From the Statehouse

Ritter K-12 cuts a wash

Gov. Bill Ritter is proposing to cut current state support of schools by $156.3 million, money he said would be replaced by the $159 million in federal Edujobs funding recently awarded to the state.

The governor announced his latest budget balancing plans to reporters Friday afternoon. He’s trying to cover a $262 million shortfall indicated by revenue forecasts last month and also wants to transfer money from a couple of severance tax funds (including one intended to fund higher ed construction projects) to the general fund and delay some Medicaid payments.

Gov. Bill Ritter
Gov. Bill Ritter discussed budget balancing plans with reporters on Oct. 22, 2010.

He didn’t propose any higher education cuts, but his plan involves swapping various state and federal funds between K-12 and higher education. (See chart below, and click on the chart to expand it.) The net effect, according to his budget office, is no reduction for either.

The plan also includes $35 million in cost savings that will be used to maintain the state reserve at 2.5 percent.

Administration officials had quietly warned school districts not to use Edujobs cash to hire new staff or rehire people who’d been let go because of earlier state budget cuts. (See this story for details and background on that program.) However, federal rules don’t allow the state to dictate specific uses of the money to school districts, although those rules do require district use the money for personnel costs.

The governor said taking state funds from K-12 won’t violate federal rules about “maintenance of effort” in supporting education. “It’s absolutely in our ability to do that.”

Ritter wouldn’t show his hand when asked about his proposed levels of K-12 and higher ed spending for 2011-12, due to the legislative Joint Budget Committee in a little more than a week. He did say, “Higher education funding will be cut again in 2011-12 in our budget.” He also said the latest K-12 reduction won’t necessarily reduce the base he will propose for next year.

He acknowledged there will be “A significant shortfall, in the hundreds of millions,” and that whoever is elected governor is “going to have to look at cuts.”

The governor took some subtle shots at critics (Republicans) of his budget balancing efforts. “We hear a lot of rhetoric, especially these days,” Ritter said, calling such criticism “completely disingenuous.”

Budget chartEvery time Ritter announces a budget-balancing plan, Republican legislators ritualistically criticize it for not cutting enough, relying too heavily on transfers from various state cash funds and/or for depending on federal stimulus money. Republicans also have criticized the 2010 legislature’s decision to raise revenue by ending some tax exemptions.

Ritter was not at all defensive Friday, saying GOP tactics would have resulted in even higher cuts to education and that use of stimulus money was vital.

Noting that the state’s received $300 million from Washington this year in Edujobs funds and higher-than-standard Medicaid reimbursements, Ritter said, “If we didn’t have that money in 2010-11 those cuts would have come from K-12.” The governor’s budget office estimates that would have meant a loss of 5,000 teaching jobs and additional higher ed cuts totaling $89 million.

Overall, the state has received $1.66 billion in stimulus funds over the last three years for use in the state budget, not counting earmarked money for things such as highway construction.

Ritter did inject a bit of optimism into his meeting with reporters, saying, “The economy is stabilizing and recovering” and that “Colorado remains in better shape than many other states. … I don’t think it’s going to get worse [beyond next year] because the economy is recovering.”

State law requires the governor to propose budget balancing measures if certain levels of revenue decline are forecast. Some of the measures, though, will require legislative approval next year.

Ritter and the legislature have had to cover $4.5 billion in shortfalls over the last three budget years, including the current 2010-11 year. That’s been done through cuts, some revenue increases, federal aid, shifts from cash funds and other tactics.

Do your homework

awarding leaders

Meet the nine finalists for Tennessee Principal of the Year

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
From left: Docia Generette-Walker receives Tennessee's 2016 principal of the year honor from Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Generette-Walker leads Middle College High School in Memphis. This year's winner will be announced in October.

Nine school leaders are up for an annual statewide award, including one principal from Memphis.

Tracie Thomas, a principal at White Station Elementary School, represents schools in Shelby County on the state’s list of finalists. Last year, Principal Docia Generette-Walker of Middle College High School in Memphis received the honor.

Building better principals has been a recent focus for Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen as roles of the school leaders change under school improvement efforts.

“Successful schools begin with great leaders, and these nine finalists represent some of the best in our state,” McQueen said. “The Principal of the Year finalists have each proven what is possible when school leaders hold students and educators to high expectations.”

The winner will be announced at the state department’s annual banquet in October, where the winner of Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year will also be announced.

The finalists are:

West Tennessee

  • Tracie Thomas, White Station Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Stephanie Coffman, South Haven Elementary, Henderson County School District
  • Linda DeBerry, Dyersburg City Primary School, Dyersburg City Schools

Middle Tennessee

  • Kenneth “Cam” MacLean, Portland West Middle School, Sumner County Schools
  • John Bush, Marshall County High School, Marshall County Schools
  • Donnie Holman, Rickman Elementary School, Overton County Schools

East Tennessee

  • Robin Copp, Ooltewah High School, Hamilton County Schools
  • Jeff Harshbarger, Norris Middle School, Anderson County Schools
  • Carol McGill, Fairmont Elementary School, Johnson City Schools

you better work

Hickenlooper, on national TV, calls for bipartisanship on job training for high school graduates

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke to reporters on the eve of the 2017 General Assembly.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sunday said Republicans and Democrats should work together to rethink how states are preparing high school graduates for the 21st century economy.

“It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue to say we want better jobs for our kids, or we want to make sure they’re trained for the new generation of jobs that are coming or beginning to appear,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, appeared on the Sunday public affairs program alongside Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to discuss their work on healthcare.

The Colorado governor brought up workforce training after moderator John Dickerson asked what issues besides healthcare both parties should be addressing.

“Two-thirds of our kids are never going to have a four-year college degree, and we really haven’t been able to prepare them to involve them in the economy where the new generations of jobs require some technical capability,” Hickenlooper said. “We need to look at apprenticeships. We need to look at all kinds of internships.”

Hickenlooper has long supported a variety of education reform policies including charter schools and linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. Last fall he backed a new program that is expected to this year connect 250 Colorado high school students with paid job training.

Watch Hickenlooper and Kasich here. Hickenlooper’s remarks on job training begin right before the 11- minute mark.