Who Is In Charge

Tuition policy back in play

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JBC goes for Ritter 2010-11 plan

Updated 9 p.m. Feb. 24, 2010

The Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee Wednesday agreed in concept to a proposal that would allow state colleges and universities to set their own tuition rates – subject to Colorado Commission on Higher Education review.

During a four-hour session, the panel accepted a concept proposed earlier in the week by a subcommittee. The essence of the idea is that for four years, starting in 2011-12, college and system boards would develop financial plans including tuition rates, allocation of financial aid for policies for ensuring access for middle- and lower-middle income students. The plans would have to be approved by CCHE.

Part of the new system could involve reducing direct state aid for some schools, like the University of Colorado and the School of Mines, that have greater ability to raise tuition. That would free more state money for outstate four-year colleges and community colleges, whose students are more sensitive to costs.

Department of Higher Education staff will draft the wording of the proposal by Friday. It will be circulated among steering committee members over the weekend, with their revisions due by Monday. Steering committee co-chairs Jim Lyons and Dick Monfort will approve the final version, which will go to Gov. Bill Ritter next week and to the commission at its March 5 meeting.

If the commission and Ritter approve the plan, it would go to the legislature to consider for inclusion in a higher education financial flexibility bill is being held up in the General Assembly until the executive branch weighs in.

The steering committee isn’t making any recommendations about higher education funding in 2010-11. The Joint Budget Committee already is moving ahead with a plan for next year, having voted Tuesday to accept Ritter’s proposed college-by-college allocations (see story).

See earlier story below for more details about the emerging debate on tuition at state colleges and universities.

Feb. 22 story – Allowing state colleges to set their own tuition rates, long considered off the table for the 2010 legislative session, is gaining momentum as a partial fix to higher education’s immediate financial woes.

For the last several years the legislature has set ceilings on how much state colleges and universities could increase tuition each year. The percentages have varied year to year; the ceiling for this year was about 9 percent, and the same figure is proposed for next year.

Gov. Bill Ritter has been a strong proponent of keeping tuition hikes modest, arguing that doing so was necessary to maintain college access for low- and middle-income families. As recently as last summer Ritter told lawmakers that he wouldn’t sign financial flexibility legislation for colleges if it gave tuition control to college and university boards.

Campus montage
From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.

Now the landscape has changed because of the ever-increasing financial pressures on higher ed and because of Ritter’s announcement that he won’t run for reelection in November.

Ritter said last week that he is open to tuition flexibility, and a higher education education advisory panel appointed by the governor is discussing this week whether to give college boards some tuition flexibility starting in the 2011-12 school year.

Tuition flexibility was the main subject of discussion Monday at a meeting of the Sustainability Subcommittee of the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee.

The subcommittee agreed to the idea of a new system that would allow governing boards to set their own tuition and financial aid policies, subject to state review, with some state tax support redirected to colleges that are less able than others to raise tuition significantly.

That idea is being refined by Department of Higher Education staff and will be discussed by the full steering committee Wednesday.

While Ritter created the steering committee and its advisory panels to develop a long-term plan for the state’s higher ed system, they also are under pressure to suggest some short-term fixes for the higher ed financial crisis.

(The state’s budget woes have forced the legislature to reduce tax support of colleges and universities, which also happened during the last recession. Higher ed overall revenue has been maintained only with tuition increases and federal stimulus funds. The federal money runs out after the 2010-11 budget year, setting higher ed for 2011-12 cuts of perhaps $100 million or more. That’s the immediate crisis state leaders are struggling with.)

Two key Senate leaders told the subcommittee Monday that action needs to be taken now.

“There’s a real desire to act this year … solving this [financial] piece of it,” said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, noting the bipartisan political will is in place. “We have a real opportunity to do something … whatever it is.”

Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, said, “We hope in the coming week you will come out with some rocket science” on the financial issue.

Morse is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 10-003, which in its current form would give colleges and universities more flexibility in various financial procedures but not – for the moment – in tuition. The Senate has delayed hearings on the bill until after the steering committee makes its recommendations, if any.

Morse said he believes tuition flexibility is now on the table, and he supports it. “The real money [for higher ed] is in tuition flexibility” because state tax support “is going to continue to go down.”

Jim Lyons, cochair of the steering committee, said, “The key to this [financial problem] is tuition flexibility that protects access” for low- and middle-income students.

