 2008 law that created a multi-year program of new content standards, new statewide tests, greater alignment of K-12 and higher education and other reforms.

The full program is a few years away from having an impact in the state’s classrooms, and an outside study of what it might cost has only just started and won’t be finished until the autumn of 2011.

Gallagher noted that the Department of Education has guesstimated that creation of a new, more sophisticated online testing system could cost up to $80 million, and that raised some lawmaker eyebrows.

Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder
Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder

“Why wasn’t this in the fiscal note?” asked JBC Chair Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, referring to the cost-estimate document attached to most legislative bills.

“There was no way to quantify it at the time,” Kampman noted.

“We understood there was going to be a big fiscal note” but that costs were to be nailed down later, said Sen. Chris Romer- D-Denver, a CAP4K sponsor.

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton and the legislature’s foremost critic of CSAP tests, said, “I’d like to know where they [the CDE] are going to get the money.”

“The department may just turn around and say, you passed the law, you figure it out” Pommer commented.

That part of the briefing ended with Pommer asking, “Do you have more to say about CAP4K, or have you shocked us enough?”

The JBC returns to K-12 spending on Dec. 11, when CDE officials will appear to answer questions about the 2010-11 budget. Judging from the number of questions lawmakers asked Kampman and Gallagher to relay to the department, it could be a long hearing.

JBC staff briefing paper on 2010-11 Department of Education budget

Big speeches

Emanuel tries to shore up education legacy in final budget address

PHOTO: Elaine Chen/Chalkbeat
Rahm Emanuel at Cardenas Elementary School in Little Village, moments before he announced this year's $1 billion capital plan.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel choked up twice during his final budget address to Chicago’s City Council Wednesday morning: once when he talked about his wife, Amy Rule, and the other when he read aloud a letter from a John Marshall High School senior who lives on Chicago’s West Side.

The address highlighted millions he wants to spend to expand after-school programming, middle school mentoring, and a summer jobs initiative for Chicago teens. It also signaled loud and clear how Emanuel views his legacy: as the mayor who took the reins when the city faced a $600 million deficit and then righted Chicago’s fiscal ship, while pushing for the expansion of programs that serve public schools and children.

In the speech, he ticked off such accomplishments as expanding kindergarten citywide from a half- to a full-day, extending the city’s school day, increasing the graduation rate to a record 78.2 percent up from 57 percent when he took office in 2011, and paving the path for universal pre-kindergarten, though that initiative is still in the early stages.

“When you step back and look at the arc of what we’ve done in the past seven years, and take a wide lens view, from free pre-K to free community college, from Safe Passage to mentors to more tutors in our neighborhood libraries … at end of day, it is really no different than what Amy and I, or you and your partner, would do for your own children,” he said.

Emanuel, the former congressman and chief of staff for President Barack Obama who announced on the first day of school in September that he won’t be running for re-election, acknowledged that shoring up civic finances isn’t glitzy work — not like, say, plopping a major park in the middle of downtown, as his predecessor Richard M. Daley did by opening Millennium Park.

But, said Emanuel, “one thing I’ve learned in the past 24 years in politics is that they don’t build statues for people who restore fiscal stability.”

Outside of the longer school day and school year, the mayor stressed his work expanding programming for children — particularly teenagers — after school and in summers as an antidote to the city’s troubling violence that did not abate in his term. Amid a $10.7 billion budget plan that includes a chunk of new tax-increment finance dollars that will go toward schools, the new budget lays out $500,000 more funding for his signature Summer Jobs program, bringing projected total spending on that up to $18 million in 2019.

He also set aside $1 million for his wife’s Working on Womanhood mentoring program that currently serves 500 women and girls, $1 million more for the after-school program After School Matters, and more money for free dental services at Chicago Public Schools and trauma-informed therapy programs.

The mayor’s address had barely ended when the Chicago Teachers Union sent an email with the subject line “No victory lap for this failed mayor.” It pointed to blemishes on Emanuel’s education record, from closing 50 schools in 2013 to systemic failings in the city’s special education program — an issue that now has Chicago Public Schools under the watchful eye of a state monitor.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey called on the city’s next mayor to restore money to mental health clinics and social services, fund smaller class sizes, broaden a “sustainable schools” program that partners community agencies with languishing neighborhood schools, and invest in more social workers, psychologists, nurses, librarians, and teachers’ assistants.

In his address, Emanuel did not talk about some of the tough decisions the school district had to make during tough budget years, such as the school closings or widespread teacher layoffs that topped 2,000 that same year. 

He did, however, stress his philosophy that investments in children must extend beyond the typical school day. In the letter from the Marshall High School senior, the teen wrote that, until his freshman year of high school, “I never saw or met any males like me who lead successful lives.” The letter went on to praise the nonprofit Becoming A Man, a male mentoring program that has expanded among Chicago schools during Emanuel’s tenure.

The teen intends to attend Mississippi Valley State University next fall, the mayor said. When Emanuel pointed out the young man and his Becoming A Man program mentor in the City Council chambers, many in attendance gave them a standing ovation.



public comment

Chicago sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C. Sullivan High School