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

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.