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Colorado Edujobs status still uncertain

The state’s school finance chief said Thursday that it remains somewhat unclear if Colorado will be eligible for money from the new $10 billion Edujobs program.

Vody Herrmann, assistant commissioner in the Colorado Department of Education, said, “We don’t have that answer yet.” But, she added, federal education officials “really believe states will be able to meet the maintenance of effort” requirements of the new law, and that those requirements provide sufficient flexibility.

“We’ll see how it all plays out. I think it’s their intention that everyone will meet it in some way,” Herrmann said.

U.S. Department of Education officials held a conference call with state officials Thursday to explain the program. Application forms will be available Friday and are due in Washington by Sept. 9.

The question of Colorado’s eligibility first surfaced Wednesday when Herrmann and education Commissioner Dwight Jones briefed the State Board of Education (see story). At issue is whether Colorado meets requirements related to how much state funding has been budgeted for education, including state colleges.

According to figures released by the federal Department of Education, Colorado school districts are eligible to receive a total of $159,521,991 from the $10 billion Edujobs program, an amount supposedly sufficient to fund 2,600 jobs. (State-by-state list from DOE.)

But the hard fact is that no one knows how many Colorado teachers – or other school employees – have lost or will lose their jobs this school year because of budget cuts.

“There are no hard numbers,” said Deborah Fallin, director of public relations for the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. Neither the CEA, the Colorado Association of School Boards nor the Colorado Association of School Executives have compiled any numbers. The Colorado Department of Education also hasn’t done so.

Part of the difficulty of estimating personnel cuts is that Colorado’s 178 school districts have used a wide variety of tactics to deal with budget problems, including layoffs, non-renewal of probationary teachers, elimination or freezing of vacant positions, salary freezes and even furlough days. In some cases, employees may have lost existing jobs but been able to move into other positions.

Fallin also noted that because the school year is just starting, districts don’t yet know their exact personnel needs. That situation won’t clear up for a few weeks, after districts have a better handle on actual enrollment.

Colorado job losses tough to pin down

One Colorado organization has made a stab at compiling the overall impact of budget cuts on the state’s schools. The Colorado School Finance Project has gathered information about district budget cuts from local media reports and also sent a survey to districts. The project released updated versions of those reports Thursday (news reports spreadsheet and district survey results).

The group’s compilation of news reports covered 76 of the state’s 178 school districts, but those 76 districts have nearly 90 percent of state student enrollment. Based on those reports, the project estimated those districts made a total of $297.3 million in budget cuts.

Thirty-three districts representing 56 percent of statewide enrollment responded to the project’s survey.

The group also compiled information about staffing, classroom impacts and other budget cuts.

Education News Colorado cross-referenced information about staff reductions from the project’s two reports and came up with a total of 1,825 jobs affected by budget cuts.

However, because of the way the project compiled its information, that figure includes layoffs, attrition, position freezes and other staffing actions in multiple job classifications so it does not give any direct indication of teaching positions lost.

According to CDE data, there were just over 50,000 teachers in the state’s school districts in the fall of 2009.

The federal Edujobs numbers are projections based on statistics such as states’ budgets, school enrollments and average educator salaries. A statement from the staff of the House Committee on Education and Labor this week said, “Based on analysis from the Council of Economic Advisors of projected state budget shortfalls for FY 2011, we estimated that as many as 100,000 to 300,000 education jobs could be at risk across the country in the upcoming school year.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Education Secretary Arne Duncan was asked about the jobs-saved estimate of 161,000 during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

“Well, we always said 300,000 was the high end. We always said between 100,000 and 300,000. We had a broad range there, as you know … because this was a moving target. And we think this number is fairly solid, and this is based upon actual – you know the need and cuts we’re seeing around the country. And we think this is a good – again, nothing can be absolutely firm. We think this is a good estimate of the potential cuts that can be saved with these funds,” Duncan said.

The House committee staff statement about the bill noted, “These estimates should be viewed as provisional and subject to margins of error.”

Edujobs money will be available for personnel costs – from principals to teachers to custodians – in school buildings but can’t be used for district administrators, Herrmann said. While the intent of the program is that the money be used in the current school year, the spending period is 27 months. But funds can’t be used for district personnel costs incurred before the law was signed on Tuesday.

“It is one-time money,” Herrmann said.

Duncan was asked about that in the media call earlier this week. “We really wanted to avoid a huge catastrophe this year. As you know, the economy is slowly starting to bounce back and we’re hopeful we’ll be in a much better spot next year,” he said.

Even with Edujobs money, Colorado school districts likely will face tough budget decisions for 2011-12.

Herrmann told the state board Wednesday that state and local K-12 operating support could be $519 million less next school year than the $5.9 billion estimated to be called for by the school funding formula established in Amendment 23.

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