Who Is In Charge

Hick’s education council gears up

Education funding isn’t necessarily supposed to be a top issue for the new Education Leadership Council, but the subject kept popping up Tuesday afternoon at the council’s first meeting.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia
Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia

Gov. John Hickenlooper, who created the group by executive order last January, spoke briefly with members at the start of the meeting. Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the administration’s education policy leader, did much of the talking during the nearly three-hour session.

The meeting took place on the same day as September state revenue forecasts were issued, renewing Capitol talk about the possibility of $200-$300 million K-12 funding budget cuts for 2012-13. See story.

Hickenlooper first raised the subject, saying, “We’re going to have to face the reality that we’re probably not going to have more resources than we did” during the 2011 legislative session.

Garcia picked up the topic later in the meeting, quoting administration budget chief Henry Sobanet that “Flat is the new up.”

He continued, “For next year, we still are looking at significant cuts … between $250 and $500 million” in the overall general fund budget. “You know where those cuts are going to come from” – K-12 and higher education, he added.

Garcia: Prop 103 ‘about the only short-term solution out there’

Garcia then turned to Proposition 103, the ballot measure that would raise state income and sales taxes for five years to raise some $3 billion for schools and colleges.

While noting that Hickenlooper has pledged not to seek new revenue during his first year in office, Garcia acknowledged that 103 “is about the only short-term solution out there.”

Significantly, he said, “We certainly are not going to do anything to get in the way of that effort.”

But, Garcia said, “Whatever happens … we can’t allow the state’s budget problems to serve as an excuse” for not seeking ways to improve education.

Later in the meeting, Garcia returned to the subject, saying, “I would encourage people to talk about what Proposition 103 might do for the state,” then adding, “That’s all I should say about it.”

Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs
Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs / File photo

During group discussion, Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, noted, “Resources always come to the surface when you talk about education.

“We need to find dedicated sources of revenue” for education, Massey said. “We could significantly increase our mineral severance taxes and devote that to higher education,” he suggested, freeing up money in the main state budget for K-12.

“We’re not trying to balance this on business,” Massey said, saying industry might be willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for lighter regulation. “It would go a long way toward shoring up the system.”

Kelly Brough, CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, sounded a cautionary note, saying other state study groups have looked at funding and that education reform should be the top priority of the leadership council.

Ken DeLay, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, noted the fiscal pressures on state colleges and universities and their importance to economic development: “If we do not put our fiscal house in order,” the state won’t have the higher ed system it needs.

DeLay also hinted that perhaps the administration should rethink its neutrality on Proposition 103.

Hereford Percy, chair of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, agreed, “We need to find a dedicated sustainable source of funding.”

What’s on the council’s plate – Hick’s ed goals, and more

The administration’s initial goal for the council is to have it assist with Hickenlooper’s current education goals – implementation of in-progress reforms like new state tests and education evaluation systems, improving third-grade literacy and reducing the college remediation rate.

Education Leadership Council
First meeting of Education Leadership Council on Sept. 20, 2011.

Garcia said the council’s scope would encompass “birth to lifelong learning,” expanding the preschool-to-grad school emphasis of the council that advised former Gov. Bill Ritter.

But, Garcia said, “We don’t want to limit the group to those specific ideas. … We shouldn’t be bashful about adding our own ideas into the mix.”

The governor, who arrived at the meeting a few minutes after it started, acknowledged that his administration has focused on economic development in its first year and paid less attention to education, health care and transportation. He indicated that will change in the future.

“In education, there’s not a whole lot of mystery about what we need to do,” Hickenlooper said. “We are not training the kids for the jobs that are most likely going to be there for them. … How do we begin to address that?”

While Colorado has examples of successful education initiatives, Hickenlooper said, “We haven’t been able to put it together and maintain significant improvement over a significant amount of time.”

The state needs to work on “how quickly can we turn this around,” he said.

Garcia told the group he and the administration expect it (or at least a subcommittee) to be a sounding board and review panel for proposed education bills during the 2012 session. The chairs of the two education committees, Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and Massey are members of the council.

Christine Scanlan, a former legislator who’s now Hickenlooper’s top lobbyist, said, “I expect that group to meet fairly frequently during the legislative session.”

Garcia said the council will divide into various working groups over the next three years, some short-term and some of longer duration. The council will use a consensus approach to make recommendations.

The next meeting of the full council is Nov. 8. See full list of members here.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.