Who Is In Charge

Final Senate OK for 2010-11 school cuts

Wednesday roundup
Senate spars over CEA ‘subsidy’
TABOR exemptions introduced
Wins for Ft. Lewis, leadership academy
For the record

Update 10:50 a.m., April 1 – The Senate Thursday gave final approval to House Bill 10-1369, the school finance measure for next school year. The bill provides the mechanism for the most significant cut in state K-12 in many years.

The Senate amended parts of the bill that relate to funding of seven districts that have high local revenues. It’s expected that House-Senate differences in the bill will be dealt with in conference committee.

Also Thursday the House gave final approval to House Bill 10-1376, the main state 2010-11 budget bill.

(Text of Thursday story follows.)

The Senate Wednesday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 10-1369, the school finance bill that cuts 2010-11 state aid to K-12 schools 6.3 percent below the level originally approved for this year.

The outcome wasn’t in doubt, given the state’s budget situation, but that didn’t prevent senators from debating three amendments related to the equity of the cuts, to declining districts and to district administrative costs.

A primary goal of the bill is ensuring that all districts receive an equal percentage cut – the 6.3 percent.

But a handful of the state’s 178 school districts – seven, to be exact – have higher-than-average local revenues and therefore receive relatively small amounts of state aid. As the bill was passed by the House, HB 10-1369 would force those districts to temporarily reduce local revenue in order to realize overall cuts of 6.3 percent.

The districts are Clear Creek, West Grand, Gunnison, Estes Park, Park, Aspen and Summit.

Some senators were uncomfortable with the idea of taking away what local voters had approved, and the issue became the focus of floor debate Wednesday. The Senate ultimately approved an amendment proposed by Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, to bar reduction of the local revenue in the seven districts.

The Senate rejected a counter amendment by Democratic Sens. Pat Steadman and Michael Johnston, both of Denver. It would have required the seven districts to take the cut out of state aid for transportation and other special-purpose funding, not from local revenue.

Senators also rejected an amendment by Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, to cushion the cuts to 17 districts that are losing additional amounts of state support because their enrollments are declining. (Brophy represents a large rural senatorial district.) The amendment prompted sharp criticism from Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, who’s long complained about funding of what he calls “phantom students.” (Current state law contains a formula that spreads out over several years the revenue losses experienced by shrinking districts.)

The Senate did pass an amendment proposed by Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction. It “encourages” school districts within individual counties to discuss ways they could save money by sharing administration services.

The amendment initially died on a voice vote but subsequently passed on a 20-14 roll call.

Many smaller districts around the state already are sharing some services, but the issue remains touchy because many smaller communities fear the specter of district consolidation. A recent study done for the state found there widespread consolidation might not necessarily save much money.

The Senate amendments make it likely differences will have to be resolved in a conference committee.

One spat generates a second

Despite having spent a fair amount of time Monday wrangling over a minor education data bill, the Senate managed to spend another 25 minutes Wednesday quarrelling before passing House Bill 10-1171 on a  20-14 party-line vote.

The measure is intended to eliminate a handful of reports school districts have to make to the Colorado Department of Education. But it’s become freighted with differing views about the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and rhetoric about which party is the bigger champion of government transparency.

At issue was one report targeted by the bill, a spreadsheet named CDE-18, which is a summary of a district’s budget.

CDE officials have said repeatedly that the only organization that’s ever asked for CDE-18 information is the CEA, which uses it for research. (However, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, another interest group that doesn’t necessarily agree with CEA on all points of education policy, supports continuing the CDE-18 requirement.)

The Senate Monday took CDE-18 out of the bill, meaning school districts and other education agencies will have to continue filing it. On Wednesday, Sen. Gail Scwhartz, -D-Snowmass, proposed an amendment that would “encourage” districts to also post the budget report on their websites.

That reignited the whole debate, with Democrats arguing for transparency and public information and Republicans complaining about a burden on schools and doing favors for the CEA.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, complained about “a redundant report that makes no sense for any organization but one,” referring to an “untenable burden” for school districts. (A legislative staff report on the bill concluded eliminating the whole batch of reports would generate no cost savings for districts.)

“This body has become the tool of a private organization,” fumed Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. “I ask for a no vote on the CEA subsidy bill.”

“It has nothing to do with across the street,” said Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, a retired teacher. (CEA headquarters sits just northeast of the Capitol, on the north side of East Colfax Avenue.)

CEA is a major contributor to Democratic legislative candidates and a regular whipping boy for some Republicans.

Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, got in a dig on the issue, saying he missed former Senate President Peter Groff, a Denver Democrat who frequently differed with CEA on education reform. Because of that loss of education reform leadership, perhaps “it’s not a coincidence” that Colorado ranked so poorly in the Race to the Top competition, Penry said.

The debate also hinted at the rhetorical partisan switch that’s happened this year on the issue of the transparency of school district finances. Republicans attempted to make hay with that issue in 2009 with a bill requiring districts provide extensive financial information on their websites. That bill died, but over the summer Democrats and school districts developed their own version of the legislation, House Bill 10-1036, which was passed earlier this session and has been sent to the governor.

