College finance idea hits nerve

Sensitive future debates about funding state colleges – and other issues – were previewed Wednesday as a state advisory panel held a key meeting in its process of drafting a new strategic plan for the state system.

The liveliest discussion was sparked by a misunderstanding over a subcommittee idea about how to divide state tax dollars among different kinds of colleges.

Campus montage
From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.

While that misunderstanding was quickly smoothed over, the question of focusing scarce tax revenue on the colleges that most need it is sure to come up again during the deliberations of the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee.

Three other big ideas surfaced Wednesday received less immediate attention but are certain to be debated later.

The steering committee, initially created by Gov. Bill Ritter and then formalized by the new higher ed financial flexibility law (Senate Bill 10-003) has given itself an October deadline to finish a proposed strategic plan for consideration by the new governor and lawmakers during the 2011 legislative session.

The panel is wresting with such issues as the funding crisis facing state colleges; low college attendance and completion by Hispanics, the fastest growing segment of Colorado’s population; whether the state has the right mix of colleges, and whether the current system allows easy enough student movement between colleges.

The steering committee is being advised by four subcommittees, and Wednesday’s meeting was the first opportunity for detailed reports from those panels. Subcommittees studying accessibility and the “pipeline” to college made presentations. (Detailed reports will come next month from the subcommittees considering financial sustainability and the role and mission of state colleges.)

Given that the committee is moving toward decision making, Wednesday’s meeting drew larger attendance than has been the case for past meetings, including University of Colorado President Bruce Benson; School of Mines President Bill Scoggins; Nancy McCallin, president of the Community College System, and a bevy of higher ed lobbyists.

A financial concept advanced by the Accessibility Subcommittee got things stirred up during the meeting.

Benson said he was “very concerned” about a proposal that seemed to suggest taking some tuition revenue and institutionally raised financial aid money from richer institutions (such as CU) and giving it to other schools, like state four-year colleges.

Meg Porfido

Meg Porfido, chair of the Accessibility Subcommittee, said, “That was not the intention.”

Two Democratic legislators. Reps. Sue Schafer of Wheat Ridge on speakerphone and Rep. Dickie Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder in person, also chimed in to oppose any shift of tuition and financial aid funds from CU.

“That’s not the proposal,” said Jim Lyons, steering committee co-chair.

Panel member Don Elliman, with a little irritation in his voice, noted that there was a wording problem in an initial draft of the subcommittee document that was corrected before Wednesday’s meeting.

Don Elliman

Lyons also reminded Benson that the subcommittees were carefully constructed to include representation from all levels of the higher ed system. Later in the meeting, after Benson had left, Lyons joked, “I was tempted to tell him we put that in there just to see if he was paying attention.”

(One lawmaker told Education News Colorado later that CU officials had sent around an e-mail raising the alarm.)

The idea that the subcommittee is considering will be controversial enough if it’s eventually adopted as part of the strategic plan. That concept is reduction of state per-student aid at schools that have greater capacity to raise tuition and outside funds – like CU-Boulder – so that scarce state tax dollars can be concentrated at schools like Metropolitan State College and other four-year schools, which serve higher percentages of first-generation, minority and low-income students.

“There are market forces that allow different kinds of institutions to raise different amounts of money,” Porfido said.

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison
CU President Bruce Benson

“Other people perhaps don’t try as hard at CSU, Mines and CU,” Benson replied. “Other institutions should be out working on this [fund raising] too.”

Earlier, Porfido said, “If you’re talking about limited unfds … more general fund [state tax dollars] should be put toward the base and middle tiers,” referring to community and four-year colleges. “That’s not thinking that everybody loves.”

The Accessibility Subcommittee floated two other interesting ideas, offering automatic college admission to Colorado students who have appropriate high school records and letting state-funded financial aid go directly to students rather than to institutions.

Among its tentative suggestions, the Pipeline Subcommittee proposed consideration of further integration of the departments of education and higher education.

But, none of those three ideas generated much discussion.

The steering committee next month plans to hear reports from the sustainability and mission subcommittees, do a draft of the strategic plan in August and conduct a series of public meetings around the state in October.

Do your homework

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”