Who Is In Charge

Ritter: “Tuition flexibility is not tuition autonomy”

Gov. Bill Ritter publicly weighed in on the growing discussion over college tuition Thursday, giving an expanded view on where he stands on the question of letting college trustees set their own tuition rates.

Gov. Bill Ritter and higher education director Rico Munn spokes to reporters about the higher education strategic plan on Feb. 25, 2010.

Ritter met with reporters Thursday in an effort to raise the visibility of the ongoing higher education strategic planning process, which he launched late last year.

The session came just a day after the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee conceptually approved a proposal that would allow state colleges and universities to set their own tuition and financial aid policies – after review by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. (See this story for details.)

Ritter didn’t comment directly on the proposal, which isn’t yet in final written form.

“We hope there are recommendations … that resolve some of the short-term [financial] challenges,” he said.

But, he did say, “Tuition flexibility is not tuition autonomy,” adding “institutional assurances of access and affordability … have to be part of the plan.”

He added later, “By providing financial flexibility you have to change the financial aid model.”

The Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee hopes to get a written recommendation to Ritter and the commission next week. (The panel’s next meeting is March 5.)

Asked when he might make some recommendation to the legislature, Ritter said, “I would say late March.” A higher ed financial flexibility bill is being held up in the General Assembly until the governor makes proposals for a fiscal fix that state in the 2011-12 school year.

Ritter has long been an advocate of low tuition, citing the need to maintain college access for low- and middle-income families. Asked why his views seem to have evolved, the governor cited the unanticipated blows that the recession has struck on state revenues and spending.

The governor also defended the composition of the steering committee and its subcommittees, which are heavily weighted toward present and former CCHE members and higher education administrators. There are no faculty or student members.

“By design this was to be a broad look” and needed people who could take a statewide view. Faculty members sometimes have “a parochial attitude,” Ritter said.

Both the governor and state higher ed chief Rico Munn stressed that the process is open and that the views of various interest groups will be solicited. “We’re inviting input from all different areas,” Munn said.

Some college presidents and business leaders have suggested that state colleges be converted to self-governing public authorities similar to University Hospital.

Ritter said Thursday that he’d previously told legislative leaders “We’re not going to entertain that.”

The governor also was asked if he has any concerns about the ultimate impact of the strategic plan, given that he’ll be ready to leave office at about the time the plan is finished.

He said higher education will be “a really important issue” for whoever succeeds him as governor and that “I’m still going to work on it” after leaving office.

Also speaking at Thursday’s briefing were CCHE Chair Jim Polsfut and Jim Lyons, co-chair of the steering committee.

EdNews backgrounder on the strategic planning effort

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.