New day for college funding

All win – more or less – under new high ed funding model

Members of Department of Higher Education advisory panel vote on proposed new college funding model.

The proposed new formula for funding Colorado’s public colleges and universities would give every institution an increase in 2015-16, but some campuses would gain more than others.

That’s because the model would divvy up funding in a substantially different and more defined way than has been used in the previous years, when campus financial support was based on past funding, political jockeying and legislative compromise over how much money was left over in the state budget for colleges.

Creation of the formula was mandated by a new law, House Bill 14-1319, that seeks to make higher education finance more transparent and to give colleges “performance funding” for how well they do in retaining and graduating students, among other factors.

Another goal of the law – an aspiration mirrored in the 2012 higher education master plan – is to increase the recruitment, retention and graduation of low-income and minority students.

That law sparked a summer of intense work by the Department of Higher Education, assorted advisory committees and outside consultants. All that work came to fruition this week with approval of the model by two key advisory groups.

The mood was upbeat Friday at the final meeting of the Executive Advisory Group, one of the panels that reviewed the model.

“We’re really shooting for the stars with this one. This is going to be an example a lot of other states are going to look to,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who’s also executive director of DHE.

Garcia also said the plan has “a great deal of focus on affordability … targeted toward low-income and minority populations.”

And, Garcia said, the new model should be “more transparent for the public. … We hope it will lead to more public support for funding higher education going forward.”

The next stop for the plan is review and approval by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education at its Dec. 4 meeting. After that the plan will be subject to the uncertainties of legislative review and the annual budget process.

Here’s how the model would work, based on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2015-16 budget request for higher education, which overall proposes a 10 percent increase.

  • The full appropriation for higher education would be $665 million.
  • After money is be taken off the top for “specialty education programs” – CU medical programs, CSU veterinary programs, two area community colleges and vocational schools – $525.6 million would be left for distribution through the new formula.
  • Of that, $294.5 million – 56 percent – would be distributed as tuition discounts for resident undergraduate students, known as the College Opportunity Fund stipends. (The new law requires that at least 52.5 percent of funding be distributed in this fashion.)
  • Of the remaining amount, $138.6 million would be distributed to colleges based on factors related to what’s called their “role and mission,” which includes factors such as size, numbers of low-income students, costs of academic programs, location and other attributes.
  • $92.4 million would be distributed among campuses based on their performance, including such factors as graduation and retention of all students, graduation and retention of low-income and underrepresented students and number of degrees and certificates issued in STEM and medical disciplines. Distribution of these funds also would be weighted to account for differences between small and large campuses.

Hickenlooper’s proposed budget also includes some extra funding intended to compensate colleges for a legislative requirement that tuition increase no more than 6 percent in 2015-16 and to provide extra funding for campuses that would receive the smallest increases under the formula. That last measure is intended to ensure that no college receives a funding increase of less than 10 percent in 2015-16. The administration is proposing such transition funding for five years.

Under the formula, Metropolitan State University would receive an increase of more than 16 percent and Fort Lewis College in Durango would get 13.2 percent. At the low end, the University of Northern Colorado would receive only 2.9 percent more. Other colleges and systems would receive increases of between 8 and 11 percent. (The percentage increases are based on the model’s calculations. But the law stipulates that no institution will receive more than a 15 percent increase nor less than a 5 percent hike, so that requirement would override the calculation.)

DHE staffers said Metro and Fort Lewis would benefit because of relatively high numbers of low-income and underrepresented students, while UNC’s increase would be smaller because it has fewer of those students. But, the transition funding would bring UNC and some other colleges up to a 10 percent increase in 2015-16.

While there is widespread support for the formula, some members of the Executive Advisory Group noted that the situation could be much different in years when state funding is flat or is cut.

Jean Adkins, an administrator at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, noted, “If we did not get a 10 percent increase … it would look very different.” She added, “When there is no new money coming in, it is rural Colorado that will get hurt.”

Garcia acknowledged that potential problem, saying, “If you’re in a flat funding year, this [model] looks kind of ugly. That is something that is a long-term concern for every institution.”

The new model also doesn’t change one key fact about higher education funding, that parents and students will continue to pay the bulk of college costs. State funding cuts in recent years have forced colleges and universities to rely on tuition increases to keep the doors open. Tuition revenue currently provides roughly 75 percent of college revenues.

Chart

Investment strategy

Here are the initiatives Memphis’ education philanthropists will focus on in 2018

PHOTO: Matt Detrich/The Indianapolis Star
A charter leader from Indianapolis, Marcus Robinson is now CEO of the Memphis Education Fund, a philanthropic collaborative that invests in education improvement initiatives for Memphis schools.

A Memphis philanthropic group has shed its “Teacher Town” name but still plans to spend this year recruiting new teachers while also investing in growing the city’s single-site charter operators.

Unlike similar organizations in other cities across the country, the Memphis Education Fund plans to center its search locally — by helping local universities and groups prepare teachers for the challenges of urban education.

Originally called Teacher Town, the fund was created in 2014 by Memphis education leaders and local philanthropists with a goal of transforming Memphis into a destination city for talented teachers. That vision built on a major investment by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve teaching in the city.

In 2016, the group adopted a broader goal of improving all schools; brought in a new leader, Marcus Robinson, from Indianapolis; and joined Education Cities, a national collective of local groups seeking to reshape schools in their cities

In part inspired by changes that have taken place in Indianapolis, where Robinson had worked as a charter leader, Education Cities coordinates local groups advocating for the “portfolio model,” a vision in which cities have more charter schools and let district schools operate more like charters.

Robinson told Education Cities a year ago that his next step for Memphis would be “to unite everyone around a common set of operating principles, expectations, and evaluations to create a level playing field for each operator to perform optimally.” This appears to be in line with the portfolio vision, which aims to give all schools flexibility to operate as they see fit, while holding them equally accountability for results.

But instead of bringing the Shelby County Schools district and local charter operators closer together, 2017 saw them waging open competition for students.

For 2018, Robinson is tackling priorities that are not likely to inflame divisions. The fund will continue to focus on principal training, along with helping single-site charter organizations, boosting reading skills among the city’s youngest students, and recruiting new Memphis teachers.

“We’re hell-bent to fill classrooms with teachers,” said Robinson, pointing to elementary schools as having some of the greatest need.

Memphis will need an estimated 3,600 new teachers by 2020, said Lesley Brown, who directs how the fund invests its money to attract, develop and retain talent for local schools.

Rather than recruiting teachers from outside of Memphis, Teacher Town’s original focus, Robinson said the fund is strengthening partnerships with local universities and teacher preparation programs, such as one launched at Rhodes College in 2016 with the help of a $7 million gift from the fund.

The Memphis Education Fund receives support from several local philanthropies, including The Pyramid Peak Foundation and the Hyde Foundation. (Chalkbeat also receives support from Hyde; read about our funding here.)

Robinson added that the fund also is ramping up its support for single-site charter operators, such as helping teachers implement new literacy curriculum at Memphis Delta Preparatory Charter School and STAR Academy Charter School.

“There’s less of an appetite for national charter organizations to move into Memphis,” he said. ”The next phase isn’t national CMOs (charter management organizations), but how do we encourage single-site schools to evolve.”

The group has doled out such grants to charters as part of a larger effort to boost student reading levels and develop teacher training for Core Knowledge Language Arts and KIPP Wheatley.

“Early literacy is a huge focus,” Robinson told Chalkbeat. “When we look at the test scores, early elementary scores are horrific. What’s the root? Access to quality literacy instruction.”

Paying for school

Sweeping study proposes major changes to the way schools are funded in Michigan

Michigan needs to change the way it funds education so that schools get more money for students who need extra attention — such as those who live in poverty and those who don’t yet have a strong command of the English language.

That’s the top recommendation from a prominent group of educators, policymakers, and business leaders who have been studying Michigan’s school funding system for much of the past two years.

While many states use a complex formula that gives schools more money if they serve children facing extra challenges, Michigan has long used a system that distributes the same amount of money for virtually all students, regardless of their needs.

The state provides some extra funding for students with disabilities — but not nearly enough, according to a state study last year that found schools across Michigan are getting $700 million less a year than they need to serve those students.

The study released Wednesday recommends a major restructuring so that schools would be fully funded for special education programs and would get extra funds to provide resources to students who need extra help. With that money, schools could offer lower class sizes, add counselors and social workers, and give teachers more support, the report says.

The study was conducted by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates on behalf of the Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative.

The collaborative — including top business and education leaders across the state — came together in 2016 after an earlier “school adequacy study” was largely ignored by political leaders.

The earlier study, which was funded by the state legislature, recommended that the state significantly increase the amount of money it sends to schools per student.

The collaborative hopes this new more robust study, which clocks in at more than 300 data-packed pages, will have a greater impact.

Since this study used multiple methods to determine the right funding level for schools, it will be more difficult to ignore, the group hopes.

The study — paid for with $843,000 from major foundations and 18 county school districts — included interviews with hundreds of educators, including district and charters school teachers. Those interviews helped researchers determine how much money schools need to more effectively do their jobs.

The study examined geographic cost differences in different parts of the state, labor cost differences, and other factors and determined that schools need approximately $9,590 each for students who don’t have special needs, including funds that would come from the state and federal governments.

The study recommends that schools get 35 percent more for students living in poverty, between 50 and 70 percent more for students who are learning English, 70 percent more for students with mild disabilities and 115 percent more for students with moderate disabilities.

Among other recommendations in the  report is that charter schools receive the same per-student funding as districts. Currently, the state’s funding system pays some districts more per student than others based largely on historic funding levels as opposed to current needs. Some districts — including most charter schools — are currently getting around $7,600 per child from the state while others get thousands of dollars more

It’s difficult to compare how much funding schools are getting now with the proposed $9,590 per student because schools get a mix state and federal dollars and the $9,590 doesn’t include things like transportation dollars.

The report suggests that the state use a new approach to student transportation in which transportation dollars are distributed differently, taking into account differences between urban and rural school districts.

The report did not put a price tag on the cost of implementing the recommendations and did not spell out how Michigan could come up with the extra money. But members of the collaborative said they hope lawmakers will consider the report as they make policy changes. 

“The issue here is not about whether you live in Farmington or whether you live in Ingham County, it’s about every child ought to have the opportunity to be successful and that ought to be our goal in Michigan,” said Randy Liepa, the Superintendent of Wayne County’s intermediate school district. “I don’t think there will be significant pushback on that.”

The findings were released Wednesday morning, with press conferences planned in Lansing, Grand Rapids, and in the Detroit area.

Read the full report here: