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SBE hopeful but realistic on testing funds

Facing a meeting with the Joint Budget Committee in 10 days, the State Board of Education wrestled Tuesday with the possibility that it won’t get the money to develop a full new state testing system that would launch in 2014.

Colorado Department of Education
Colorado Department of Education

The board and the Department of Education want $25.9 million in 2012-13 to create the tests, but Gov. John Hickenlooper doesn’t want to spend the money in a tight budget year. The JBC has posed more than a dozen questions on testing for the board and CDE to discuss during a Dec. 16 meeting with the budget panel.

One of those questions is whether the board proposes the $25.9 million be deducted from the pot of state aid to school districts or be additional spending. CDE budget analyst Jeff Blanford said the department has “no intention” of taking test costs off the top of school aid and wanted to make sure board members agreed. They did so with nods of heads.

Board members and CDE executives believe new tests are needed in 2014 to fully implement the new state content standards and to provide the data needed for operation of the state’s district and school rating system and of the new educator effectiveness law. Alternative, somewhat cheaper multi-state tests won’t be available until at least 2015.

“The reality of getting the full amount for the assessments is almost nil,” said member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District. Members of the JBC have said, “It isn’t going to happen,” she added. Berman is one of two board members who serve as a liaison with lawmakers.

“I think most of us can guess today what the status of this is,” agreed SBE Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District. But, he said, it’s important for the board to send a clear message about the importance of new tests.

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond agreed, saying, “This is a matter of awareness. … It’s important to raise this.”

The board also discussed what to do about another anomaly in the budget request – the $7.7 million that Hickenlooper requested for helping implement the educator effectiveness law. That’s money the board and CDE didn’t ask for. Board members went back on forth on whether they should endorse the governor’s request or whether doing so would diminish the importance of their request for testing money. They finally decided to support the Hickenlooper request but incorporate it in their priorities.

Imagine Pioneer Charter appeal loses on tie vote

The second round of the fight between the Falcon School District and the Imagine Pioneer Charter Academy ended in a TKO for the charter Tuesday when the board ended up with a deadlocked 3-3 vote on the charter’s appeal to SBE board of the district’s failure to grant it a charter. The legal effect of the tie is to deny the appeal.

A previous appeal last spring resulted in SBE sending the matter back to the Falcon board for reconsideration. The school board didn’t take another vote on the charter application, leading to the second appeal.

The case is a confusing one, given that there’s already another Imagine charter operating in the district and that the school board originally approved the second school, whose application later was withdrawn.

The district argues that the school’s charter board is a puppet of the for-profit Imagine Schools and that the district therefore has no legitimate charter board to negotiate with.

District lawyer Brad Miller said, “This is a predatory scheme by a for-profit company” and that the charter board is “effectively a powerless board.”

SBE members at times seems frustrated by the confusing situation, but in the end three Republicans, Schaffer; Marcia Neal, R-3rd District and Deb Scheffel, R-6th District, voted in favor of the charter. Democrats Berman, Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, and Jane Goff, D-7th District, voted no.

Member Paul Lundeen, R-5th District, is lawyer Miller’s brother-in-law and recused himself from the vote. Falcon is in Lundeen’s district.

Districts in line for R2T cash

Jill Hawley, Hammond’s chief of staff, briefed the board on the state’s application for the federal Race to the Top consolation round.

If Colorado wins a grant of $17.9 million, participating districts would get half the money. See CDE’s letter to districts here, and see the potential grants to individual districts in this spreadsheet.

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