Who Is In Charge

Budget picture could brighten further

Gov. John Hickenlooper is considering raising his requests for K-12 and higher education spending in 2013-14 because of improved state revenues, state budget director Henry Sobanet said Thursday.

Colorado Capitol“We will probably add to our K-12 and higher education budget requests,” Sobanet told reporters after he presented his quarterly revenue forecast to members of the Joint Budget Committee and other lawmakers.

He said no specific amounts have been determined and that revised budget numbers for education and some other state programs will be released in early January.

Sobanet stressed that his Office of State Planning and Budgeting will have to decide what levels of education increases are “sustainable” before finalizing a revised budget plan.

While state revenue forecasts have been positive for several quarters, Sobanet and other state economists are concerned that the revenue improvements are transitory and based on such factors as one-time increases in capital gains tax payments. He’s cautious about adding too much spending to the state budget base in case revenues decline later.

Hickenlooper’s suggested 2013-14 budget, released on Nov. 1, currently proposes an increase of $201.6 million for K-12, while higher education support would increase $30 million. (See this story for details on the budget plan.)

The current 2012-13 state budget includes $5.3 billion in state and local funding for K-12, with a state share of about $3 billion. State support of colleges and universities is about $513 million this year, plus an additional $100 million earmarked for financial aid. The governor is proposing a $5 million increase for financial aid in 2013-14.

The revenue forecasts presented by Sobanet and legislative chief economist Natalie Mullis both projected higher revenues than were predicted in their September estimates. Both said the Colorado economy is performing better than the nation’s but that there are significant uncertainties about the future, especially about whether federal policymakers will avoid the “fiscal cliff.”

Failure to reach a budget agreement in Washington could force both cuts in federal funds that the state receives and changes in tax laws that could affect state income tax collections.

Because of that, Sobanet said, “The March forecast could be a little more important than normal.” The next sets of revenue forecasts will be issued in late March, just before the legislature begins finalizing the 2013-14 budget bill.

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.