Who Is In Charge

Hick: No new money for education

School funding will remain tight, Democrat John Hickenlooper warned Monday as he unveiled his plans for education if he’s elected governor.

John Hickenlooper
Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper spoke about education on Aug. 30, 2010, at Arapahoe Community College.

“We’re not going to throw money at the problem,” the Denver mayor said during a news conference at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton with running mate Joe Garcia, president of Colorado State University-Pueblo. “There is no appetite” among the public for new taxes, Hickenlooper said.

Still, the pair presented a seven-page education policy brief that ranges from testing to teacher improvement to better coordination of the higher education system.

In several places the brief promises to continue and complete education initiatives started by Gov. Bill Ritter and the legislature in the last three years. As befits a campaign document, the brief covers a lot of ground but doesn’t offer detailed specifics.

The language of the brief seems to set up Hickenlooper as the governor who actually will implement what others have started.

Scroll to bottom to see videos of Hickenlooper and Garcia at Monday’s press event.

“While we will set ambitious education goals like each of Colorado’s previous governors, our administration will focus on the implementation of practical strategies to improve student achievement, high school graduation rates, and success in higher education.

Full details
Read John Hickenlooper’s education policy brief

“The next governor will also need to work to ensure that implementation of new legislation is done in collaboration with local school districts, teachers and principals to support a fair, credible evaluation system based on reliable data and accompanied by meaningful mentoring and professional development.

“Given budget constraints, improving education in Colorado is not an easy task and there are no easy solutions.”

Despite that support for education reform work that has been done to date, Hickenlooper expressed a note of frustration when he noted there’s “so little to show for it.”

Criticizing the CSAP tests, whose demise was called for in 2008 legislation but which probably won’t be replaced until 2014, Hickenlooper said, “We will do everything we can to give it [the changeover] greater urgency.”

He also called for greater use of online education and expansion of school broadband services; more public-private partnerships in education, and better coordination and integration of higher education in particular and the whole system in general.

“We have to continue blurring those lines.”

Joe Garcia and John Hickenlooper
Democratic lieutenant governor hopeful Joe Garcia (left) and gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper presented their education proposals Aug. 30, 2010.

Asked if Garcia would play the same role in education as Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien has played for Ritter, Hickenlooper said, “It’s premature to think about specific roles,” but quickly added, “I’d be a fool not to give him tremendous responsibility and authority.”

Garcia also has been president of Pikes Peak Community College and active in some Ritter-era education reforms, including serving as co-chair of the governor’s P-20 Education Coordinating Council.

“Education is going to be at the core of everything we do,” Hickenlooper said, noting that education consumes more than half the state’s general fund budget.

“I want to be a leader in making sure we provide the best education system for students. The fiscal situation of the state makes it harder to do so, but it is important for our kids and our economy to make sure that Colorado is leading the way in education,” Hickenlooper said.

Details of Hickenlooper-Garcia education policy brief

The document lists four key priorities:

  • Build on the work that is currently underway involving the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) to develop a more strategic assessment tool to inform and impact student outcomes and respond accordingly.
  • Improve transparency in our school districts and hold leaders responsible while giving them the authority and tools to effectuate change.
  • Develop and support better teachers and better principals using more integrated technologies across the state.
  • Create and expand career-oriented partnerships with community-based organizations and businesses.

The document also stresses use of technology in educational improvement, including:

  • Expand broadband access statewide to allow greater access to the web and share best practices about innovative and effective ways to integrate mobile learning with classroom-based instruction.
  • Provide more resources to teachers through high-tech, on-line venues and 21st Century learning tools.
  • Build a high quality and accessible on-line course content library at a secondary level using the best teachers and classrooms in the state. Content is shared at little to no added cost to districts and schools.
  • Provide high quality dual-enrollment and remedial online courses for high school students and adults reentering college. Courses should have assessments that measure college readiness and quality.

On the issue of developing more effective teachers and principals, the document urges improved parent involvement, support of both college and alternative teacher preparation programs, rewarding leadership programs that show results, encouraging businesses to provide financial incentives for educators and promises to “work closely with our teachers, principals, state legislature and local school districts to build on the work that has begun on ‘teacher effectiveness’ and ensure that implementation of new legislation [Senate Bill 10-191] is successful.”

The brief also proposes ensuring “a fair level of support for all public schools, including charters” and to “support the work of new and existing education entrepreneurs to respond to district and school-level needs and/or to start new innovative programs and initiatives.” It also urges expansion of “online content and instruction in order to give all students, regardless of address, access to high quality public school/program options.”

The briefing paper offers general, sometime-in-the-future support for better education funding.

“We should assess Colorado’s education funding and the direct ties it has to economic development. We should also develop long-term strategies to build a 21st Century school system that keep pace with comparable states while also competing for new federal grant funds. … One of the biggest challenges we face is that other states are spending more on education than we are.”

The document’s section on higher education also acknowledges the financial issues also facing state colleges and universities.

“Colorado is at a crossroads in higher education. If we don’t find a way to appropriately reform, fund and support higher education in Colorado, we will fall behind other states and cripple our ability to attract high-paying jobs in the future. It’s that simple and that stark. Nobody in Colorado wants to see our schools close down at the expense of our students and communities. … Colorado ranks 48th in the nation in local support of higher education – this has to change.”

When and if more funding becomes available, the document hints that new dollars won’t go just to institutions. “We will balance these new resources between the institutions that provide education and the students who need financial aid to attend college.”

Efficiency, flexibility stressed for higher ed

There’s also a heavy stress on innovation and further efficiencies and creation of “more flexibility across our higher education systems,” including better credit transfer systems and incentives for quicker college completion.

