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.

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below: