Colorado

Panel moves closer to final higher ed plan

Future Colorado economic growth will be stunted if the state’s higher education system isn’t strengthened. And, by the way, higher taxes are needed to do that.

Those are key conclusions emerging from the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee as it moves closer to a final report.

The panel spent three and a half hours Wednesday working over a third draft of its proposed strategic plan. Two previous rough drafts were prepared by Department of Higher Education staff, while the document discussed Wednesday was written by a small group of committee members.

The draft plan is titled “The Degree Dividend” and makes the pitch that a strong higher education system is necessary to ensure Colorado’s future economy and standard of living are healthy.

“We believe our decisions on higher education – how we fund it and what we demand of it – will be key to our future, now more than ever. … Without changing the course our state is now on, we are destined for a future that we don’t want. We need to invest more,” according to the draft’s introduction.

The two key steps that must be taken are more funding and increasing college completion rates, the report says.

The report as currently drafted highlights current problems and sets future goals, but it doesn’t make many detailed, specific recommendations. But the implications of some recommendations, if ever converted to legislation, are perhaps more interesting.

For instance, the committee seems to clearly prefer a strong Colorado Commission on Higher Education and a possible realignment of some colleges’ roles. Such changes likely would be resisted by individual campus leaders and boards.

In another example, committee members seem to favor a funding system that would direct more state aid to students, allowing them to choose where to spend it, and also tying at least some state funding to college performance, such as graduation rates. But the report offers no specific suggestions to implement either idea, given the current financial crunch.

The draft document paints a grim picture of the higher education system’s current situation and future prospects.

It notes that Colorado is last in the nation in state funding for public four-year colleges and that state support has dropped 55 percent in the last decade.

The draft report highlights the fact that Colorado’s fastest growing demographic group, Hispanics, have the lowest levels of higher education completion. (This issue has been discussed repeatedly during the committee’s nine months of discussions and is at the center of concerns about the strength of the state’s future workforce.)

“If we don’t do something about education, we’re going to have serious problems in this state,” said committee member Terry Farina, a Grand Junction lawyer and former CCHE member.

The draft report makes four broad recommendations:

  • Colorado must increase its investment in and ensure the affordability of higher education
  • Colorado must reduce regional, income and ethnic gaps in college admissions, retention and completion
  • Colorado must identify a systemic way to improve the educational pipeline, including student movement from high school to college and among colleges
  • Oversight of the state’s decentralized higher ed system should be restructured to make it easier to achieve state priorities, such as efficient use of funds and a better-educated workforce

Each recommendation contains several suggested “key strategies.”

Most of the discussion and the wordsmithing Wednesday focused on those strategies. Items that sparked the most discussion included:

• Whether the report should include a list of possible tax increases compiled by a subcommittee. The committee concluded it should.

Some members were concerned that detailed listing of financial challenges and taxes would divert attention from the report’s focus on higher ed challenges and future improvements.

Russ George
Russ George

Committee member Russ George said, “When we talk about government today we have this tendency to talk about money. The average citizen isn’t interested in that conversation. Tell your story first and then they’ll realize, ‘Oh, it is all about money.'”

Co-chair Jim Lyons argued, “I don’t know who we’re trying to fool by leaving it [taxes] out.”

Member John Bliss said, “Ultimately that’s going to be the fight” about the future of higher ed.

• Whether the cost of remedial classes for college freshmen should be shifted to K-12 schools. Member Greg Stevinson has been pressing this issue, but the committee decided not to push that hot button.

• How the director of the Department of Higher Education should be appointed. The director currently is nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. Some committee members think the post should be filled by the commission, as was once the case. The group settled for a suggestion that the governor appoint the director after consulting with CCHE.

The writing group hopes to have a final version of the plan ready by Oct. 18, and the full committee will discuss that draft at a meeting Oct. 27. The report also will be distributed to officials at individual campuses for comment during mid-October.

In the meantime the committee is holding a series of public hearings on the proposal during October.

The final report will be presented to the CCHE and Gov. Bill Ritter on Nov. 11. The commission is turn is supposed to submit recommendations to the 2011 legislature.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

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

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede