earning credit

Report: Districts can do more to give black and Hispanic students access to college courses

Hinkley High School student Catherine Gibson turns toward her college algebra class to explain a problem she works on the board in 2013 at Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colo. (Photo by Jamie Cotten, Special to The Denver Post)

School districts could do more to ensure students, particularly students of color, have an opportunity to take college classes while still in high school.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from a student advocacy group that looked at disparities in access to what is known as “concurrent enrollment” in Colorado schools.

Programs allowing students to take college courses while they are in high school have consistently expanded to more schools and enrolled more students in Colorado for years. They’ve been seen as a way to both prepare students for college and allow them to save money on tuition once they are fully enrolled, since they pay nothing for the courses they pass and complete now.

The student advocacy group, Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism, gathered data about how many students of each race take concurrent enrollment classes in Aurora and Denver and is releasing a set of recommendations at an event on Friday for how districts might expand access to the courses to more students.

Janiece Mackey, co-founder and executive director of the group, said the data show that there are fewer Latino students taking the college-level courses before high school graduation. However, as an upside, those who do are taking more courses.

Other student groups aren’t seeing that pattern.

“We could have more impact through supporting black students,” Mackey said. “We do best by going to the most marginalized. That’s what these correlations and numbers are showing. There’s more work to be done.”

Annual statewide reports show that in 2015-16, 22 percent of students participating in concurrent enrollment identified as Hispanic and 3 percent identified as black. Both those groups were underrepresented — statewide 33.4 percent of students identified as Hispanic and 4.6 percent as black.

Those state reports also show that Aurora Public Schools is behind other metro area districts in terms of how many students take college courses in high school. Ten percent of all Aurora students take advantage of such programs, while school districts in Englewood, Douglas County, Cherry Creek, and Denver all have higher rates of participation.

In Aurora, the more recent data used in the group’s report from 2016-17 shows white students are accessing concurrent enrollment at a higher percentage with 18 percent of all white students enrolled in the courses, compared to 13 percent of Hispanic students or 11.5 percent of black students.

Mackey said the group created recommendations after conducting interviews with officials that work in, or closely with, concurrent enrollment programs. Among the recommendations: Districts should translate information about the programs into at least the top five languages of their students; they should align courses with career pathways; and they need to find ways to increase access in charter schools and other school models.

This year, state legislators are considering a bill that would change the requirements for how school districts must notify families of concurrent enrollment opportunities. The bill, if passed, calls for districts to provide information about the benefits of taking college courses during high school, including how doing so can reduce a student’s college expenses. The bill would also require districts to clearly lay out deadlines, such as for testing or registration, that students must meet to be able to participate in the courses.

Registration and timelines were identified in the report as some of the barriers students face in trying to take concurrent enrollment.

Mackey said she has provided some input on the bill and supports it, but believes it’s just one step. It would be better, she said, if the state also required the information to be provided in multiple languages, and if it came with money for districts to comply.

“I definitely think it’s a good idea,” Mackey said. “I do think that funding needs to be put with it as well. The state should be addressing and funding this issue and also providing some guidance for the district.”

Mackey’s group is planning to do more research on this topic, including putting together another report that will focus more on students’ experiences accessing these concurrent enrollment programs.

Read the full report below.



Hello Again

Debora Scheffel chosen by acclamation to fill State Board of Ed vacancy

State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A Republican vacancy committee unanimously selected Debora Scheffel to fill the opening left by Pam Mazanec on the State Board of Education.

Mazanec, a staunch defender of parental rights and school choice who represented the 4th Congressional District, resigned at the end of January to focus on her other obligations. Scheffel previously represented the 6th Congressional District on the board but lost that seat in 2016 to Democrat Rebecca McClellan.

McClellan’s narrow victory gave control of the board to Democrats for the first time in 46 years. Scheffel, who serves as dean of education at Colorado Christian University, moved to Douglas County, and ran unsuccessfully for school board there in 2017.

Scheffel’s selection does not change the balance of power on the state board because she replaces another Republican. Scheffel faced no opposition at the vacancy committee meeting, which took place Saturday in Limon.

