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Archive for the ‘Legislature 2011’ Category

Might Colorado’s school funding picture change?

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Paul Teske is Dean and University of Colorado Distinguished Professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver.

(These views represent the personal opinions of the author and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system).

As we start summer – the real, post-Memorial Day, school is out, summer – it is worth reflecting on the near-term future of education funding in Colorado.

The legislature recently finished its session, which focused mainly upon budget cuts.  Both higher ed and K-12 took cuts, but in the end, these cuts were somewhat less than some feared (higher ed), or less than the original level of cuts (for K-12).  Remarkably, as the session ended, the fact that that cuts could have been worse seems to have been spun as mainly good news.

EdNews recently linked to new U.S. Census data that ranks Colorado’s per pupil K-12 spending (all revenues divided by number of students) as 40th among the 51 states (including DC).  That 2008-9 data is now two academic years behind  – two years, by the way, full of deeper cuts in Colorado (and some cuts in some other states, too, to be sure).  Consistent with other data on this subject, the Census Bureau shows Colorado spending about $2,000 per pupil below the national average.

I will leave it to others to figure out more precisely what $2,000 per pupil could buy.  It would seem, in a single class of 25 students, even if only two-thirds of funds were spent in the classroom, it would buy $33,000 worth of extra instruction for the students in that single classroom – a para-professional, lots of useful technological aides, or whatever students need most.

As we look ahead to fall 2011, districts and schools will face the legislature’s budget cuts, and it will be interesting to see the reactions.  In the meantime, a few noteworthy events will occur.

First, the Lobato lawsuit, about whether Colorado’s K-12 funding is “adequate” under the “thorough and uniform” clause, should be heard in August.  While court decisions are somewhat unpredictable, it is possible that the Colorado Supreme Court will rule K-12 revenues to be inadequate.  Should they make that decision, the next step would be somewhat unclear – as courts have limited enforcement powers (not zero powers – the New Jersey Supreme Court, after several rulings on school finance, and legislative inertia and stalemate, eventually forced budgetary actions).

Second, State Sen. Rollie Heath’s (D-Boulder) proposal will likely be put on the ballot. Heath proposes to to roll back tax rates to the rates of the late 1990s, a period of a major economic boom in Colorado (yes, that rolling back involves a tax increase from current levels).

While passage may not be likely, no tax increase proposal in Colorado is ever likely.  There is a self-fulfilling prophecy element here as well – many potential supporters are not yet on board, because they fear defeat or believe that voters have “no appetite for new taxes,” but all that could look different in November, if the Lobato plaintiffs win, the economy continues to improve, and parents see the results of the latest budget cuts as their children return to school with larger class sizes, fewer programs, fees for buses, fees for extracurriculars, etc.

Third, the lawsuit against TABOR (the Taxpayer Bill of Rights), started by Herb Fenster, will move forward, now with lots of signatories from both parties.  This argues that TABOR has gutted the representative form of government for the state of Colorado.   While also perhaps a long-shot, there is logic to the argument.

I have previously proposed consideration of the hypothetical CIBOR –the Citizens Bill of Rights.  Under CIBOR, the legislature could not cut any programs that affect Colorado citizens (where cuts are defined in real dollar terms, per affected citizen), without a vote of the citizens.

Most people would say that CIBOR is ridiculous – how could the legislature be bound by such constraints, as it needs to balance the budget?  And yet TABOR pretty much does the same on the spending side.  So, as silly as CIBOR might seem, it is just the symmetrical, mirror-image of TABOR. In either case, the power of the legislature is substantially restrained.

Fourth, a committee made up of key foundations, non-profits, and other stakeholder groups is examining the school finance act, with a potential “reform and resources” agenda. While past legislative commissions on school finance, in 2005 and 2009, were unable to come to actionable consensus, perhaps this outside group can move such an agenda forward.

So, the legislature is done for 2011, but funding issues will continue to evolve.

Popularity: 12% [?]

Try the ‘Backseat Budgeter’

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Mark Sass, a teacher since 1994, teaches at Legacy High School in the Adams Five Star School District.

