The deal is done

Charter funding fight ends with compromise, defeat of two bills as session nears end

A five-minute meeting of the House Education Committee on the House floor was the final step in the complicated charter school compromise.

A House committee decision to kill two charter school bills Tuesday ended the 2016 legislative session’s most contentious education debate.

Charter school advocates are getting some of what they wanted in another piece of legislation but not the thing they desired most – mandatory sharing of district tax override revenues with charters.

Highlighted by strong feelings and intense lobbying on both sides, the charter funding issue at times seemed more about rhetoric than about money.

Charter advocates framed the issue as about “funding equity,” while districts argued that “local control” needed to be protected so school boards and their charters could negotiate financial deals tailored to individual districts.

The running debates in the two houses also surfaced older charter disagreements, such as waivers from state laws that allow charters flexibility in several areas, including not being required to hire certified teachers if they ask for that exemption. .

There wasn’t a huge amount of money at stake. The Colorado League of Charter Schools, a prime backer of the bills, estimated that districts overall share about 60 percent of override revenues and that only about $25 million of such revenues are not shared statewide.

Some districts share 100 percent of override revenues, some share none. But individual districts provide other funding for charters, such as picking up special education costs.

The sharing proposal would have affected about three-dozen districts that have both charters and overrides. The state has 178 districts.

Revenue sharing was the centerpiece of Senate Bill 16-188, passed 22-13 by the Senate last week but postponed indefinitely on a 9-2 House Education Committee vote during a five-minute meeting on the House floor Tuesday night.

Overrides are property tax increases approved by local voters that generate revenue above and separate from the funding districts receive through the school finance formula. Most overrides support a district’s general operating expenses. But some districts have earmarked overrides that support full-day kindergarten costs, transportation or other programs.

A companion measure, House Bill 16-187, included various flexibility measures sought by charters, such as relief from some state accountability paperwork and streamlined audit procedures.

That bill passed the Senate 25-10 but also was in danger in the House, where the Democratic leadership was opposed to both bills. During a series of at times acrimonious maneuvers on the Senate floor last Thursday night, the provisions of HB 15-187 were amended into a separate measure, House Bill 16-1422. A bid to insert watered-down charter sharing language into that bill failed.

The charter flexibility provisions include streamlining of charter audit requirements, notification to charters about vacant district buildings, more detailed accounting of district services to charters and rules for allocation of some special state and federal funding to charters.

The charter deal was on hold until everyone was sure HB 16-1422 passed with the flexibility language intact. That happened Tuesday evening, but not until lawmakers resolved a contentious but unrelated issue concerning safety net funding for a handful of rural districts that have budget problems.

With those provisions protected, the House Education Committee voted 9-2 to kill HB 16-187 moments after killing its companion measure.

All that maneuvering leaves a somewhat lopsided compromise. School districts got their top goal — no mandatory revenue sharing — while charter interests got their secondary goal. Backers of override sharing acknowledged it was “a hail Mary” but feel the debate raised legislative awareness about charter funding issues.

“I think we have built great bipartisan support for all kids in Colorado,” said Nora Flood, president of the charter league. She said she hoped the debate raised the visibility of charter school funding issues.

“This fight isn’t over,” predicted Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson and a member of the House Education Committee.

One additional bill also affects charters and provides some financial stability to schools that change their authorization from local districts to the state Charter School Institute, or vice versa.

Some of those schools now experience big shifts in per-pupil funding if they switch authorizers. Senate Bill 16-208 allows a school to maintain its original per-student funding when it changes authorizers. The bill passed the House 65-0 late Tuesday night.

The original version of SB 16-188 also included a proposal that would have required the state to provide extra funding to Charter School Institute schools to match the shared override funds they would have received if they had been district-authorized schools. Sponsors dropped that provision from the bill before the main charter deal was cut.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: