Who Is In Charge

Undocumented tuition bill moves ahead

The Senate Education Committee Thursday passed Senate Bill 11-126, the measure that would extend resident tuition eligibility to undocumented students who meet certain conditions.

The 5-2 vote came after nearly three hours of testimony and discussion. (See bottom of the story for the roll call.)

Sens. Mike Johnston and Angela Giron
Sens. Mike Johnston and Angela Giron make the case for their undocumented students tuition bill during a hearing Feb. 17, 2011.

The bill next goes to the Senate Finance Committee, which is chaired by one of the prime sponsors.

“It has always been the right thing to do, but now it is the economically smart thing to do,” said freshman Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, one of the bill’s prime sponsors.

Supporters of this year’s bill are making the pitch that it would be good for the economy because it would increase the state’s educated workforce and bring extra revenue to state colleges and universities.

The bill is “both the right thing to do and the wise thing,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, the other Senate prime sponsor.

Witnesses supporting the bill included businessman Alex Cranberg, Metro State President Steve Jordan and Jim Polsfut, chair of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

Cranberg, a noted voucher proponent and supporter of helping at-risk students, said, “I don’t think any of us in this room should stand in the way of these young people.”

Also testifying in support were representatives of the Bell Policy Center, the Associated Students of Colorado State University, the Associated Students of Colorado, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Education Association and the League of Woman Voters.

Only one student testified in support. Aminta Menjivar of Denver is now in college and recently received residency documents.

Johnston, who organized much of the testimony, said other, undocumented students were discouraged from testifying because of concerns that bill opponents would copy names from the witness sign-up sheet and turn them in to authorities. There were well over a dozen witnesses in favor.

In contrast to most legislative hearings, the session was sprinkled with religious references.

Cranmer quoted the Old Testament book of Proverbs at one point, and the Rev. Bill Calhoun of Montview Presbyterian Church, jokingly asked at one point, “Why should people of faith support this bill? I believe God does.”

“Thank you for your homily. I think all of us have a pass next Sunday,” quipped chair Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins.

That led into a brief and friendly theological back-and-forth between Calhoun and Sen. Scott Renfroe, D-Greeley, who’s a deacon at his church.

And another witness quoted from the New Testament.

Senate committee hearing crowd
The Senate's largest hearing room was packed for the hearing on Senate Bill 11-126 on Feb. 17, 2011.

There were four opposition witnesses, who struck a somewhat discordant tone. One, Stan Weekes of the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, startled the packed hearing room when he opened by saying,”We need to have the sergeants at arms clear the room of everyone but the public” – meaning anyone who wasn’t a citizen.

Bacon kept his cool and said, “We’re not going to have the sergeants go through and check everybody’s papers.”

A similar bill passed Senate Ed two years ago but was defeated on the Senate floor. Chances of Senate passage are considered better this year, but prospects are uncertain in the Republican-controlled House. The measure has no GOP cosponsors in either house.

The sponsors have dubbed the measure the ASSET bill and are pitching the economic development benefits of having more students go to college.

A legislative staff analysis estimates only about 740 students would be directly affected by the bill, which they also estimate could raise tuition revenues from about $215,000 a year to about $430,000. Total enrollment at state colleges and universities is about 185,000.

The bill sets the following criteria for eligible students:

  • Attendance at a Colorado high school for at least three years
  • Admission to a state college within a year of graduating high school or earning a GED.
  • Filing of an affidavit saying the student has applied for lawful status or intends to do so when eligible.

The bill actually would create a third level of tuition, since students covered by the bill would not be eligible for College Opportunity Fund stipends or state need-based financial aid so would pay more than other resident students. (The stipends are an off-the-top tuition discount that varies year-to-year based on legislative decisions.)

Average annual resident tuition at research universities is $13,325 a year and $10,535 at four-year colleges, according to the legislative staff note. It’s about $2,900 at community colleges.

Non-resident tuition varies widely. Trustees are free to set it where they wish depending on the financial strategies of individual colleges. At Metro State, which works hard to attract non-traditional and minority students, resident tuition was $2,850 in 2009-10 while non-residents paid $12,343. Non-resident tuition at the University of Colorado-Boulder is more than double that.

Committee roll call

Yes – Democrats Bacon, Evie Hudak of Westminster, Rollie Heath of Boulder, Johnston and Jeanne Nicholson of Gilpin County.

No – Republicans Scott Renfroe of Greeley and Nancy Spence of Centennial.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, wasn’t present for the vote.

For the record

The House Thursday gave final approval to the package of 2010-11 budget balancing bills, and it now will be up to the Joint Budget Committee to work out a compromise on some key differences between the houses.

The highest profile disagreement is the partisan fight over whether to take $4 million in cash funds from new Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler. While the issue doesn’t directly involve education, the JBC may have to go looking elsewhere, including in education, if that money isn’t available for balancing. The money is in a broader cash funds transfer measure, Senate Bill 11-164.

