From the Statehouse

Debate takes shape over CCHE role on tuition

Should the Colorado Commission on Higher Education have a say in state college tuition increases before or after they’re imposed on students?

Two answers have been posed to that question, one by the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee and another by the 12 executives of the state’s colleges, universities and systems.

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

The steering committee was appointed late last year by Gov. Bill Ritter to develop a new master plan for state colleges and universities. But, because of the budget threats facing the state system, the steering committee Friday also made the short-term recommendation about tuition, suggesting that colleges that want to raise tuition more than 9 percent a yearwould have to seek CCHE approval.

The institution CEOs responded Friday to that proposal, instead suggesting that individual school and system boards be empowered to approve tuition hikes of greater than 9 percent, with the CCHE authorized to step in if it chose “and work with the governing board to modify the tuition increases” in individual cases.

The commission, meeting Friday afternoon at Red Rocks Community College, passed a resolution endorsing the steering committee proposal. But, the commissioners added an extra paragraph to the resolution noting that the steering committee, the governor and the legislature also should consider the CEOs’ proposal

The commission’s vote, and the CEOs’ proposal, are only one step in the process. Ritter, who has been a proponent of keeping tuition affordable but recently has indicated he’s open to discussing the issue, has yet to weigh in on what he’ll suggests to the legislature. Whatever tuition plan emerges is expected to become part of Senate Bill 10-003, a higher ed flexibility proposal that has been on hold during the ongoing tuition discussion. And that bill will be subject to lobbying, debate and amendment as it moves through the legislature.

The governor said recently that he hopes to make a recommendation to the legislature before the end of this month.

Rico Munn, director of the Department of Higher Education, Friday alluded to the fact that the discussion is moving beyond the commission and the steering committee. The governor and lawmakers “will do what they do. … “All the issues will kind of be out there for them to do with as they choose.”

Here are the high points of the steering committee’s proposed tuition plan:

  • Colleges would submit four-year financial and accountability plans to CCHE that would include tuition and financial flexibility for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.
  • The commission would consider and approve plans before the start of the 2011-12 budget cycle, which will begin next fall before the 2010 legislature convenes.
  • Any tuition increases larger than 9 percent would be contingent on an institution “demonstrating measures to protect affordability and accessibility for Colorado’s low and middle income students and families.” Institutions would have to consider all forms of financial aid and also work to minimize student debt.
  • CCHE could authorize plans for two years and would have to give fresh consideration to an institution’s request for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.
  • Because only some institutions can practically raise tuition by significant amounts, the state should take a “system-wide” approach to allocating state tax revenues among institutions and “avoid suspending campus operations or closing institutions.”
  • Institutions that seek financial and operational flexibility would have to clearly demonstrate the savings, efficiencies or service improvements that would be generated by that flexibility.

Additional key points of the CEOs’ proposal include:

  • Passage of a state law that would allow institutions to approve any tuition increases they want up to 9 percent.
  • Ending the current practice of requiring a portion of tuition revenue be devoted to financial aid for the lowest-income students. Many in higher education feel that recent increases in federal Pell Grants well protect the lowest-income students and that institutions need greater flexibility in providing financial aid to lower-middle and middle-income students.
  • Financial flexibility for colleges, such as more freedom from state accounting rules, should be handled separately from any controls on tuition.

For the last several years the legislature has used a footnote in the annual budget bill to 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 9 percent, and the same figure is proposed for next year.

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.

It’s important to remember that the debate over tuition generally is focused on costs for resident undergraduate students. Institutions for several years have had the power to do what they will with graduate tuition and rates for out-of-state undergrads. That policy is expected to continue.

Archive of EdNews stories on the strategic planning process and higher education

legal opinion

Tennessee’s attorney general sides with charter schools in battle over student information

PHOTO: TN.gov
Herbert H. Slatery III was appointed Tennessee attorney general in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom he previously served as general counsel.

Tennessee’s attorney general says requests for student contact information from state-run charter school operators don’t violate a federal student privacy law, but rather are “entirely consistent with it.”

The opinion from Herbert Slatery III, issued late on Wednesday in response to a request by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, was a win for charter schools in their battle with the state’s two largest districts.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

McQueen quickly responded by ordering school leaders in Memphis and Nashville to comply. In letters dispatched to Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Director Shawn Joseph of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, McQueen gave the districts a deadline, adding that they will face consequences if they refuse.

“If you do not provide this information by Sept. 25, 2017, to the (Achievement School District) and any other charter school or charter authorizer who has an outstanding request, we will be forced to consider actions to enforce the law,” she wrote.

Neither superintendent responded immediately to requests for comment, but school board leaders in both districts said Thursday that their attorneys were reviewing the matter.

Chris Caldwell, chairman for Shelby County’s board, said he’s also concerned “whether the timeframe stated gives us enough time to make sure families are aware of what is happening.”

Wednesday’s flurry of events heats up the battle that started in July when charter operators Green Dot and LEAD requested student contact information under the state’s new charter law, which gives districts 30 days to comply with such requests. School boards in both Memphis and Nashville refused, arguing they had the right under the federal student privacy law to restrict who gets the information and for what reasons.

The attorney general said sharing such information would not violate federal law.

The requested information falls under “student directory information,” and can be published by school districts without a parent’s permission. For Shelby County Schools, this type of information includes names, addresses, emails and phone numbers.


To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer.


The opinion also backs up the new state law, which directs districts to share information that charter operators say they need to recruit students and market their programs in Tennessee’s expanding school-choice environment.

However, the opinion allowed for districts to have a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing such information. It was not clear from the opinion if the two school districts have exhausted that time.

A spokeswoman for Shelby County Schools said Tuesday the district had not yet distributed forms that would allow parents to opt out of having their students’ information shared, although the district’s parent-student handbook already includes instructions for doing so.

Below, you can read the attorney general’s opinion and McQueen’s letters to both superintendents:

Clarification, Sept. 14, 2017: This story has been updated to clarify the school boards’ arguments for not sharing the information.

First Person

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Grace Tatter covers a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in 2015.

For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.

Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.

1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.

I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.

2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.

I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.

3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.

During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.

4. Money matters.

Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.

5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.

6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.

If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.

Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.