Want to know why it is so hard to find revenue for education? Why Higher Ed usually gets the fiscal ax first?  Why our constitution needs some fixin’?

Colorado Public Radio ran a story this morning about the backseat budgeter, an interactive “game” that allows you to attempt to balance the state budget.  Listen to the story and then try your hand at balancing the budget.  Let us know what you tried to cut and what tax you tried to increase.  You will get a first hand feel for what our legislators are going through.

Popularity: 10% [?]

No breakfast for you, kid

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Paul Teske is dean of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver.

Today’s Denver Post story about the Joint Budget Committee not approving more funding for school breakfasts for low income kids is emblematic of where we are with the state’s fiscal position.  Cuts will be made, to education, higher education, and other areas, even though we know that many of the things being cut are important to achieving broader educational goals.

Parents have been told, repeatedly, by all forms of research and media, that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day for kids” – so that they can learn without being hungry.   But, I guess we don’t want to pay the 30 cents for kids whose families can’t afford it –so it must not be that important.  In our $250 billion gross state economy, we can’t find $124,000 to pay for 56,000 eligible children for the period from March–June 2011.

The Post article quotes JBC member Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen: “I honestly felt like asking parents to spend 30 cents per meal was an appropriate vote,” Gerou said. “If we did not have a revenue shortfall, my vote would be different than it is.  Nobody wants to charge children for those breakfasts, but we are where we are. We just don’t have any money.”

No, we don’t.   We are where we are.

Mainly this is because we tax ourselves at the 48th lowest overall rate in America.

And, this is hardly the only impact of under-funding.  At the higher ed level, research is strong and solid that student retention and eventual graduation are greatly enhanced if freshmen are taught by full-time faculty who have offices, with whom they can make a real connection – but, because of budget cuts, the vast majority of our Colorado higher ed first-year classes are now taught by “one-off” adjuncts or lecturers (many of whom are terrific teachers), who can’t fill that mentorship role.

More broadly, this illustrates the extreme disjuncture of Colorado’s services and revenues.  While everyone agrees that they are out of balance, as Rep. Gerou notes, the only thing the legislature can do is to cut services.  “The people” don’t get to vote this week on a new tax (which would be between 2 and 3 cents for each Coloradan) to pay for those kids’ breakfasts for the rest of the year.

This is true, even though there is polling out there that suggests that citizens would favor raising revenues before making more cuts to education services.  And, in other states like Arizona and Illinois, voters and/or legislators are increasing taxes, sometimes a lot, to pay for critical services.   But, in Colorado the legislature can’t raise revenues, and the soonest it could possibly be done by the people, with a ballot initiative, is next fall, well after fiscal 2012 cuts are already made by the legislature.

To demonstrate the disjuncture and asymmetry of our situation, imagine a hypothetical alternative: Say that homeless advocate Bruce Douglas gets petitions for a ballot initiative to require that the citizens vote on all cuts to state and local programs – where cuts are defined as decreases in spending on any specific program, when accounting for inflation and the number of service recipients.  This might be called the “Citizens Bill of Rights” or CIBOR.

I would imagine that newspaper editorials and other forums would immediately condemn the irresponsibility and ridiculousness of CIBOR – “it would take representative government away from the elected legislators,” and “it would provide no flexibility in balancing an annual state or local budget.”

But, it is not clear to me how CIBOR would be any different from, or asymmetrical to, our current situation with TABOR – the legislature can and will only cut services (totaling $3-4 billion over the past 3 years), while the citizens, who might want to support some of those services, don’t get a say, unless someone launches a big ballot initiative, 9 months later.

Popularity: 18% [?]

A reform agenda for 2011

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Robert Reichardt is director of the Center for Education Policy Analysis, School of Public Affairs, at the University of Colorado at Denver.

The drumbeat for school reform will continue through 2011 as we figure out what it means to run an education system defined by standards and accountability.  With this in mind here is my Colorado-centric education reform agenda for 2011.

