Who Is In Charge

Ritter holds the line on education cuts

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Take it from Vody
A23 formula set

A revised 2010-11 budget plan announced Thursday by Gov. Bill Ritter includes no additional cuts to K-12 support or to higher education.

Perhaps the most significant education news out of the governor’s announcement was that he’s open to some form of tuition flexibility for next year, if college presidents can come up with a proposal that won’t harm low- and middle-income students.

“We may be able to broaden this conversation about tuition flexibility,” Ritter said during a Capitol news conference.

Asked to elaborate, Ritter only said that if college presidents can develop a tuition proposal that he considers fair, he’ll take a look.

Ritter has proposed a 9 percent ceiling on tuition increases in the 2010-11 school year.

Gov. Bill Ritter speaks at budget news conference on Feb. 18, 2009.

Some college presidents, particularly at larger institutions and systems, want individual colleges boards to have complete freedom to set tuition rates and financial aid. They argue they could manage such a system and still maintain affordability.

Ritter, who frequently refers to the opportunities low tuition gave him at Colorado State University, up to now has been reluctant to take tuition control out of his and the legislature’s hands.

Speaking later to a Colorado Association of School Boards lunch, the governor was applauded when he stressed that he’s proposed no new K-12 cuts. He quipped, “That gives you some idea of the times we’re in [when] that’s the applause line – no new cuts.”

State school funding already has taken a hit of more than 2 percent in the current year, and Ritter earlier proposed an effective cut of more than 6 percent for 2010-11.

The original budget for K-12 spending for 2009-10 was $5.7 billion, including $2 billion in local revenue and $3.7 billion from the state.

Senate Bill 10-065, already passed by the legislature and signed into law, cut the state share by $110 million (and didn’t provide $20 million for increased enrollment), bringing the total to $5.58 billion.

Ritter’s original 2010-11 budget proposal, made last November, called for a 6.1 percent cut from what otherwise would have been expected under the Amendment 23, which would take total school support next year to $5.43 billion.

In order to make those cuts next year, the administration is interpreting Amendment 23 to cover only base state support of schools, about 75 percent of total state aid. The cuts would come from the other 25 percent, money used to equalize spending among districts.

School districts have been hard at work for weeks tweaking their 2009-10 spending (the $110 cutback was expected) and making plans for 2010-11.

Just this week the Durango and Hayden school boards formally declared “fiscal exigency,” a legally required first step toward layoffs; a Pueblo City board member raised the question of closing the district’s administration building; a citizen survey in Mesa County showed support for a four-day week and a shorter school year, and some Douglas County citizens told the school board they’d support tax increases to blunt the impact of a proposed $44 million cut.

Ritter’s 2010-11 higher education plan calls for a cut of about $60 million in state and federal stimulus support. But, overall college revenues, about $1.9 billion, would be about the same as this year if an overall 9 percent tuition increase is implemented.

The governor’s revised plan also includes a $135 million transfer from the state’s main general fund, to the State Education Fund, designed to stave off SEF insolvency for one year, and transfer of $45.2 million from the Early Achievers Scholarship Trust Fund, part of CollegeInvest, to the general fund and need-based scholarships. About $9 million would be left in the fund to support current recipients and current high school juniors and seniors who might became eligible. The program would end in 2016.

The governor’s overall proposal achieves a total $340 million in cuts, savings and fund transfers on top of the $1 billion in reductions proposed when he unveiled the original budget plan last November. The adjustments were made in response to state revenue forecasts that came out in late December.

Ritter’s Thursday announcement won’t be the last word on the 2010-11 budget. Further adjustments may be needed after the next formal state revenue forecasts are issued March 19. And the final decision on the budget rests with the legislature, based on numbers from the Joint Budget Committee.

Asked about the likelihood of additional cuts, to either the 2009-10 or 2010-11 budgets, Ritter said, “We’ll know more about this in April and May,” after 2009 income tax returns come in.

“We are past the worst of it, but we still have budget challenges,” the governor said. He also said there’s “a very real possibility the 2011-12 budget year could involve cutting.”

Take it from Vody

Vody Herrmann, school finance chief at the Department of Education, is highly regarded as a person who knows her numbers down to the last decimal point and who will help any school district with any question.

Herrmann spoke late Thursday afternoon to a Colorado Association of Schools Boards conference, and here are some snippets of what she had to say on key financial questions:

On cuts proposed so far: “We hope there are no further cuts. I can’t guarantee there won’t be.”

What the legislature might do with Ritter’s proposed 2010-11 cuts: “There could be all sorts of other suggestions [but] there isn’t more money.”

On Ritter’s cuts and Amendment 23: “I think this is setting a new base.” Schools won’t get back to 2009-10 funding levels “for four or five years. … Things look even tougher” in 2011-12.

What districts should do: “You need to have a little buffer. They [the state] could come back for $100 million or $50 million or $150 million” in budget pullbacks if state revenues continue to slump next year. “Just please be cautious. I just can’t say that enough.”

Inflation rate set for A23 formula

On Friday, school districts got a piece of good but essentially meaningless news when the federal government announced that the official 2009 Denver/Boulder/Greeley inflation rate was negative .6 percent.

The inflation rate is part of the Amendment 23 formula, which requires state school support to increase each year by inflation in the previous calendar year plus 1 percent, multiplied by enrollment.

State officials had been assuming 2009 inflation would be pegged at negative .9 percent, making the multiplier a measly plus .1 percent. With actual inflation pegged at minus .6 percent, the multiplier inches up to plus .4 percent.

That will mean a slightly larger increase than expected in categorical funds (money earmarked for transportation, special education and some other specific programs), but it won’t affect overall school spending in 2010-11.

That’s because the Ritter administration, pressed by the state’s budget woes, has set an overall target for K-12 aid that’s $260 million below 2009-10 levels.

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Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”

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Tennesseans reflect on Candice McQueen’s legacy leading the state’s schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with Arlington High School students during a school visit Tuesday that kicked off a statewide tour focused on student voices.

As Candice McQueen prepares to leave her role as Tennessee education commissioner in January, education leaders, advocates, and parents are weighing in on her impact on the state’s schools.

McQueen 44, will become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in mid-January after about four years under the outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam administration.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy. But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Here are reactions from education leaders and thinkers across the state:

Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas:

“It was her commitment to transparency, equity, and strong accountability that helped create a nationally recognized framework that places students at its center. Commissioner McQueen’s commitment to inclusion and engagement meant that our partners across the state had the opportunity to weigh in, share their experiences, and to ask hard questions and conduct real conversations with policymakers. Tennessee continues to lead the nation in innovation and improvement in K-12 education, and that is due in no small part to Commissioner McQueen’s leadership.”

Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who in August co-penned a letter declaring “no confidence” in state testing:

“Since joining MNPS just over two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Commissioner McQueen and her team. She has been a strong advocate for Tennessee’s children, and I especially want to thank her for her support of the work that is taking place in Nashville. We send her our very best wishes — and our hearty congratulations for accepting her new role.”

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee:

“Commissioner Candice McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration. She took over the department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the department, particularly in the infrastructure. Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital. There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state. It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction. The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.”

Sharon Griffin, leader of the state-run Achievement School District:

“I have truly appreciated Dr. McQueen’s leadership and vision for the Department of Education.  From a distance and even closer in recent months, I have clearly seen the integrity and passion she brings to the work of improving student outcomes.  We have absolutely connected around our shared belief in how what’s in the best interest of students should guide our work.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of SCORE:

“Tennessee students have been served very well by the steady and strong leadership of Commissioner McQueen. Her priorities have been the right ones for our children: improving student achievement, with a specific focus on reading skills; advocating for great teaching and supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction; and emphasizing that students and schools with the greatest needs must receive targeted focus and support in order to improve.”

Sarah Carpenter, executive director of parent advocacy group Memphis Lift:

“Memphis parents want decision makers to be accessible, and we appreciate that Commissioner McQueen made a point to build relationships and hear concerns from the entire community. Hopefully, the next education commissioner will bring parents to the table for conversations about our kids’ education.”

Mendell Grinter, leader of Memphis student advocacy group Campaign for School Equity:

“In our collaborative work and position in the educational landscape, we have witnessed firsthand how Commissioner McQueen has served as a tireless advocate for students and families in Tennessee. Over the past two years her leadership has inspired school leaders, and teachers alike to recognize the sense of urgency for improving school equity and academic outcomes for more students.”

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report and vocal critic of state test, TNReady:

“After what can charitably be called a rocky tenure at the helm of the Tennessee Department of Education, Candice McQueen has miraculously landed another high-level job. This time, she’ll take over as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, an organization apparently not at all concerned about the track record of new hires or accountability.”

Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”