Subcommittee member Kelly Brough, agreed. “We have to provide some tuition flexibility.” Brough is president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Various speakers acknowledged that prospect of dramatic tuition hikes, even if only at some colleges, carries risks.

Flexibility “is fraught with political peril,” Penry said.

“Tuition bothers me more than anything … it scares the hell out of me,” said Dick Monfort, chair of the subcommittee and cochair of the main steering committee.

Subcommittee member Gary Reiff noted higher tuition “is just a hidden tax … you can’t ignore that fact,” But, he added, “It’s progressive, and that’s OK.” Reiff is a corporate and real estate lawyer who’s served on various higher ed boards in the past and currently is a member of the state Transportation Commission.

Rico Munn, director of the Department of Higher Education, gave the subcommittee five options to consider at Monday’s meeting. They were:

  1. Maintaining the proposed 2010-11 funding system into 2011-12. That basically involves rolling state aid back to 2005-06 levels, which would mean overall cuts.
  2. Allowing colleges and systems to become self-governing authorities, similar to the Colorado Housing Finance Authority or University Hospital. Under such a structure colleges would be free to set tuition as they like. (This idea is being pushed by some college leaders and Colorado Concern, a business and civic group.)
  3. Using a system of flat per-student funding to fund all colleges. This would help fast-growing institutions like Metro State and the community colleges and hurt more stable schools, such as rural colleges. The current hold-the-line system doesn’t compensate institutions for enrollment growth.
  4. Allowing schools with the ability to do so to raise tuition by up to 20 percent in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Some state tax support would shift to other colleges, and tuition increases would be held down for lower-income students. (It’s generally felt that larger, more competitive schools like CU, CSU and the School of Mines have the market power to raise tuition substantially while smaller regional schools like Adams State and Western State don’t. Higher education leaders also believe it’s necessary to keep tuition relatively low at community colleges, with their high percentages of low-income schools.)
  5. Requiring institutions to present specific plans for tuition increases and financial aid allocation to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. This option also would include some shifting of tax dollars to smaller schools.

Subcommittee discussion Monday indicated a preference for option 5, with elements of option 3 included.

It seemed fairly clear that people weren’t much interested in the authority model.

“I don’t think the authority model becomes what we do,” said Penry.

“The authority model is not going to be fully discussed here,” Munn said.

EdNews backgrounder on the higher ed strategic planning process

JBC goes along with Ritter funding plan

The Joint Budget Committee Tuesday voted 4-2 to accept the Ritter administration’s allocation plan for college and university spending in 2010-11, rejecting a staff recommendation that likely would have sparked a nasty political fight.

The Ritter plan basically cuts state and federal stimulus support for each college and university back to the level of state support in 2005-06. (Stimulus rules forbid reducing support to lower than levels in that budget year.)

The problem, at least for some colleges, is that between 2005-06 and 2008-09 some institutions received higher percentage increases in state support than others. That was part of an effort to help those colleges get closer to spending levels at comparable institutions around the country.

The governor’s plan basically wipes out those gains. Metro State takes the biggest hit in the Ritter plan, along with Western and Adams state colleges. The University of Colorado system and the School of Mines would be least affected.

JBC staff analyst Eric Kurtz proposed a plan he called more “equitable.” It would have hit CU and Mines harder while delivering the lightest blows to Metro, Adams and Western.

Kurtz said his plan would give more state and federal money than the governor proposed to every school except Mines and CU.

The briefing paper prepared by Kurtz noted that with expected 9 percent tuition increases, Mines would get “a 5.6 percent boost in total funding and CU a 4.1 percent boost. These increases are more than any other institution.” (The JBC Tuesday also approved the 9 percent ceiling on resident undergraduate tuition increases.)

(Tuition has become the major source of Colorado college and university funding. Because of increased tuition revenue, the state system will have more money next year than in 2009-10.)

Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge and JBC vice chair, praised Kurtz for his work but said she wasn’t up for a fight over a new formula. “We can’t win. … I lean in the direction of the governor’s proposal.”

Kurtz wasn’t surprised by the committee’s reaction. Just before Keller spoke, he quipped, “I’m sure CU and Mines will be the downfall of this staff recommendation.” Various college lobbyists sat in on the hearing, including Tanya Mares Kelly-Bowry, CU vice president for government relations.

Keller; chair Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder; Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, and Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, voted for the governor’s allocation plan. Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, were opposed.