“We will ask our two-year and four-year colleges and universities to share resources in providing relevant degrees. We should look at ways to rationalize curriculums by program and location, and we will take advantage of technology to provide courses across institutions. … Through public-private partnerships we can provide financial incentives for institutions to collaborate on curriculum and degrees.”

Those sorts of ideas are much discussed in higher ed circles these days, but individual institutions, particularly the state’s larger ones, remain cautious about the details of such sharing.

The education brief also notes, “We need to strengthen the role of the higher education coordinating board (the Colorado Commission on Higher Education) and its policies to focus on improving access and student success in our public institutions.”

The idea of strengthening CCHE, a big topic in the current higher ed strategic planning process, also is not universally supported by institution leaders.

Seen in the crowd

In addition to campaign workers, reporters and curious students, Hickenlooper’s audience included a group of Colorado Education Association officials, including executive director Tony Salazar, and representatives of the business-based reform group Colorado Succeeds, including President Tim Taylor and board chair Zack Neumeyer. Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and author of the new educator effectiveness law, and Van Schoales of Education Reform Now also were in the audience.

The CEA-affiliated Public Education Committee gave Hickenlooper’s campaign $5,300 in the reporting period ending July 6.

Hickenlooper’s opponents haven’t yet offered major statements on education.

Republican Don Maes has five paragraphs about the subject on his website, saying, “Reform is an ongoing process and the school leadership must recognize the need for constant improvement. … More competition between schools and transparency in educational funding and results will produce more productive teachers, better students and administrations.”

Maes testified against adoption of the Common Core Standards at a recent State Board of Education meeting.

Renegade Republican Tom Tancredo, now flying the flag of the fringe American Constitution Party, doesn’t mention education on his website. Tancredo was a middle school civics teacher when elected to the legislature in 1976, and he later became regional representative of the U.S. Department of Education under the Reagan and first Bush administrations. Tancredo significantly downsized that office and then went on to be president of the Independence Institute and a congressman.

Controversy

Boundary lines of proposed South Loop high school drive wedge between communities

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke
About 30 speakers weighed in on a boundary proposal for a new South Loop high school at a public meeting at IIT.

The parent, wearing an “I Love NTA” T-shirt, said it loudly and directly toward the end of the public comment section Thursday night. “It sickens me to be here today and see so many people fighting for scraps,” said Kawana Hebron, in a public meeting on the boundaries for a proposed South Loop high school on the current site of National Teachers Academy. “Every community on this map is fighting for scraps.”

The 1,200-student high school, slated to open for the 2019-2020 school year near the corner of Cermak Road and State Street, has become a wedge issue dividing communities and races on the Near South Side.

Supporters of NTA, which is a 82 percent black elementary school, say pressure from wealthy white and Chinese families is leading the district to shutter its exceptional 1-plus rated program. A lawsuit filed in Circuit Court of Cook County in June by parents and supporters contends the decision violates the Illinois Civil Rights Code. 

But residents of Chinatown and the condo-and-crane laden South Loop have lobbied for an open-enrollment high school for years and that the district is running out of places to put one.

“I worry for my younger brother,” said a 15-year-old who lives between Chinatown and Bridgeport and travels north to go to the highly selective Jones College Prep. She said that too many students compete for too few seats in the nail-biting process to get into a selective enrollment high school. Plus, she worries about the safety, and environment, of the schools near her home. “We want something close, but good.”

PHOTO: Courtesy of Chicago Public Schools
The “general attendance” boundary for the proposed South Loop high school is outlined in blue. The neighborhoods outlined in red would receive “preference,” but they would not be guaranteed seats.

One by one, residents of Chinatown or nearby spoke in favor of the high school at the meeting in Hermann Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology. They described their long drives, their fearfulness of dropping off children in schools with few, if any, Chinese students, and their concerns about truancy and poor academics at some neighboring open-enrollment high schools.

But their comments were sandwiched by dissenting views. A member of South Loop Elementary’s Local School Council argued that Chicago Public Schools has not established a clear process when it comes to shuttering an elementary and spending $10 million to replace it with a high school. “CPS scheduled this meeting at the same time as a capital budget meeting,” she complained.

She was followed by another South Loop parent who expressed concerns about potential overcrowding, the limited $10 million budget for the conversion, and the genesis of the project. “It’s a terrible way to start a new high school – on the ashes of a good elementary school,” the parent said.

The most persistent critique Thursday night was not about the decision to close NTA, but, rather, of the boundary line that would determine who gets guaranteed access and who doesn’t. The GAP, a diverse middle-class neighborhood bordered by 31st on the north, 35th on the South, King Drive to the east and LaSalle Street to the west, sits just outside the proposed boundary. A parade of GAP residents said they’ve been waiting for decades for a good option for their children but have been locked out in this iteration of the map. Children who live in the GAP would have “preference” status but would not be guaranteed access to seats.

“By not including our children into the guaranteed access high school boundaries – they are being excluded from high-quality options,” said Claudia Silva-Hernandez, the mother of two children, ages 5 and 7. “Our children deserve the peace of mind of a guaranteed-access option just like the children of South Loop, Chinatown, and Bridgeport.”

Leonard E. McGee, the president of the GAP Community Organization, said that tens of millions in tax-increment financing dollars – that is, money that the city collects on top of property tax revenues that is intended for economic development in places that need it most – originated from the neighborhood in the 1980s and went to help fund the construction of NTA. But not many of the area’s students got seats there.

Asked how he felt about the high school pitting community groups against each other, he paused. “If we’re all fighting for scraps, it must be a good scrap we’re fighting for.”

The meeting was run by Herald “Chip” Johnson, chief officer of CPS’ Office of Family and Community Engagement. He said that detailed notes from the meeting will be handed over to the office of CEO Janice Jackson. She will make a final recommendation to the Board of Education, which will put the plan up for a vote.

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.