Federal Agenda: The vehicle for federal efforts will shift from Race to the Top to the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.  A key NCLB priority is starting over on the definition of Highly Qualified teachers.  At a minimum Highly Qualified should not include certification. There is no doubt that teachers need training and content knowledge to be effective, however the current Highly Qualified system is too focused on inputs and puts too much power over hiring in the hands of state and district administrators.

The new NCLB should provide a system of waivers from the Highly Qualified requirements, immediately releasing very effective districts and schools from all Highly Qualified requirements and giving the same authority to less effective districts if they meet certain performance goals over time.  A second NCLB goal is to make Adequate Yearly Progress similar to Colorado’s accreditation system with a mixed model of both a value-added or growth models, mixed with status measures.

A third federal priority is not NCLB related, but about pensions.  We know we have a funding crisis for our public pensions.  But, pensions also contribute to human capital problems.  Too many educators stick with teaching to reach the large pay-off of the defined benefit plan.  A solution to this problem is to switch our pensions from defined benefit to defined contribution plans (such as 401ks).  However, this switch could only happen with a large revolving loan fund that would sustain the current defined benefit obligations as people began to build up the their 401k plans.  The federal government should help with this switch by creating this revolving loan fund.

State agenda: Our state policy system is overloaded with major reforms:  New standards, new teacher effectiveness systems, new approaches to turning around low performing schools, new accountability systems, and new connections between early childhood, K-12 and higher education. All this during a funding crisis and a search for a new commissioner.

Without the benefit of Race to the Top funds we need to prioritize our reform efforts. State leadership needs to establish a clear, shared understanding of how each of these reforms fit together with realistic and logical implementation timing.

We need to make sure the foundation to all of our reforms, the new common core standards, are done right.  If we don’t make sure teachers and schools are able to select and use classroom materials that are aligned with the new standards, then the rest of our reforms will be built on a house of sand. We won’t know whether our new measures of performance and accountability are measuring poor performance or simply teaching the wrong curriculum.

So we need to push forward with the plans contained in our Race to the Top application to build capacity to identify, create, verify, and share aligned class, course, and subject materials.

A second priority is reworking the framework for our new teacher effectiveness system as laid out in SB 191.  As I have blogged earlier, the current framework depends on student growth measures that don’t exist.  We need to use the existing growth measures as a way to hold systems accountable.

A third priority is education finance.  Our state is going to face significant financial pressure over the next five years.  The fact that 16 of 23 mill levy overrides passed in the November elections suggests to me that communities are willing to support their schools.  If we are faced with a choice of cutting overall K-12 funding or asking communities to pick up more of the tab, I think we need to create more opportunities for communities to support their schools.

This agenda is all part of getting standards based reform right. This is not a partisan agenda, but can easily be derailed by partisan politics.  In the end, our education system needs to have aligned curriculum and assessments, be able to allocate resources towards effectiveness and need, and have effective and nuanced accountability systems.

We have made a lot of impressive progress.  This agenda would be very different if we did not have the choice and charter options we already have in Colorado.  I am confident we can continue to move in the right direction.

Popularity: 6% [?]

The 2011 session: Sen. Johnston’s view

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, represents Senate District 33 in Northeast Denver.

Governor Bill Ritter’s four years saw a burst of progressive education legislation that is already beginning to pay huge dividends to the children of Colorado. I think in four short years Gov. Ritter has had a more dramatic impact on improving education in this state than perhaps any other governor.

From the creation of new accountability structures to ensure that all of our schools meet the expectations of parents and community members to the increased focus on ensuring that our educators are highly effective, Colorado has quickly become one of the nation’s leaders in pursuing much needed reforms to a foundering system.

One of those reforms, of course, is SB 191. Though there is less media attention now, the important work of the Great Teachers and Leaders law continues. The Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness is moving closer and closer to finalizing its work and its members will present their findings to the State Board of Education in April. There are public comment sessions at all of their meetings and once they have made their recommendations, the State Board will hold more comment sessions as they go about creating the rules that will fill in the council’s framework.

The council has made enormous strides so far and I am incredibly impressed at the way all of the members have dedicated themselves to creating the best system possible for everyone involved.

Take time to implement

Many people have asked what the big new education work is at the Capitol this year, to which I have often responded: Implementing the big work we’ve already started.

With Colorado in the middle of rolling out new standards, developing new state assessments that will replace CSAP, and overhauling our principal and teacher evaluation system, a number of the most critical components of our statewide system are in flux.

This summer I had the opportunity to talk with more than 1,000 teachers and more than 70 superintendents and their consistent message was that they are committed to getting standards, assessments and evaluations done right, but they need the time to do that before embarking on another big initiative.

Student accountability

Nonetheless, there are two critical issues for us to address. The first is student accountability. Throughout my conversations with teachers and principals this topic comes up over and over again, with educators commenting that, “we’re fine with adults being held accountable, but students need to have some skin in the game.”

I think this is absolutely true and when you look at states that have made dramatic improvements, like Massachusetts—now the highest performing state in the country—they have done it with accountability requirements for students including high stakes exit exams. Other states like Florida have implemented legislation ending social promotion that requires students to be able to read by third grade before being promoted to fourth grade.

Florida has seen striking gains in their state, nearly closing the white/Latino achievement gap so that now Latino students in Florida outperform all students in 31 states, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

Counting students

The second issue is our current method of financing schools based on a single October count day. As educators know, this single count day makes for a statewide production every October that results in perverse incentives to get students into the building one day of the year and no incentives to keep them there after that.

I know there are districts doing amazing work on retention efforts, but we also know we are one of 13 states in country still using a single count day because it means districts are never paid for mobile students who come later in the year, nor are they rewarded for successfully keeping students enrolled throughout the year. I am committed to working with districts and school boards to find a better way to count our students and am looking forward to the report from the commission to inform this conversation.

Unfortunately, recent legislative sessions have also brought devastating budget cuts to our school districts, hampering some of the efforts of great teachers, administrators, and board members. Unfortunately, those cuts are likely to be necessary again as the state faces a $1.2 billion budget shortfall this year but I plan to do everything possible to avoid balancing the budget on the backs of children.

Confronting the budget crisis

This next round of budget crisis should finally force a conversation about what kind of Colorado we want to live in, and what resources we need to support that Colorado.  I often said during the 191 debate that this is one part of a two part process: One is implementing the reforms the state needs to better use the resources we have, and two is getting the resources we need to adequately do the job in front of us.

This means we need to find a way to increase revenues for K-12 and higher education and we must be preparing to make our case to the voters of Colorado to do this.  I am looking forward to the report of the DU tax study group at the end of this month that will make recommendations for the road ahead.

Which leads us to what I believe will be the most important piece of education legislation this session and one that will unite everyone who believes in quality education for the children of Colorado. I am honored to partner with my new colleague Senator Angela Giron of Pueblo as we introduce the Colorado ASSET bill, which aims to provide in-state tuition to undocumented students who successfully complete Colorado high schools in good standing.

In-state tuition for undocumented students

As a high school principal in Mapleton, I watched as high school seniors—many of whom had never known any country but the United States—realized they could not afford their dreams of college because they didn’t have the opportunity to pay in-state tuition like all of their classmates. Even more depressing was watching as their brothers and sisters, knowing they faced the same fate, gave up on high school even earlier and joined gangs, used drugs, and squandered their brilliance because of the obstacles that we have erected.

This issue can bring in much needed resources to our cash-strapped institutions of higher education, reward those students who have done everything right in their quest for the American dream, and ensures that Colorado can continue to develop a top-flight workforce in future generations.

Standing in the MESA cafeteria and having to explain to students and parents why they couldn’t go to college like the rest of their classmates was one of the reasons I originally ran for this seat when Peter Groff, one of the great champions of this issue, left the Senate.

I believe this is one of the great civil rights issues of our time, and offers us a chance to ensure that every Colorado resident who works hard, plays by the rules and graduates from a Colorado high school has the chance to make a positive contribution to our state.

Popularity: 7% [?]

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