Read the Kurtz proposal

budget season

New budget gives CPS CEO Janice Jackson opportunity to play offense

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson announced the district's $1 billion capital plan at Lázaro Cardenas Elementary School in Little Village.

Running Chicago’s schools might be the toughest tour of duty in town for a public sector CEO. There have been eight chiefs in a decade – to be fair, two were interims – who have wrangled with mounting debt, aging buildings, and high percentages of students who live in poverty.

Then there’ve been recurring scandals, corruption, and ethics violations. Since she was officially named to the top job in January, CEO Janice Jackson has had to clean up a series of her predecessors’ lapses, from a special education crisis that revealed families were counseled out of services to a sexual abuse investigation that spotlighted a decade of system failures at every level to protect students.

But with budget season underway, the former principal finally gets the chance to go on the offensive. The first operations budget of her tenure is a $5.98 billion plan that contains some good news for a change: 5 percent more money, courtesy of the state revamp of the school funding formula and a bump from local tax revenues. CPS plans to funnel $60 million more to schools than it did last school year, for a total of $3.1 billion. Put another way, it plans to spend $4,397 per student as a base rate — a 2 percent increase from the year prior.

CPS’ total budget comes out to $7.58 billion once you factor in long-term debt and an ambitious $1 billion capital plan that is the focus of a trio of public hearings Thursday night. When it comes to debt, the district owes $8.2 billion as of June 30, or nearly $3,000 per every Chicago resident.

“The district, without a doubt, is on firmer footing than it was 18 months ago, but they’re not out of woods yet,” said Bobby Otter, budget director for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. “When you look at the overall picture (the $7.58 budget), they’re still running a deficit. This is now the seventh year in a row they are running a deficit, and the amount of debt the district has, combined with the lack of reserves, leaves them with little flexibility.”

Earlier this week, standing in front of an audience of executives at a City Club of Chicago luncheon, Jackson acknowledged that it had been an “eventful” seven months and said she was ready to focus on strategies for moving the district forward. “I won’t be waiting for next shoe to drop or wasting time and resources waiting for next problem. I want to design a system to educate and protect children.”

“I’m not in crisis mode,” she added.

Here’s what that looks like in her first year when you just consider the numbers. The biggest line items of any operating budget are salaries, benefits and pensions: Taken all together, they consume 66 percent of CPS’ planned spending for the 2018-2019 school year. Rounding out much of the rest are contracts with vendors ($542.6 million, or 9 percent), such as the controversial janitorial deals with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC; charter expenditures ($749 million, or 13 percent); and spending on transportation, textbooks, equipment, and the like (12 percent).

A closer look at how some of those items are allocated offers a window into Jackson’s vision. The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the plan July 25.

Investing in choice

Earlier this month, the district announced a nearly $1 billion capital plan, funded by bonds, that would support new schools, technology upgrades, and annexes at some of the district’s most popular campuses. The operating budget, meanwhile, accounts for the people and programs driving those projects. It proposes nearly doubling the staff, from 10 to 17, in the office that manages charters, contract programs, and the creation of new schools. It reestablishes a chief portfolio officer who reports directly to the CEO. And it adds expands access to International Baccalaureate programs and Early College STEM offerings. In a letter at the beginning of the 2019 Budget Book, Jackson said such expansions “move the district closer to our goal of having 50 percent of students earn at least one college or career credential before graduating high school.” 

Advocating for students

The budget seeds at least two new departments: a four-person Office of Equity charged with diversifying the teacher pipeline, among other roles, and a 20-person Title IX office that would investigate student abuse cases, including claims of student-on-student harassment.

Leaning into high schools

Fitting for a budget designed by a former high school principal – Jackson was running a high school before age 30 – the plan leans in to high schools, establishing $2 million to fund four new networks to oversee them. (That brings the total number of networks to 17; networks are mini-administrative departments that track school progress, assist with budgeting, and ensure policy and procedures are followed.) And it earmarks $75 million across three years for new science labs at neighborhood high schools. What’s more, it supports 10 additional career counselors to help campuses wrestle with a graduation mandate – set forth by Mayor Rahm Emanuel – that seniors have a post-secondary plan to graduate starting with the Class of 2020.

Throwing a lifeline to small schools

The budget also sets forth a $10 million “Small Schools Fund” to help schools with low enrollment retain teachers and offer after-school programs. It also earmarks an additional $5 million to help schools facing precipitous changes in enrollment, which can in turn lead to dramatic budget drops.   

Supporting modest staff increases

After a round of layoffs were announced in June, the budget plan adds at least 200 teachers. But the district would not provide a clear accounting of whom to Chalkbeat by publication time. Earlier this week, it announced plans to fund additional school social workers (160) and special education case managers (94).

The district plans to add positions for the upcoming 2018-2019 year.

As Chicago Teachers Union organizer and Cook County Commissioner candidate Brandon Johnson pointed out in an impromptu press conference earlier this week in front of district HQ, the budget is still “woefully short” on school psychologists, nurses, and counselors. And it doesn’t address the calls from parents to restore librarians and instructors in such subjects as art, music, physical education — positions that have experienced dramatic cuts since 2011. “What is proposed today still leaves us short of when (Mayor Emanuel) took office,” Johnson said. “The needs of our students must be met.”

Principal Elias Estrada, who oversees two North Side schools, Alcott Elementary and Alcott High School, said he was still figuring out how the additional staffing would work. He’s getting another social worker – but he oversees two campuses that sit three miles apart, so he figures he’ll have to divide the person’s time between campuses. Estrada asked the board at Monday’s budget hearing to help him understand the criteria it uses to determine which schools get extra staff or additional programs, like IB. “I need a counselor, a clerk, and an assistant principal,” he said; currently those positions also are shared between the elementary and the high school.

After the meeting, he said that schools might have gotten slightly bigger budgets this year, but the increase was consumed by rising salaries and he wasn’t able to add any positions. What’s more, his building needs repairs, but it didn’t get picked for any of the facilities upgrades in the $1 billion capital plan that accompanied the budget.

“What is the process?” he asked. “The need is everywhere.”

At two public hearings on Monday, fewer than a dozen speakers signed up to ask questions of the board, central office administrators, or Jackson.

To see if your school is getting one of the newly announced positions or any funding from the capital plan, type it in the search box below.

choosing leaders

Meet one possible successor to departing Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As Denver officials wrestle with how to pick a replacement for longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg, one insider stands out as a likely candidate.

Susana Cordova, the district’s deputy superintendent, already held her boss’s job once before, when Boasberg took an extended leave in 2016. She has a long history with the district, including as a student, graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, and as a bilingual teacher starting her career more than 20 years ago.

When she was selected to sit in for Boasberg for six months, board members at the time cited her hard work and the many good relationships they saw she had with people. This time around, several community members are saying they want a leader who will listen to teachers and the community.

Cordova, 52, told Chalkbeat she’s waiting to see what the board decides about the selection process, but said she wants to be ready, when they are, to talk about her interest in the position.

“DPS has played an incredibly important role in every aspect of my life. I’m very committed to making sure that we continue to make progress as an organization,” Cordova said. “I believe I have both the passion and the track record to help move us forward.”

During her career, she has held positions as a teacher, principal, and first became an administrator, starting in 2002, as the district’s literacy director.

Just before taking on the role of acting superintendent in 2016, Cordova talked to Chalkbeat about how her education, at a time of desegregation, shaped her experience and about her long path to connecting with her culture.

“I didn’t grow up bilingual. I learned Spanish after I graduated from college,” Cordova, said at the time. “I grew up at a point in time where I found it more difficult to embrace my Latino culture, academically. There were, I would say, probably some negative messages around what it meant to be Latino at that point of time.”

She said she went through introspection during her senior year of college and realized that many students in her neighborhood bought into the negative messages and had not been successful.

“I didn’t want our schools to be places like that,” she said.

In her time as acting superintendent, she oversaw teacher contract negotiations and preparations for asking voters for a bond that they ultimately approved that fall. Cordova’s deputy superintendent position was created for her after Boasberg returned.

But it’s much of Cordova’s work with students of color that has earned her national recognition.

In December, Education Week, an education publication, named her a “Leader to Learn From,” pointing to her role in the district’s work on equity, specifically with English language learners, and in her advocacy to protect students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Cordova was also named a Latino Educator Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2014. Locally, in 2016, the University of Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute inducted Cordova into its hall of fame.

The Denver school board met Tuesday morning, and again on Wednesday to discuss the superintendent position.

Take a look back at a Q & A Chalkbeat did with Cordova in 2016, and one in 2014.