TABOR-exemption resolutions both introduced

Companion resolutions that propose a constitutional amendment that would exempt state education spending from the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requirement that voters approve tax increases have been formally introduced.

The measures are House Concurrent Resolution 10-1002, introduced Tuesday, and Senate Concurrent Resolution 10-002, introduced Wednesday. Each was assigned to the respective education committee in each house.

Rep. Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada

The House measure has 29 Democratic sponsors in the House, lead by Rep. Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada. The eight Democrats on the 13-member House Education Committee all are signed on.

The Senate prime sponsors are Democratic Sens. Suzanne Williams of Aurora and Chris Romer of Denver, and the other three sponsors are Sen. Bob. Bacon, D-Fort Collins and chair of Senate Education; Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Boulder, and Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster.

No Republicans are signed on to the resolutions, either of which will need 44 House votes and 24 in the Senate to go to the voters in November. Getting those totals will require at least a few GOP votes.

The idea isn’t likely to pass; even some sponsors have said they don’t think it will. But, the proposal is regarded as a “conversation starter” on the issue of school funding, which will be cut significantly in 2010-11.

Twin measures were introduced to ensure the idea will be discussed in both houses. If a single proposal dies in its house of origin, it never gets discussed in the second house.

According to an Associated Press story, other budget-related proposals are in the works for the closing weeks of the session. Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, and Minority Leader Mike May, D-Parker, reportedly are behind the ideas. (Both are term limited.)

The ideas reportedly include a common application for all higher education institutions and diversion of all remedial students to community colleges; greater operational flexibility for the Department of Corrections, including the ability to close prisons, and requiring local governments to contribute to transportation projects.

House plows through budget bills

The House spent most of the day considering 2010-11 budget-balancing bills and House Bill 10-1376, the long appropriations bill.

Because amending the long bill is a zero-sum game – you can’t add spending in one place without subtracting dollars someplace else – floor debate is basically an exercise in political theater (with a very dull plot).

However, representatives did approve removal of a footnote that forbid the Fort Lewis College trustees from raising out-of-state tuition. (This is part of the David-and-Goliath fight between Fort Lewis and state budget bureaucrats over the cost of educating non-resident Native American students. Under an old treaty, such students get free tuition.)

Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs

And, Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, won approval for an amendment restoring $75,000 in funding for the school leadership academy, a principal training program created by Merrifield legislation two years ago.

(An early Joint Budget Committee proposal to also eliminate the Colorado Counselor Corps program didn’t make it into the long bill as it was introduced.)

For the record

The House voted 65-0 to pass Senate Bill 10-154, which changes accreditation standards for alternative schools. But the bulk of the day in the House was being spent on House Bill 10-1376, the 2010-11 long appropriations bill, and several related budget-balancing measures.

The Senate Education Committee passed House Bill 10-1335, which would allow boards of cooperative education services to run school food service programs and create a still-to-be-funded grant program to help BOCES buy healthy foods. The panel also passed House Bill 10-1035, which is designed to streamline the eligibility process for various early childhood services.

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

public comment

Chicago sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C. Sullivan High School

Asked and answered

Why Rahm Emanuel and his schools chief believe an elite curriculum can resuscitate neighborhood schools

PHOTO: Steve Hendershot/Chalkbeat
Mayor Rahm Emanuel at Fiske Elementary in Woodlawn

Chicago is doubling down on a big bet that the International Baccalaureate program can be boon to its struggling neighborhood schools. We asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools chief Janice Jackson to explain their calculus in a recent joint interview. Here’s what they told Chalkbeat contributor Steve Hendershot. 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Chalkbeat: Why does it make sense to you to expand IB’s presence in Chicago?   

Janice Jackson: We’ve made investments in IB schools for a number of reasons: first, believing that schools need high-quality academic programs and a curriculum aligned to that, in order to really raise the bar for students and make sure that they are being presented with grade-level appropriate materials.

But in the case of IB, it’s rigorous and grade-level appropriate, but also takes a global look, which we think is one of the things that students should be focused on.

When we look at our metrics, we’ve already seen a dramatic improvement in schools that have a wall-to-wall IB program [offering only IB and not other curriculum], and we’ve seen that outlined in a few different ways at the high school level. It has resulted in higher graduation rates at some of our neighborhood schools that have adopted wall-to-wall programs.

And more important, at the elementary level, we’ve seen an improvement in standardized test scores for students that have access to a full IB program. So there’s demonstrated success that we can point to.

But the thing that I personally appreciate as an educator is the training that comes along with that. The teachers become a part of a network of highly accomplished teachers and they receive this training that is world-class. And then our students right here in Chicago and our neighborhoods get the benefit of that.

Rahm Emanuel: There’s two things I would say. One, for the parent’s side, what we’re trying to do is create what I call IB neighborhoods. So if you want to go to the Lincoln Park neighborhood or the Back of the Yards neighborhood, you can now go there and have your children in an IB literally from first grade to 12th grade, and there’s a continuum, there are feeder schools. Rather than parents moving out to the suburbs, they have one of the most sought-after academic programs. We have more people trying to apply, both principals and parents, to get the IB.

