Who Is In Charge

Senate approves K-12 cuts

Friday roundup
– Higher ed budget shift
– New bills

The Senate voted 32-2 Tuesday morning to pass Senate Bill 10-065, which cuts $110 million from state K-12 support and specifies that the state won’t cover another $20 million for enrollment and at-risk student increases.

The measure is the second education bill that’s on the fast track to passage in the legislature’s opening weeks, but it’s not being greeted with the same enthusiasm as the Race to the Top-related proposal that took only three days from introduction to signing. (For instance, no senators signed on Monday as SB 10-065 cosponsors.)

The Senate Friday afternoon had given unanimous preliminary approval to SB 10-065. It was a grumpy vote for some lawmakers.

“I don’t think this is a great bill. I am very unhappy about it, but I think it’s a necessity,” said Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, speaking on the Senate floor.

Speaking during an earlier Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, said, “This is going to be very painful [but] there is no way around it.”

Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge
Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, carried the K-12 budget cut on the Senate floor Jan. 15.

The $110 million cutback was an escape hatch created by lawmakers in 2009 when they approved some $3.7 billion in school aid. The legislature told districts not to budget or spend the money until after Jan. 29, the deadline set for 2010 legislature to pull the money back. (That deadline is why SB 10-065 is on the fast track.)

That “escrow” provision was a last-minute 2009 compromise between the Senate, which wanted to just cut $150 million, and the House, where members were heavily lobbied by the Colorado Education Association to not make such a cut.

Friday, Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, called the 2009 compromise “a cruel hoax” and said the $110 million escrow “shouldn’t have been in the bill in the first place.”

CEA lobbyist Karen Wick testified against the bill earlier in the day before the appropriations committee. Reminding members “We represent almost 40,000 members,” Wick continued, “We think our schools need to keep this money. [It] would help districts prepare for what’s to come.” (She was referring to 2010-11 cuts in state aid that could exceed $350 million.)

“I appreciate your advocacy, but we have the whole spectrum [of budget problems] to look at,” said Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins and chair of the Senate Education Committee.

The committee passed the bill to the floor on a 9-0 vote.

The bill also reduces state school aid by an additional $67 million, but that won’t be a cut to districts because they are expected to receive that amount in higher-than-projected local tax collections.

The bill now moves to the House. If the measure passes, the $110 million reverts to the State Education Fund, a separate pot of money that’s used partly for general school aid and partly for special programs. The fund is currently on track to go insolvent.

Do your homework

College funding shift gets JBC OK

The Joint Budget Committee Thursday approved a staff recommendation to cut state tax support of higher education by about $225 million this budget year. The money will be replaced with federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, but the shift will help cover the overall problems in the general fund, the state’s main budget account.

The recommendation will be turned in to a budget-adjustment bill similar to SB 10-065.

New bills update

A few more new bills were introduced Friday before legislators scattered for the three-day weekend. Of interest is Senate Bill 10-069, which would require that the money saved by the pending expiration of Amendment 23’s 1 percent “bonus” provision for school aid be shifted to the state highway fund, starting in 2011-12 and running until 2020-21.

The bill is sponsored by two eastern plains Republicans, Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling. It likely has no chance in the Democratic-controlled legislature.


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.”