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Briefs: A reprieve for Aspen Community

Updated Aug. 16, 4:30 p.m. – The State Board of Education Thursday voted unanimously to approve the 2013 list of major projects to receive funding from the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program.

The board delayed action on the list at its Aug. 8 meeting after persuading members of the state Capital Construction Assistance Board to reconsider the amount of matching money the Aspen Community School had to provide in order to receive state funds. Earlier this week the construction board reversed an earlier decision and set a lower match for the charter school.

Text of original article follows

The board that recommends state grants for school construction projects has reversed an earlier decision and reduced the matching amount for a grant to Aspen Community School, a charter that hopes to replace a 42-year-old log building in rural Woody Creek.

The Capital Construction Assistance Board, which makes grants from the Building Excellent Schools Today program, voted 4-2 Tuesday to require the school to provide $4.8 million in matching funds for the $9 million project.

The school’s match had been set at about $7.3 million because of a change in state law that went into effect just weeks before the construction board awarded grants in late June. Aspen Community, which has prepared its application assuming a lower match, requested a waiver to keep the figure at $4.8 million, but the board deadlocked 4-4 twice on motions to grant the waiver.

BEST grants have to be approved by the State Board of Education. On Aug. 8 board members, clearly in favor of the school’s request, urged the construction board to reconsider (see story, including more information about 2013 BEST grants). The SBE is scheduled to meet by telephone Thursday afternoon and is expected to approve the full grant list, now that the construction board has changed its mind.

School director Skye Skinner said Wednesday, “I’ve just been pinching myself. I’m thrilled with the board’s decision. … The next challenge is before us, and that’s raising our match.”

She said the school has been talking to potential funders but doesn’t have firm commitments yet. “We’ve really needed this grant as a kick start. … I’m assuming we have to raise those funds by November like everyone else.” Most school districts selected for 2013 grants need to raise their matches through bond proposals on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The Aspen Community case marked the first time in the history of the BEST program that the State Board has suggested a change in the awards list.

→ The Colorado School Finance Project has released its annual summary of Colorado school statistics, this set for the 2010-11 school year.

Among other things, the report found that K-12 enrollment increased by 9,103 to 798,600 students while the number of teachers dropped by 500. The summary also says that average Colorado teacher pay has dropped 9.6 percent since 1992-93, adjusted for inflation.

Also adjusted for inflation, per-pupil spending was down $247 from the 2009-10 figure. The percentage of students statewide eligible for free and reduced lunch – 35.5 percent – is the highest since 1992-93. The project and the research firm Augenblick, Palaich & Co. compiled the report from state Department of Education data. Get links to the report here.

The conservative Independence Institute, which has a different philosophy about education spending than does the project, argues that school spending has risen consistently during the early part of the decade. See this recent blog post for their take on things.

→ Opportunities for “blended learning” – a combination of online and in-person instruction – are uneven in Colorado, according to a new report, “Blended Learning in Rural Colorado.”

“In Colorado, educational options that blend online and face-to-face instruction—at the course, unit, or school level—are more widespread in urban and suburban areas along the Front Range than in rural districts on the plains and along the Western Slope. The reasons for this disparity are not yet well understood,” the report says. But the study does not that lack of broadband access, funding and professional development can hamper development of blended programs by rural districts. Read the full report here.

The report was done for the state Department of Education by Evergreen Education Group, a Durango-based research firm, and was funded by the Donnell-Kay and Colorado Legacy foundations.

→ The Donnell-Kay Foundation has announced the speakers for the first part of its 2012-13 Hot Lunch series.

The sessions will kick off Sept. 14 with a presentation by Dennis Parker, who helped Toyota develop its accredited Toyota Advance Manufacturing Technician Program. He will present with Cathy Lund of Project Lead the Way, who helped integrate STEM education into Toyota’s schools.

Other fall speakers include:

  • Oct. 12 – Michael Caudell-Feagan of the Pew Center on the States and Josh McGee of the Arnold Foundation on pension reform.
  • Nov. 9 – Marlene Seltzer, president of Jobs for the Future

Kaya Henderson, chancellor of the District of Columbia schools, will speak at a Jan. 11, 2013, session. Other speakers for the 2013 portion of the series will be announced later. Get more information on the program here.

→ The Colorado School of Mines raised more than $32.5 million in private contributions during 2011-12, the highest total in the school’s history, An $11.2 million contribution came from alumnus and Mines board member Hugh Harvey and his wife Michelle. Get more details here.

With state funding in decline, private fundraising has become increasingly important for state colleges a universities. The University of Colorado and Colorado State University recently reported raising a combined $340 million during the last school year (see story).

Larger institutions also are stepping up their efforts to snap research funding. The CU System reports that faculty raised some $815.3 million in sponsored research funding during the 2011-12 school year, an increased of $22 million over the prior year. The top year from research grants was 2009-10, when $884.1 million was raised. Part of that total was one-time federal stimulus funding. About half the 2011-12 total was raised for the Anschutz Medical Campus. Get more details in this news release.

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