Second, I want to echo something Janice said and then underline it — the teachers love it because it frees them up to be the educators that they chose to be. The students get a rigorous education and the teachers get liberated to be educators. So that’s why I think it works.

Chalkbeat: That’s something I heard from IB’s parent organization as well — freedom from teaching to the test.

Emanuel: Listen, there’s a number of teachers I talk to regularly, and they’ll tell you that the moment their school went IB, the creative juices, the creativity, the collective energy that happened. It’s not an accident. Parents are flocking to it, parents are seeking it and principals get it because it sparks something. And then obviously our students are the beneficiaries of that.

The University of Chicago study from 2012 indicated that IB’s great postsecondary outcomes don’t depend on whether students actually earn the IB Diploma. Still, Chicago lags there — in the year of the study only 20 percent of CPS students earned the IB Diploma compared with 70 percent nationwide. Is that a number you’re focused on improving?

Jackson: Definitely the IB Diploma is the North Star. But if we could just take a step back, the plan that the mayor announced a couple of weeks ago around creating these IB programs which includes feeder schools that would feed into our high school programs is our effort to better prepare kids for the rigor of the IB program at the high school level.

So in many of our schools, when we launched, we started with the Middle Years Program, but now more and more we’re seeing the need to start at the primary level. So we’re looking to expose students a lot earlier, believing that that will make the IB diploma program more accessible to them.

Emanuel: I know a family with twins where one child got accepted to one of the top selective-enrollment schools in the city and the other one did not, but got accepted to the IB. They’ve now graduated. And first, the IB was more rigorous than the selective-enrollment academically. And second, both twins went to the University of Wisconsin and in their freshman year, the IB child was cruising.

I don’t want to over-color this because they’re both succeeding, but the adjustment to college was harder for the child who came out of one of the top selective-enrollment schools. That only underscores what the original U of C study in 2012 told us.

I want to underscore one other piece of data. When we started this, the goal was to make the International Baccalaureate not a backup to the selective enrollment, but a competitive, qualitative choice. In the district’s GoCPS enrollment portal, almost a quarter of the kids that got into our best selective-enrollment schools — 23 percent pick IB or artistic schools.

It’s becoming a true qualitative choice and competitor to the selective-enrollment schools. I think that’s good for the city. It’s good for parents, it’s good for the students and it picks up everybody else’s game.

Jackson: Let me add one thing from the teacher’s perspective. As we traveled throughout the city to host roundtables with teachers, [we heard that] teachers don’t want to spend a bunch of time developing curriculum, spending their whole weekend pulling out assessments and lessons for the students.

With the IB program, a lot of that work has been done for them. It’s research-based and it has a history of success, so it gives them more time to spend assessing their kids, working directly with them and allowing for that freedom and creativity, and we know all kids thrive in that type of an environment.

Chalkbeat: Do you think IB’s teacher training and framework pay dividends beyond the IB classes themselves? I’ve heard the idea that there’s a noticeable effect schoolwide.

Jackson: Yeah, it is definitely one of the outcomes. Because if you start with the Middle Years Program, if the teacher is implementing it with fidelity, they’re going to start to push on those intermediate grades and those primary grades to make sure that the students are prepared. And so it’s one of those cases where we raise the bar and students rise to the occasion, and it starts to really push throughout the building.

The other piece that I would say you really see in a lot of our schools with IB programs is that [students] are focused on global thinking. That’s something that all of us want our children to be thinking about, but quite frankly, it’s not happening in every single school. In our IB schools, the kids talk about not only their coursework and the content, but they talk about their place in the world, which I think is one of the unique features of the IB curriculum.

Chalkbeat: This is an interesting moment for IB within CPS because just as you’ve introduced the idea that a child can study IB from pre-K through the Diploma Program, the mayor — an IB champion — announces he’s leaving office. How can a parent because sure that IB will still be available 10 years down the road when their child is ready for the Diploma Program?

Emanuel: Two things. One, parents want it. Principals, teachers want it. We have basically 10 to 11 percent of the kids in CPS in IB. That’s a built-in constituency. Look, somebody else will have their own interests, et cetera, but I don’t believe they’re going to walk back from this because you have a built-in constituency of principals, teachers and parents who want this.

You’re going to have a fight on your hands. There’s plenty of fights to go around when you’re mayor, and you’ve got to pick the ones you want. This is not one I would recommend because I know the parents that are invested in this — and the teachers and the principals. There’d be holy hell to pay if you try to mess with it. Yeah. That’s the cleanest way I could say. And I think I know something about politics.

Jackson: I wholeheartedly agree with and support this approach. As long as I’m there, I’m going to continue to push for expansion and make sure this vision around these IB cluster neighborhoods comes to fruition.

I really do think if you look at the maps that we put out a couple of weeks ago and where we have added programs under Mayor Emanuel’s tenure, you can really see not only the expansion of programs, but really equity in distribution. We have prioritized some of our neighborhoods that needed this programmatic investment and the schools are better off as a result of this.