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

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.