supporting students

At diverse schools across metro Denver, deep-rooted concern over what a Trump presidency will bring

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar

At Lincoln High School in southwest Denver, many students and teachers spent most of the school day crying. At Rocky Mountain Prep elementary schools, students asked their teachers if they or their families would have to leave the country. An Aurora principal heard of two cases of Hispanic students being told by classmates that they would be deported.

Teachers and school leaders across the metro area struggled Wednesday helping students process the implications of a bitter, divisive election that will send Donald Trump to the White House. Those worries were especially acute in more diverse schools, where students worried about what might lay in store after a campaign in which Trump talked repeatedly about deportations, building walls and banning Muslims from the U.S.

Ruth Baldivia, principal of Boston K-8 in Aurora, which has a large number of Latino and refugee students, said she told teachers to try to keep discussions broad and focused on how democracy and elections work, “not specifically about how Trump might impact them.”

Baldivia said she heard of two incidents Wednesday in which students were “not being nice to their fellow Mexican students,” telling them they will be deported.

Many of Baldivia’s concerns centered on the well-being of her students and their families.

“Our parents already hide out because they don’t have papers,” she said. “I haven’t heard anything from them yet, but I do anticipate that and want to be prepared to support them and I’m not even sure how.”

At Lincoln High School, 14-year-old Jose Jon Carlos said his teachers made him feel better about his concerns about a Trump presidency and what it could mean for his immigrant family.

“They supported us,” Carlos said of his teachers. “They told us we don’t have to worry yet. They said they were here for us if anything happens.”

For Justin Geovanni, 15, seeing his teachers join students crying made him feel supported.

“They let us express ourselves,” Geovanni said. “Some of them are Mexican, too, and they’re here because they want the same American dream we do. They understand.”

At some Colorado schools, students walked out of class Wednesday to protest Trump’s victory.

Lola Rosales, a Lincoln senior and a member of Denver Public Schools’ student board of education, is trying to prevent that at her school. Instead, she wants to plan an informational rally to teach students and the community about their rights and “what power they have.”

“Everyone is scared in this school. There were tons of tears today,” Rosales said. “The reason for a walkout is when the administration isn’t listening to us. But our voice is being heard.”

When the double-doors opened Wednesday at the Denver School of International Studies, civics teacher Jennifer Boyle welcomed her high school students with hugs and tears.

One student cried 90 minutes straight during a planning period. Another, a 16-year-old Latina, came to her in hysterics, fearful for her family’s safety.

Boyle, in her sixth year teaching at the school, said she was apprehensive about teaching civics in a political year marked by so much polarization. Yet she said she also sensed an opportunity to fulfill the school’s vision of creating students who are tolerant, inquisitive about the world, communicative and aware of different perspectives.

“Kids were coming to me and asking, ‘What happened? Do you have the answer for me?’” Boyle said. “I said, ‘I think the answers are in the results. I think there are a lot of people who felt marginalized for a long time.’”

At Rocky Mountain Prep, a charter network with two schools in Denver, staff shared resources with teachers Wednesday morning to guide them through talking to students, said James Cryan, the CEO. The elementary schools serve large numbers of children of color living in poverty. The network is also in the process of taking over an Aurora school, starting with preschool this year.

“We’ve had multiple students ask if this means that they’ll have to move away or if they’ll no longer have a home in the U.S., or express concerns about a specific relative, asking if their father or mother will have to move away,” Cryan said. “We have all elementary students, so it’s heartbreaking to hear those questions in 2016 from our scholars.”

Cryan said Rocky Mountain Prep students held mock elections at their schools Tuesday, but “it got a lot more personal and scary this morning.”

In general, he said, the focus now is on making all students feel safe. The school staff are also exploring ways to provide resources for families with help from community organizations.

“I think our teachers feel like our work and our partnership with our scholars and our community is more important today than before,” Cryan said. “We’re very committed to showing all of our scholars what great community means and looks like.”

At College View Elementary in southwest Denver, some parents picking up their kids on Wednesday afternoon said they didn’t know how to talk to their children.

“I don’t know what to tell them,” said Mirna Bustillos, a mother of three children ages 7, 5 and 3.

Bustillos said that her 7-year-old son came home one day worried because his classmates had told him he would be kicked out of the country if Trump was president.

“When he knew he won, he got upset,” Bustillos said. “I told him nothing is going to happen.”

Carolina Martinez, a mother of a 9-year-old girl at College View, said she was trying to believe that everything would be fine.

“I have to be fine,” she said, “so that she will be fine, too.”

new money

House budget draft sends more money to schools, but not specifically to teacher raises

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

Despite months of heated debate, Indiana House Republicans are not setting aside extra dollars for meaningful teacher raises in their version of the state’s $14.5 billion education budget plan released Monday night.

Even though lawmakers are proposing preserving a controversial merit-based bonus pool and adding small amounts for teacher training programs, their budget draft would largely leave it up to school districts to dole out raises through increased overall funding.

The budget draft proposes increasing what Indiana spends on schools overall by $461 million — or 4.3 percent — through 2021, a little more than increases in years past. The basic per-student funding that all districts get would jump from $5,352 per student this year to $5,442 per student in 2020 and $5,549 per student in 2021. House lawmakers are also adding in a one-time payment of $150 million from state reserves that would pay down a pension liability for schools. But while lawmakers and Gov. Eric Holcomb have said that pension payment would free up about $70 million in schools’ budgets each year, the state likely wouldn’t require the cost-savings be passed along to teachers.

Although increasing teacher pay is a top goal for House Republicans, lawmakers have crafted bills that hinge on districts spending less money in areas such as administration or transportation rather than adding more money to school budgets and earmarking it for teacher salaries.

Their criticism of school spending has raised the ire of superintendents and educators who say they have little left to cut after years of increasing costs and state revenue that has barely kept pace with inflation.

But budget draft, which is expected to be presented to and voted on by the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, doesn’t completely omit efforts to incentivize teachers to stick around. Unlike Holcomb’s budget proposal, House lawmakers are keeping in the current appropriation of $30 million per year for teacher bonuses.

The House budget draft would also set aside $1 million over two years for a teacher residency pilot program and $5 million over two years for schools that put in place career ladder programs that allow teachers to gain skills and opportunities without leaving the classroom.

Teacher advocacy groups, such as the Indiana State Teachers Association and Teach Plus, have been supportive of residency and career ladder programs, but the organizations have also called for more action this year to get dollars to teachers. Additionally, the ideas aren’t new — similar programs have been proposed in years past.

Calls for the hundreds of millions of dollars it would take to raise teacher salaries to be more in line with surrounding states will likely go unheeded for now as the state instead prioritizes other high-profile and expensive agencies, such as the Department of Child Services and Medicaid.

But while plans for major teacher pay raises appear to be on hold, House lawmakers are looking to boost funding in other areas of education to support some of the state’s most vulnerable students.

The budget draft would increase what the state must spend on preschool programs for students with disabilities from the current $2,750 per-student to $2,875 in 2020 and $3,000 in 2021 — the first such increase in more than 25 years.

House lawmakers are also proposing the state spend more money on students learning English as a new language, at $325 per student up from $300 per student now. While all schools with English learners would receive more money per student under this plan, the new budget draft removes a provision that had previously allocated extra dollars to schools with higher concentrations of English learners.

A 2017 calculation error and an uptick in interested schools meant state lawmakers did not budget enough money for schools with larger shares of English-learners in the last budget cycle, so they ended up getting far less than what the state had promised. But even the small increases were valuable, educators told Chalkbeat.

House lawmakers also suggested slashing funding for virtual programs run by traditional public school districts. Going forward, funding for both virtual charter schools and virtual schools within school districts would come in at 90 percent of what traditional schools receive from the state — now, only virtual charter schools are at the 90 percent level. It’s a marked change for House lawmakers, who in years past have asked that virtual charter school funding be increased to 100 percent.

The virtual funding proposal comes as lawmakers are considering bills that would add regulations for the troubled schools, where few students pass state exams or graduate.

The budget draft also includes:

  • $5 million per year added to school safety grants, totaling $19 million in 2020 and $24 million in 2021
  • Doubling grants for high-performing charter schools from $500 per student to $1,000 per student, at a cost of about $32 million over two years. The money is a way for charter schools to make up for not receiving local property tax dollars like district schools, lawmakers say.
  • $4 million per year more to expand the state’s private school voucher program to increase funding for certain families above the poverty line. Under the plan, a family of four making between $46,000 and $58,000 annually could receive a voucher for 70 percent of what public schools would have received in state funding for the student. Currently, those families receive a 50 percent voucher.
  • About $33 million over two years (up from about $25 million) for the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship program.

rethinking the reprieve

Indiana lawmakers take step to eliminate generous ‘growth-only’ grades for all schools, not just those in IPS

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

A panel of Indiana lawmakers took a first step Monday to stop giving new and overhauled schools more generous state A-F grades that consider only how much students improve on tests and cut schools slack for low test scores.

The House Education Committee was initially looking to clamp down on Indianapolis Public Schools’ innovation schools, barring them from using student test score improvement as the sole determinant in their first three years of A-F grades. The more generous scale has boosted IPS’ performance as it launches a new strategy of partnering with charter operators, by allowing some innovation network schools to earn high marks despite overall low test scores.

But lawmakers expanded the scope of the bill to stop all schools from receiving what are known as “growth-only grades” after Chalkbeat reported that IPS’ overhauled high schools were granted a fresh start from the state — a move that would allow the high schools to tap into the more lenient grading system.

“I want to be consistent, and I felt like [grading] wasn’t consistent before, it was just hodge-podge,” said committee Chairman Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican. “We need to be transparent with parents.”

Read: Why it’s hard to compare Indianapolis schools under the A-F grading system

The committee unanimously approved the bill. If it passes into law, Indianapolis Public Schools stands to be one of the districts most affected. Growth-only grades for innovation schools have given the district’s data a boost, accounting for eight of the district’s 11 A grades in 2018. All of its high schools could also be eligible for growth-only grades this year.

Indianapolis Public Schools officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In the past, they have defended the two-tiered grading system, arguing that growth on state tests is an important window into how schools are educating students. Growth-only grades were originally intended to offer new schools time to get up and running before being judged on student test scores.

IPS was also the target of another provision in the updated bill that would add in stricter rules for when and how schools can ask for a “baseline reset” — the fresh start that its four high schools were recently granted.

Read: IPS overhauled high schools. Now, the state is giving them a fresh start on A-F

The resets, which districts can currently request from the state education department if they meet certain criteria that show they’ve undergone dramatic changes, wipe out previous test scores and other student performance data to give schools a fresh start. The reset schools are considered new schools with new state ID numbers.

The state determined a reset was necessary for IPS’ four remaining high schools because of the effects of decisions last year to close three campuses, shuffle staff, and create a new system a new system for students to choose their schools. Each school will start over with state letter grades in 2019.

But Behning and other lawmakers were skeptical that such changes merited starting over with accountability, and they were concerned that the process could occur without state board of education scrutiny. If passed into law, the bill would require the state board to approve future requests for accountability resets.

A state board staff member testified in favor of the change. The state education department did not offer comments to the committee.

Rep. Vernon Smith, a Democrat from Gary, said he didn’t like the fact that a reset could erase a school’s data, adding that he had concerns about “the transparency of a school corporation getting a new number.”

The amended bill wouldn’t remove the reset for IPS high schools, but by eliminating the growth-only grades, it would get rid of some of the incentive for districts to ask for a reset to begin with. Under current law, reset schools are considered new and qualify for growth-only grades. But the bill would require that reset schools be judged on the state’s usual scale, taking into account both test scores and test score improvement — and possibly leading to lower-than-anticipated state grades.

The amended bill would still offer a grading grace period to schools opening for the first time: New charter schools would be able to ask the state to give them no grade — known as a “null” grade — for their first three years, but schools’ test score performance and test score growth data would still be published online. Behning said he didn’t include district schools in the null-grade measure because they haven’t frequently opened new schools, but he said he’d be open to an amendment.

The bill next heads to the full House for a vote.