Who Is In Charge

Flap dooms Fort Lewis tuition bill

Friday roundup
– Charter bill surfaces
– Tax study launched

Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, has learned that you mess with a college’s budget at your peril.

A controversy over Native American student tuition at Fort Lewis College – which really is a bureaucratic fight about money – has forced her to withdraw her bill to change how the state pays for such students, creating a $1.8 million cut for the college.

Middleton announced at a Capitol news conference on Friday that, “I will kill this bill.” The measure, House Bill 10-1067, is on the House Education Committee calendar for Monday afternoon.

Rep. Karen Middleton
Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, spoke at a news conference Jan. 22, 2010.

“This was never meant to be a direct impact on Native Americans,” said Middleton, who blamed part of the controversy on “misleading” media coverage. “I want to set the record straight.”

Under the terms of an early 20th century treaty, Colorado must provide free tuition to Native American students at Fort Lewis, whether they’re Colorado residents or not. There are about 650 non-resident Native Americans at the college and a much smaller number of residents.

The problem was created by early 21st century budgeting techniques. While the legislature sets limits on how much resident tuition can increase in a year, college boards are free to charge whatever they want for out-of-staters, even if it’s higher than the actual cost of educating those students. Colleges use the extra money to cover other budget needs.

In the case of Fort Lewis, non-residents who aren’t Native American pay the full freight $16,060 a year) with their own money or scholarships, but the state treasury has to pick up the cost for Native Americans.

Middleton’s bill, which originated with the Department of Higher Education, would have allowed the state to reimburse Fort Lewis at the actual cost of instruction, to be determined by DHE but estimated at $13,271 a year.)

A legislative staff fiscal analysis pegged the reimbursement for non-resident Native Americans at $10.4 million. Using cost of instruction would have cut that amount to $8.6 million, a $1.8 million savings for the cash-strapped state budget but a loss for hard-pressed Fort Lewis, which is facing additional cuts in other state support.

The state has had to reduce the amount of work-study money it provides to students statewide to cover its reimbursements to Fort Lewis.

Middleton also said, “They [Fort Lewis] were unwilling to come to the table and negotiate.”

Asked if she thought Fort Lewis backers had used the Native American issue as a “wedge” tactic to win a budget battle, Middleton paused to frame her answer and then said, “I would suggest that may have played into it.”

Both Middleton and Rico Munn, DHE director, seemed peeved by the whole affair. “I think it’s very unfortunate the way her bill has been characterized,” Munn said at the news conference.

Asked the “wedge” question, Munn said, “I’m not going to try to characterize it.”

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who observed the news conference, said, “I firmly disagree” with the wedge characterization.

Ernest House Jr., executive secretary of the state Commission of Indian Affairs, said, “It has never been about the state taking away” anything from Indian students.

In a later telephone interview with EdNews, Fort Lewis administrator Steve Schwartz said, “We felt that the bill was not workable.” Schwartz, vice president for business and finance, said, “We’re willing to talk about the Native American [tuition] waiver,” adding, “The state needs to have some way to limit the waiver.” But, he said, the college wanted a backfill of the $1.8 million loss.

Schwartz added, “The time to look at the Native America waiver is as part” of the higher education strategic planning process, due to kick off at a meeting next Wednesday. (Lots of people these days are saying various higher ed problems should be kicked into that process.)

The broader higher ed budget fight will waged in the Joint Budget Committee. The Ritter administration has proposed rolling back state support of colleges to 2005-06 levels, wiping out “catch up” funding increases some colleges, such as Fort Lewis, have gained since then.

The introduction of Middleton’s bill a few days ago was followed by somewhat breathless media reports, such as “A liberal arts colleges is being threatened with cuts in its free tuition program for Native students” and  “Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill that would cut $1.8 million in funding each year for Native American students attending Fort Lewis College in Durango and could violate a 99-year-old Indian treaty.”

According to the Durango Herald, more than 200 people attended a protest meeting at the college last Wednesday, and more than 150 students were planning to come to Denver Monday to protest. (By the way, Durango was snowbound on Friday, the college was closed and some mountain passes in the region were closed.)

Charter institute bill introduced

A measure to makes changes in the Colorado Charter School Institute was introduced Friday by Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, and 13 bipartisan cosponsors from both houses.

Senate Bill 10-111 would allow a institute charter school to join a board of cooperative education services (giving them access to special education services), launch of study of whether institute charters could be designated as local agency agencies (giving them certain status under federal law), give the institute more flexibility with facilities funding and repeal some reporting requirements by the institute to local school districts.

Sponsor makes lukewarm endorsement of tax-study resolution

The House Friday approved Senate Joint Resolution 10-002, which commissions the University of Denver to do a comprehensive study of state and local tax systems.

Estimated cost of the study is $750,000, to be raised from private funds. The resolution was pushed through in the session’s early days to make it easier for DU to raise the money. A report is due to the 2011 legislature.

One cosponsor, Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, gave the bill an oddly backhanded endorsement, saying, “In all honesty I would tell you I have concerns. … Please vote your conscience. … If it’s partisan in any way it will be a waste of time.”

Several Republicans did just that and voted no in the final 40-24 tally. (The Senate passed the measure 34-1, with only Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, voting against.)

The study is expected to be coordinated by DU’s Center for Colorado’s Economic Future, which is run by Charlie Brown, the respected former director of the Legislative Council staff.

But, some of the conclusions of prior DU research reports on immigration, constitutional reform and the state economy don’t exactly align with GOP orthodoxy. Those studies were done by a different DU arm, the Strategic Issues Program.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for bill texts and status information.

Decision makers

5 things to know about Austan Goolsbee, the high-powered new addition to Chicago’s school board

PHOTO: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
In 2013, Austan Goolsbee testified before the Congressional Joint Economic Committee on Capitol Hill about the nation's economic recovery

Chicago’s school board is once again complete after outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel chose a University of Chicago economist to fill a long-vacant seat.

Austan Goolsbee, an economics professor at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, will round out the seven-member, mayor-appointed board that sets education policy in the city.

Here are five things to know about Goolsbee:

  1. Like Emanuel, he served in the Obama White House. Goolsbee was as a close adviser to President Barack Obama, eventually becoming chair of his Council of Economic Advisors. The Chicago Teachers Union see this tie as a liability. “Mr. Goolsbee comes into a board responsible for students and their schools being starved of resources for the last eight years by the man who appointed him,” the union said in a statement. “Those same neighborhoods continue to struggle from the consequences of a foreclosure crisis that the administration he served in Washington failed to address.”
  2. He has weighed in on education before. A prolific opinion writer, he has written favorably about the economic arguments for universal prekindergarten, a priority for the outgoing mayor, saying that expanding early childhood education is a bargain over the long term. In a 2015 survey of economists’ positions on public issues, Goolsbee expressed optimism about “value-added” measures that try to isolate the impact of individual teachers on student test scores — though he qualified the approach as having “lots of noise and unobservables.” Expressing uncertainty about vouchers, Goolsbee said he fears that letting parents use public funds to pay for private school tuition could harm public schools, which have fixed costs cannot easily be reduced when students leave them. (A tax-credit version of vouchers launched in Illinois last year but now faces an uncertain future under a new Democratic governor.)
  3. He’ll bring a focus on fiscal policy to a board that oversees a big and uncertain budget. A close economic adviser to President Obama and prolific commenter on matters of economic policy in the national media, he’s joining a board that oversees $8 billion in outstanding debt. Chicago has credited the passage of an equitable funding bill, in 2017, for helping stabilize its finances. But the district’s economic future is uncertain, especially as families continue to leave the city.
  4. His personal public school experience is limited. He attended an elite private high school in the suburbs of Boston where he grew up, and his children attended the University of Chicago’s Lab School both before and after the family’s time in Washington, D.C., he has said in interviews.
  5. He’s got a following, and a sense of humor. For proof, check out his Twitter feed, which has 80,000 followers, and his October appearance on the popular NPR quiz show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” Plus, his official University of Chicago profile lists a special interest in improv comedy. That sets him apart from the rest of the school board members, who tend to keep a low public profile.  

How long Goolsbee serves could depend on what happens after Emanuel leaves office in early 2019. Chicago’s mayor has controlled the city school board since 1995, but Emanuel’s decision not to seek a third term has heightened debate about whether the city’s schools have benefitted.

In 2011 and 2015, voters backed non-binding resolutions that would make the board democratically elected. Now, two of the leading candidates in the mayor’s race, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and state comptroller Susana Mendoza, have said they’d support an elected school board — reducing their own power over education if they become mayor.

How soon a change could happen is unclear, but state lawmakers who would have to sign off on such a change have an ally in Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, who has said he supports the call for an elected school board.

The issue was a point of debate at a Chalkbeat Chicago event this week at Malcolm X College. At the event, titled “Education for All? Chicago’s Next Mayor and the Future of Public Schools,” some panelists voiced concern that elections would be dominated by well-organized factions, such as the teachers union, that would have the ability to outspend other candidates.

Super Search

The pressing question at Denver’s final forum: How will Susana Cordova tackle inequity?

PHOTO: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Susana Cordova poses for a portrait in December 2018.

The challenges that Susana Cordova will face if she’s hired next week as superintendent of the Denver school district were laid bare at a public forum Tuesday night.

Standing in a high school cafeteria with a microphone in her hand, the deputy superintendent and sole finalist for the top job faced tough questions about why struggling schools have high numbers of inexperienced teachers, whether she would commit to removing all police officers from schools, and what she would do about what one student called the “charter-ization” of Denver Public Schools — that is, the district’s practice of replacing low-performing district-run schools, sometimes with charter schools.

The most heated and emotional exchanges, however, were about inequities: Why is the district not serving black, Latino, and Native American students as well as white students? Why do test score gaps exist between students from poor families and those from wealthier ones?

Onecia Garcia, a senior at East High School, the city’s largest school and one of its most diverse, told Cordova there is a noticeable gap at East between the kids whose parents have money to pay for tutors and SAT prep courses, and the kids whose parents don’t.

“I want to know what your plan is to get that gap in order,” Garcia said.

In response to Garcia’s question and others like it, Cordova acknowledged that institutional racism exists in Denver Public Schools and has contributed to those gaps. She said the district needs to do a better job informing families about opportunities such as free SAT help and concurrent enrollment classes that allow students to earn college credit while in high school.

Cordova, who grew up in Denver and climbed the district ranks from teacher to her current position of deputy superintendent, talked about making it mandatory for all teachers to undergo training on bias and being culturally responsive, instead of allowing some to opt out.

Cordova said one of her top priorities would be to take the myriad and disparate efforts the district has started over the years to address specific inequities and combine them into one comprehensive plan. She called it “an equity plan that is for all kids, but that also has the specifics for African-American kids, for Latino kids, for low-income kids.”

“It is important that we’re not introducing too many things that you can’t keep a focus,” she said. “I think that’s a valid criticism of the work that we’ve done: We’ve introduced too many things that have made it hard to understand what is the progress that we’re trying to get at.”

But after the forum, Garcia said she didn’t feel Cordova had fully answered the questions. Other students who attended said they felt the same way.

“She wasn’t willing to commit to anything,” said Jonathan Bateman, a freshman at George Washington High School, where the forum was held.

“She answered questions like a politician,” said Carlye Raabe, also a freshman at George Washington.

Cordova emphasized that if she’s hired as superintendent, she’ll approach the job differently than her predecessor, Tom Boasberg, who stepped down in October after nearly 10 years of leading Denver Public Schools. Boasberg was often criticized for not listening to the community.

“I believe deeply in the power of relationships,” Cordova said. “I think it’s really important that we’re not just listening to people who think like I think or who sound like I sound, but who have different experiences, because Denver is an incredibly diverse place.”

The school board is expected to vote Monday on whether to appoint Cordova to the top job.