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.

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