Other balancing bills of interest to education are:

• Senate Bill 11-137: This bill involves the Department of Education budget. The JBC reduced Colorado Counselor Corps spending by about $750,000, the Senate restored it and the House took it back out. The House didn’t tinker with the Senate amendment that added spending authority for the Start Smart school breakfast program.

• Senate Bill 11-156: This measure allows the 2010-11 reserve to be set at 2.3 percent of the general fund. House Democrats won a modest victory when they attached an amendment that requires any surplus over that reserve to go to the State Education Fund.

The House passed without amendment Senate Bill 11-140, which makes technical changes in the Department of Higher Education budget, and Senate Bill 11-157, containing changes to the 2010 School Finance Act. No changes were made in the original JBC version of that bill, which reduces state school support by the amount districts are receiving from federal Edujobs grants and which does not fund fall 2010 enrollment increases.

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

choosing leaders

Meet one possible successor to departing Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As Denver officials wrestle with how to pick a replacement for longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg, one insider stands out as a likely candidate.

Susana Cordova, the district’s deputy superintendent, already held her boss’s job once before, when Boasberg took an extended leave in 2016. She has a long history with the district, including as a student, graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, and as a bilingual teacher starting her career more than 20 years ago.

When she was selected to sit in for Boasberg for six months, board members at the time cited her hard work and the many good relationships they saw she had with people. This time around, several community members are saying they want a leader who will listen to teachers and the community.

Cordova, 52, told Chalkbeat she’s waiting to see what the board decides about the selection process, but said she wants to be ready, when they are, to talk about her interest in the position.

“DPS has played an incredibly important role in every aspect of my life. I’m very committed to making sure that we continue to make progress as an organization,” Cordova said. “I believe I have both the passion and the track record to help move us forward.”

During her career, she has held positions as a teacher, principal, and first became an administrator, starting in 2002, as the district’s literacy director.

Just before taking on the role of acting superintendent in 2016, Cordova talked to Chalkbeat about how her education, at a time of desegregation, shaped her experience and about her long path to connecting with her culture.

“I didn’t grow up bilingual. I learned Spanish after I graduated from college,” Cordova, said at the time. “I grew up at a point in time where I found it more difficult to embrace my Latino culture, academically. There were, I would say, probably some negative messages around what it meant to be Latino at that point of time.”

She said she went through introspection during her senior year of college and realized that many students in her neighborhood bought into the negative messages and had not been successful.

“I didn’t want our schools to be places like that,” she said.

In her time as acting superintendent, she oversaw teacher contract negotiations and preparations for asking voters for a bond that they ultimately approved that fall. Cordova’s deputy superintendent position was created for her after Boasberg returned.

But it’s much of Cordova’s work with students of color that has earned her national recognition.

In December, Education Week, an education publication, named her a “Leader to Learn From,” pointing to her role in the district’s work on equity, specifically with English language learners, and in her advocacy to protect students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Cordova was also named a Latino Educator Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2014. Locally, in 2016, the University of Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute inducted Cordova into its hall of fame.

The Denver school board met Tuesday morning, and again on Wednesday to discuss the superintendent position.

Take a look back at a Q & A Chalkbeat did with Cordova in 2016, and one in 2014.

saying goodbye

Here’s how the local and national education communities are responding to Boasberg’s exit

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As the news of Tom Boasberg’s departure ricocheted through the local and national education community, critics and champions of the Denver schools superintendent sounded off.

Here’s a roundup of comments from teachers, parents, school board members past and present, elected officials, and some of Boasberg’s colleagues.

Alicia Ventura, teacher

“I am shocked! I understand his decision as I have one (child) grown and out of the house and one in middle school. Time with our children is short and precious! I will always remember how fun and open-minded Tom was. He would do anything for children and truly lived the students first vision! We will miss you!”

Michael Hancock, Denver mayor and Denver Public Schools graduate

“I am saddened that DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will be stepping down but full of gratitude for his close partnership with the city on behalf of Denver’s kids and families. As a DPS graduate and a DPS parent, I know firsthand that Tom has led DPS with integrity and commitment. His focus on success for all kids has greatly improved our schools and provided better opportunities for all students to live their dreams.

“We have much work still to do in DPS, but we have an incredible foundation for moving forward and we are committed to continuing in partnership with the next DPS leader.”

Corey Kern, deputy executive director, Denver Classroom Teachers Association

“We were a little surprised by it ourselves. For us, we obviously wish Tom the best. The big focus for us is making sure the selection process for the next superintendent is something that is fair and transparent and open to the public; that it’s not a political appointment but talking to all stakeholders about who is the best person for the job for the students in Denver.”

Anne Rowe, president, Denver school board

“He has given … 10 years to this district as superintendent, and it is an enormous role, and he has given everything he has. … My reaction was, ‘I understand,’ gratitude, a little surprised but not shocked, certainly, and understand all the good reasons why he has made this decision.

“With change, there is always some uncertainty, and yet I look at the people here and their dedication to the kids in DPS and I have full confidence in these folks to continue driving forward while the board takes on the responsibility to select the next superintendent. We won’t miss a beat, and we have a lot of work to do for kids.”

Jeannie Kaplan, former school board member critical of the district’s direction

“I was very surprised. … I wish Tom well. I still do believe that working together is the way to get things done. I’m sorry we weren’t able to do that.

“My one hope would be that one of the primary criteria for the next leader of the district would be a belief in listening to the community – not just making the checkmark, but really listening to what communities want.”

John Hickenlooper, Colorado governor and former Denver mayor

“Tom Boasberg has invested a significant part of his life into transforming Denver Public Schools into one of the fastest-improving school districts in America. As a DPS parent, former mayor, and now governor, I am deeply grateful for the progress made under Tom’s leadership. I applaud Tom and Team DPS for driving the innovations that are creating a brighter future for tens of thousands of young people in every corner of the city.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who preceded Boasberg as Denver superintendent from 2005 to 2009 and has known him since childhood

“As a DPS parent, I thank him for his commitment, his compassion, and his extraordinary tenure. As Tom always says himself, we have a long way to go, but his transformational leadership has resulted in extraordinary progress over the past 10 years. Our student achievement has substantially increased, the number of teachers and other school personnel serving our children has grown tremendously, and the school choices available to children and their families have never been greater.”

Bennet also penned an op-ed in The Denver Post with this headline:

Ariel Taylor Smith, former Denver Public Schools teacher and co-founder of Transform Education Now, a nonprofit that focuses on improving schools through parent advocacy

“I was a teacher during Tom’s first half of his tenure at DPS and was amazed at how often he would walk the halls of North High School during our turnaround. Tom has dedicated 10 years to this work and for that I am grateful. I also believe that we have a long way to go to getting where we need to be. I believe that we are ready for new leadership who operates with the sense of urgency that we need to see in our city. There are 35,000 students who are attending ‘red’ and ‘orange’ (low-rated) schools in our city right now. One out of every three third-graders is reading on grade level. We need a new leader with a clear vision for the future and an evident sense of urgency to ensure that all our kids are receiving the education that they deserve.”

Brandon Pryor, parent and member Our Voice Our Schools, a group critical of the district

“You have a number of people he works with that are reformers. They think he’s leaving an awesome legacy and he did a lot to change and meet needs of the reformist community. You ask them and I’m sure his legacy will be great. But if you come to my community and ask some black folks what Tom Boasberg’s legacy will be, they’ll tell you something totally different.

“I think he has time with this last three months in office to follow through with some of the promises he’s made us (such as upgrades to the Montbello campus) to improve his situation.”

Jules Kelty, Denver parent

“He personally responded to an email that I sent him about my school. I appreciated that.”

Van Schoales, CEO of the pro-reform advocacy group A Plus Colorado

“On the one hand, I’m not surprised. And on the other hand, I’m surprised.

“I’m not surprised because he’s had a track record of pretty remarkable service for a decade, which is amazing. Nobody else has done that. The district has improved pretty dramatically. He deserves a great deal of credit for that. …The surprise is that we’ve all become so used to him being the superintendent, it’s just a little weird (to think of him leaving).”

Lisa Escárcega, executive director, Colorado Association of School Executives

“Tom’s longstanding commitment and service to DPS have made a significant impact on the district. He is strongly focused on ensuring student equity, and the district has seen improvement in several areas over the last 10 years under his superintendency. Tom is a strong and innovative leader, and I know he will be missed by the DPS community and his colleagues.”

John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education

“Under Tom Boasberg’s leadership for the past decade, Denver Public Schools has made remarkable academic progress and has become one of the most innovative school districts in the country. Tom has brought tremendous urgency and a deep commitment to closing both opportunity and achievement gaps for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. For many school districts throughout the country, Denver’s innovative and collaborative approaches serve as a valuable model.”

Katy Anthes, state education commissioner

“I’ve appreciated working with Tom over the years and know that his personal commitment to students is incredibly strong. I thank Tom for his service to the students of DPS and Colorado.”

Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, a national group of district and state superintendents 

“Tom Boasberg is an extraordinary leader who has dedicated his life to expanding opportunities for all of Denver’s children. During his tenure, the district has made remarkable gains on virtually every measure of progress. Denver Public Schools is a national model for innovation, district-charter collaboration, and teacher and school leader support. Every decision Tom has made over the course of his career has been focused on helping students succeed. No one is more respected by their peers. As a member of the Chiefs for Change board and in countless other ways Tom has supported education leaders across the nation. He leaves not just an impressive legacy but an organization of talented people committed to equity and excellence.”

David Osborne, author of the book “Reinventing America’s Schools,” which included chapters on Denver’s efforts

Share your thoughts on Boasberg’s exit here: