money matters

Few New York City students benefit from free college tuition, report finds

PHOTO: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has touted the Excelsior scholarship, but few New York City students are benefitting.

New York City students largely aren’t benefiting from the state’s program promising free college tuition, according to numbers released Friday by a nonpartisan policy think tank.

At Hostos Community College in the Bronx, just 34 students qualified for the Excelsior scholarship — 0.5 percent of the college’s enrollment. The numbers were similarly tiny at other New York City campuses, like Guttman Community College, where 36 students received aid, and Bronx Community College, where 61 students did.

All told, 21 percent of Excelsior recipients attend City University of New York schools, even though those students make up 38 percent of undergraduate enrollment statewide. Across the city, 4,000 students received the award.

“A lot of students are being excluded,” said Tom Hilliard, a researcher who authored the report for the Center for an Urban Future, which draws on state data obtained through a public information request. “Are we really meeting the state’s larger goals of helping all students afford college so they can get a degree?”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the scholarship program in January 2017, calling it a first-in-the-nation plan to make college more affordable. But experts had long warned that the scholarship’s strict requirements — especially the rule that students earn 30 credits a year — would exclude many students juggling additional responsibilities while attending school. Sixty percent of CUNY students report a household income under $30,000.

There are other reasons why New York City students may have been shut out of Excelsior, and the small numbers don’t necessarily mean students aren’t receiving tuition help. Since the scholarship is only a “last dollar” program — meaning it fills the tuition gap not covered by other scholarships — city students may be qualifying for other types of aid to pay for their classes.

The governor’s office noted that 53 percent of the state’s full-time students already attend college tuition-free, thanks to other aid programs. At CUNY, that figure is 56 percent for full-time students. The state also took issue with some of the report’s figures, and said that many students who qualified for Excelsior were rejected because their bills were already covered.

“We are proud that, with Excelsior, thousands more are attending college for free this year,” spokesman Don Kaplan wrote in an email. “New York is expanding college access and making it affordable and the Center for an Urban Future shouldn’t stand in the way of that progress.”

Hilliard said the state should consider easing Excelsior’s credit requirement, or focus on helping students pay for other kinds of college costs, such as books and transportation, to help more students earn a degree.

“We have a lot of students who aren’t graduating, or are not graduating on time, and affordability is a big part of that,” he said.

Mapping a Turnaround

This is what the State Board of Education hopes to order Adams 14 to do

PHOTO: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District on April 17, 2018.

In Colorado’s first-ever attempt to give away management of a school district, state officials Thursday provided a preview of what the final order requiring Adams 14 to give up district management could include.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve its final directives to the district later this month.

Thursday, after expressing a lack of trust in district officials who pleaded their case, the state board asked the Attorney General’s office for advice and help in drafting a final order detailing how the district is to cede authority, and in what areas.

Colorado has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of an entire district.

Among details discussed Thursday, Adams 14 will be required to hire an external manager for at least four years. The district will have 90 days to finalize a contract with an external manager. If it doesn’t, or if the contract doesn’t meet the state’s guidelines, the state may pull the district’s accreditation, which would trigger dissolution of Adams 14.

State board chair Angelika Schroeder said no one wants to have to resort to that measure.

But districts should know, the state board does have “a few more tools in our toolbox,” she said.

In addition, if they get legal clearance, state board members would like to explicitly require the district:

  • To give up hiring and firing authority, at least for at-will employees who are administrators, but not teachers, to the external manager.
    When State Board member Steve Durham questioned the Adams 14 school board President Connie Quintana about this point on Wednesday, she made it clear she was not interested in giving up this authority.
  • To give up instructional, curricular, and teacher training decisions to the external manager.
  • To allow the new external manager to decide if there is value in continuing the existing work with nonprofit Beyond Textbooks.
    District officials have proposed they continue this work and are expanding Beyond Textbooks resources to more schools this year. The state review panel also suggested keeping the Beyond Textbooks partnership, mostly to give teachers continuity instead of switching strategies again.
  • To require Adams 14 to seek an outside manager that uses research-based strategies and has experience working in that role and with similar students.
  • To task the external manager with helping the district improve community engagement.
  • To be more open about their progress.
    The state board wants to be able to keep track of how things are going. State board member Rebecca McClellan said she would like the state board and the department’s progress monitor to be able to do unannounced site visits. Board member Jane Goff asked for brief weekly reports.
  • To allow the external manager to decide if the high school requires additional management or other support.
  • To allow state education officials, and/or the state board, to review the final contract between the district and its selected manager, to review for compliance with the final order.

Facing the potential for losing near total control over his district, Superintendent Javier Abrego Thursday afternoon thanked the state board for “honoring our request.”

The district had accepted the recommendation of external management and brought forward its own proposal — but with the district retaining more authority.

Asked about the ways in which the state board went above and beyond the district’s proposal, such as giving the outside manager the authority to hire and fire administrative staff, Abrego did not seem concerned.

“That has not been determined yet,” he said. “That will all be negotiated.”

The state board asked that the final order include clear instructions about next steps if the district failed to comply with the state’s order.

Changing fortune

Late votes deliver a narrow win for Jeffco school bond measure

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Voters in Jefferson County narrowly approved a $567 million bond request that will allow the school district to improve its buildings.

Jeffco Measure 5B, the bond request, initially appeared to have failed, even as voters supported Measure 5A, a $33 million mill levy override, a type of local property tax increase, by a comfortable margin. But as late votes continued to be counted between Election Day and today, the gap narrowed — and then the tally flipped.

With all ballots counted — including overseas and military ballots and ballots from voters who had to resolve signature problems — the bond measure had 50.3 percent of the vote and a comfortable 1,500 vote margin.

In 2016, Jeffco voters turned down both a mill levy override and a bond request. Current Superintendent Jason Glass, who was hired after the ballot failure, made efforts in the last year to engage community members who don’t have children in the district on the importance of school funding. This year’s bond request was even larger than the $535 million ask that voters rejected two years ago.

“We are incredibly thankful to our voters and the entire Jeffco community for supporting our schools,” Glass said in a statement. “The 5A and 5B funding will dramatically impact the learning environment for all of our students. Starting this year, we will be able to better serve our students, who in turn will better serve our communities and the world.”

The money will be used to add new classrooms and equip them, improve security at school buildings, and add career and technical education facilities.