School Finance

School finance on the brain

Colorado legislators got hit from two sides Wednesday on one of the Capitol’s toughest and most complicated issues – school finance.

Volunteers prepare packets for delivery to lawmakers on Jan. 30.
Volunteers prepare packets for delivery to lawmakers on Jan. 30. <em>Year of the Student photo</em>

First, all 100 lawmakers were targets of a “meet-and-greet” blitz by volunteers from the Year of the Student Coalition, a grass-roots effort that’s putting pressure on the legislature to deal this year with school funding shortfalls.

Second, the 22 members of the House and Senate education committees got yet another briefing on the knotty financial issues they’ll have to help decide, this time from members of the Joint Budget Committee, the six people in the General Assembly who know the most about state spending.

Green T-shirts flood the Capitol

Year of the Student is an effort to persuade lawmakers “to use this session to address Colorado’s long-time failure to fund its schools, colleges and universities,” in the words of a coalition news release.

Started by Great Education Colorado, a school-funding advocacy group, the coalition now involves more than 150 organizations and has gathered more than 9,000 petition signatures, according to the group.

More than 100 volunteers clad in bright green T-shirts fanned out in the Capitol Wednesday morning to deliver information packets to all 100 lawmakers. The packets included letters asking lawmakers where they stand on adequacy of school funding, their willingness to explore all financing options and whether they agree the issue should be handled this year. Legislator responses will be published on the coalition’s website next month.

“This is just the beginning, but it’s a very good beginning,” said Lisa Weil, Great Education policy director. The coalition plans to follow up with a mid-February briefing for lawmakers.

Big funding issues laid out

Whether they address the adequacy of school funding or not, lawmakers will have to pass a bill this session to provide K-12 funding for the 2013-14 school year.

The House and Senate education committees will play central roles in crafting that bill, and members were briefed Wednesday on the key issues they face, which include:

Source of money: There’s an issue about whether funding increases next year should be paid out of the state’s general fund or from the State Education Fund, a dedicated account that can be used only for educational purposes. Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to rely on the education fund, but some lawmakers don’t want to drain that account.

JBC chair Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, noted the legislature will have the final say regardless of the governor’s proposal. “That’s a policy decision that will be made by the Joint Budget Committee and the General Assembly.”

Repairing the damage: Budget cuts in recent years have slashed an estimated $1 billion from what schools otherwise would have received. Hickenlooper’s plan makes up only a small amount of loss, and some lawmakers are talking about trying to do more.

Early childhood funding: Hickenlooper wants districts to devote about $30 million of the proposed increase to specific programs, mostly to early childhood spending. Several lawmakers are skeptical about telling districts what to do. “If we’re going to do this we should give the districts the control to do with the dollars as they want,” said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen and a JBC member.

A recent law called the SMART Government Act requires legislative committees to make recommendations to the JBC about the proposed budgets for various state departments.

The House and Senate education committees have decided not to do that, noting that school funding is a special case and that recommendations can’t be made until later in the session.

“Since there are so many moving targets we decided not to make any recommendations at this point,” said Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster and chair of Senate Education.

The biggest moving targets include setting an inflation rate for 2013-14, a key part of the school finance formula. That forecast won’t be made until next month. Another key shoe to drop will be the next state revenue forecasts, which won’t be issued until March 18.

Don’t forget about the other school finance bill

Dealing with the annual school finance act is hard enough, but this year the legislature likely also will face a proposal to modernize the formula used to distribute school funding. It could be the year of two school finance bills.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, is pushing that effort and wants to get a bill passed by mid-March. Given that timeline, there’s been a lot of speculation about when a bill will surface.

Johnston indicated Wednesday it could be another couple of weeks before that happens.

His strategy is to gain as much support for the bill as possible ahead of time in order to minimize extensive arguments over amendments after the bill is introduced.

Johnston has been making his case to groups around the state for months, but he’s got some key meetings on his calendar in the near future.

He was to meet with a group of school district finance officers Wednesday afternoon and is scheduled to speak Friday to a meeting of the Colorado Association of School Executives. He’s also planning to make the case for his ideas to the Feb. 14-15 winter legislative conference of the Colorado Association of School Boards.

CASE and CASB are key constituencies to convince if a funding system overhaul is to be successful.

Whenever the bill is ready, it’s going to be a head-hurter for lawmakers. He estimated it will run to more than 100 pages. Johnston’s Senate Bill 10-191, the landmark and controversial educator effectiveness law, was a mere 33 pages long.

Take back

Higher property values mean Colorado is getting back millions from schools

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Colorado State Capitol

With student enrollment lower than anticipated and property tax revenues up in many districts, the state could get back as much as $77 million originally allocated for schools this year.

That’s a small portion of Colorado’s $7 billion K-12 education budget, and that money could be used to help fund Gov. Jared Polis’ universal full-day kindergarten plan. But some lawmakers want school districts, not the state, to control at least a portion of that money.

Citing the recent Denver teacher strike and concerns over school funding, the Colorado House voted Friday to let schools keep $12.9 million of that money. As early as Wednesday, the state Senate must either approve the amended Senate Bill 128 or send it back to a conference committee made up of the budget committee members.

It’s the first salvo in what could become a contentious debate over how the state funds schools.

Under Colorado law, the legislature determines how much money school districts should get for each student, with the state and school districts picking up a portion of the costs. If local districts raise more money, the state pays a correspondingly smaller amount. This year, school districts raised a collective $56.1 million more than predicted from local sources, mostly property tax revenue.

At the same time, schools are educating fewer students than predicted. Per pupil funding is based on estimates made months in advance. Enrollment for the current school year is 1,056 fewer than forecast, with at-risk student enrollment 9,893 fewer than the estimate.

The $77 million — or $64.1 million if the House amendment stands — could help fund full-day kindergarten, which is estimated to cost $227 million next year.

Or it could go into next year’s school finance act, which lays out how much money schools will get for 2019-20. Or it could go into the general fund, where it could be used for other needs.

But asking school districts to return money midway through the year can be difficult “because districts hire teachers for the start of the school year and then it’s really hard halfway through to say, ‘Oh, we can’t pay for you anymore,’” said Matt Cook, director of advocacy and public policy for the Colorado Association of School Boards.

Last year, the state took back $104 million. With an increase in local revenues of $97 million, the total cut was only about $7 million, compared to a $21 million impact this year if the state keeps the full amount. Some of last year’s money was later put toward school safety measures.

The House amendment keeps average per-pupil funding at $8,137, instead of reducing it by about $15 on average as the Joint Budget Committee proposed.

The impact of these proposed changes varies among school districts, said Tracie Rainey, executive director of the Colorado School Finance Project. Some districts have seen larger changes in enrollment than others, and some districts raise a large portion of their revenue from local sources, while others are more dependent on state funding.

“[Y]ou’re all of a sudden again going to have a whole different group of kind of winners and losers in this process,” she said.

There’s also a political consideration for Democrats and Republicans alike.

“Everybody who ran for election this last year ran on funding education better, and that they were looking to try to solve the problem,” Rainey said.

In fact, attack ads in the 2018 election often cited votes on school finance amendments or promises to increase school funding.

The House amendment passed on a voice voice with apparent broad support. It replaced an earlier amendment that would have left all $77 million with the school districts.

“I think our next step for us would be what’s the financial, fiscal implication of the amendment and then wait to see what we hear from our staff,” said state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat and budget committee member.

How this relatively tiny slice of the pie is carved up could be instructive, going forward, education observers say.

“That’s always the big question every year, right?” Cook said. “How do we pay for everything? This year you’ve got the pressure for full-day kindergarten, so I think it’s going to be a very tough budget negotiation.”

names are in

Ten apply for vacant seat on the Memphis school board, but six live outside of seat’s district

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Former Shelby County Board of Education Chairwoman Teresa Jones confers with then Superintendent Dorsey Hopson during a 2015 school board meeting. Jones' seat is now up for an interim appointment.

Ten people have put their name in to become the next board member of Tennessee’s largest school district.

The appointee will fill the seat Teresa Jones vacated following her recent appointment as a municipal court judge, and would serve until the term expires in August 2020, not October as previously reported.

The interim member will join the school board at a crucial time, amid the search for a new superintendent to replace Dorsey Hopson, who left the district in December. Currently, Joris Ray is serving as interim superintendent.

Jones’ district 2 serves neighborhoods including North Memphis, Binghampton, and Berclair. Chalkbeat found that six applicants live outside of the district. Shelby County Commissioner Michael Whaley said this would likely prevent them from an appointment, but the commission is seeking clarity from the state and election commission.

Whaley also said the interim appointment was extended to August 2020 because Tennessee law doesn’t specify that special elections are necessary for the school board, so the interim will finish out Jones’ term.

The county commission is scheduled to name a successor on Monday Feb. 25, a day before the school board’s meeting that month. The commission is slated to interview candidates Wednesday at 10 a.m., but Whaley said more names could be added by commissioners prior to the vote on Monday We’ve linked to their full applications below.

Applicants are:

Althea Greene

  • She is a retired teacher from Memphis City Schools and childcare supervisor with Shelby County Schools. She is currently Pastor of Real Life Ministries.

Arvelia Chambers

  • She is a senior certified pharmacy technician with Walgreens. She said she’s a “passionate aunt” of three children in Shelby County Schools.
  • Her listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Aubrey Howard

  • He works as the executive director of governmental and legislative affairs in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office. He formerly worked for the City of Memphis, and said in his application that he previously ran for school board and lost.

Charles McKinney

  • He is the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College. He is on the board of Crosstown High Charter School, and is the father of two Shelby County Schools students.

David Brown

  • He is the executive director of digital ministry at Brown Missionary Baptist Church and graduated from  Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly east of District 2.

Erskine Gillespie

  • Gillespie previously ran for City Council district 7 but lost. He is an account manager at the Lifeblood Mid-South Regional Blood Bank. He said in his application that he was one of the first students to enter the optional schools program in the Memphis district.

Kenneth Whalum, Jr.

  • He is a pastor at The New Olivet Worship Center and previously served as a school board member for the former Memphis City Schools; he was first elected in 2006. He has vocally opposed the process behind the 2013 merger of the city school system with legacy Shelby County Schools.
  • Whalum ran against school board member Kevin Woods in 2012 and lost.
  • His listed address is near the University of Memphis, not in District 2.

Makeda Porter-Carr

  • She is a research administrator at St. Jude Research Hospital.
  • Her listed address is in southeast Memphis, not in District 2.

Michael Hoffmeyer Sr.

  • He is the director of the University of Memphis’ Crews Center for Entrepreneurship in which he works with college and high school students. He graduated from Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Tyree Daniels

  • He helped found Memphis College Prep charter school. He lost to Jones in a school board race in 2012. Daniels is now a part of Duncan-Williams Inc. — the firm handling public financing for the project Union Row.
  • His listed address is in east Memphis, not in District 2.