Scheffel has said she wants to continue Mazanec’s work on behalf of rural schools and in support of parent and student choice, as well as work to protect student data privacy, a cause she previously championed on the board.

The district takes in all of the eastern Plains, as well as the cities of Longmont, Greeley, and Castle Rock.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis struggles to balance how much money schools need with what people will pay

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Without a massive influx of cash from taxpayers, Indianapolis’ largest school district could be in dire financial straits. But the fate of the referendums asking voters for more money is in limbo.

Even as the Indianapolis Public Schools board revealed plans to reduce how much money it is seeking from voters, the administration portrayed the district’s financial future as precarious. During a board discussion Thursday, officials underscored how critical it would be for the tax increase to pass. It’s unclear, however, whether the district will get the extra cash it needs to avoid making painful cuts.

Critics have suggested the request — $936 million over eight years — is too high and that the district has not offered enough detail on how the money raised would be spent. With only tepid support for the tax plan, district leaders appear poised to reduce the amount they are seeking. That move could win over new allies, but it could also undercut their efforts to gain support.

Next year, the administration is expecting spending could outpace income by more than $45 million. The plan for filling that gap hinges on raising more than $46 million from a referendum that will go before voters in May.

Without that extra money, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said, the district would have to burn through its savings or make vast cuts that could include freezing teacher pay, cutting school budgets, and reducing transportation.

The district would need to begin making cuts immediately, said board member Kelly Bentley. “It’s just going to get worse the next year, and the next year,” she added.

The district’s future will look brighter if leaders are able to win public support for more funding, although it’s no longer clear how much money they will ask for. The original plan, which was approved by the board in December, includes two referendums to raise property taxes. One would ask voters to give the district as much as $92 million more per year for eight years for operating expenses such as teacher pay. Another measure, which the district is not expected to change, would pay for $200 million in improvements to buildings.

Ferebee said the amount he originally proposed was based on what the district needs rather than what would be politically feasible. In the face of community feedback, however, the district is crafting a plan that would have a lower price tag. Next, the district will need to explain what services will be cut to keep down costs, he said.

“I anticipate people will want to know, ‘what are the tradeoffs?’ ” Ferebee said. “We owe it to the community to provide that explanation, and we will.”

Indiana districts have pursued more than 160 property tax referendums since 2008, when state lawmakers created the current school funding system. About 60 percent of those referendums have been successful, according to data from Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy.

Stephen Hiller, who has been studying referendums with the center for nearly a decade, said that it’s likely that many districts have had to reconcile how much money they would ideally want with how much taxpayers might be willing to pay. But that conversation likely happens before a referendum is announced and approved by the board.

“I think IPS has it a little more difficult here that it’s happening in the open after they’ve approved it in a very public way,” he added.

School board president Michael O’Connor said that the district’s willingness to change the plan is a sign that local government works.

“We live in the community within which we serve, and all of us have heard pretty plainly and clearly, ‘we think that number might be too big,’ ” he said. “We are being responsive to our constituents.”

Reducing the referendum could be enough to win over many supporters. Several groups that have supported the current administration in the past have not yet taken a stand.

Tony Mason of the Indianapolis Urban League said in a statement that the district needs more money to pay high-quality teachers and meet the needs of its diverse students. But he raised concerns about the potential impact of the tax increase on residents with fixed- or low-incomes.

“IPS will still need to continue in its efforts to make the case for the substantial amount it is requesting,” Mason said. “The IUL is an avid supporter of education, particularly for urban schools that struggle with unique challenges.”

Chelsea Koehring, who taught in the district and now has two children at the Butler Lab School, shares the view that the district needs more money. But leaders have not offered enough details about how the money would be spent, she said, and changing the request raises red flags.

“People, you should’ve had this together before you asked,” she said. “Lowering it at this point — I don’t know that that’s going to instill confidence in anyone that they have any clue what they are doing.”

Correction: February 17, 2018: This story has been corrected to reflect that Indiana districts have pursued more than 160 property tax referendums since 2008. Some districts have held multiple referendums.