Who Is In Charge

Glimmer of hope in revenue forecasts

A slowly improving economy has sparked growth in state revenues since the last official forecasts three months ago, according to new projections issued Monday.

Depending on how the legislature decides to use the funds, K-12 cuts could drop to as little as $10 million in 2012-13 and higher education cuts could shrink to $6 million.

Also Monday, the legislative Joint Budget Committee finally made a recommendation on how much money to spend for development of new state tests in social studies and science.

Revenue forecasts were nervously awaited

Legislative and executive branch economists make official state revenue forecasts four times a year, but the March forecast is the only one that comes when the legislature is in session.

So the March forecasts have a major impact on legislative budgeting decisions every year, and the projections released Monday to the Joint Budget Committee, other lawmakers and a roomful of lobbyists, reporters and bureaucrats provide a little wiggle room for the 2012-13 budget.

Committee hearing
A legislative hearing room was packed on March 19, 2012, for the quarterly revenue forecasts.

The Office of State Planning and Budgeting calculated revenues for 2012-13 would be up to $164.5 million higher that previously projected. Legislative economists calculated $132 million in growth.

In a statement, Gov. John Hickenlooper said, “We look forward to working with the Joint Budget Committee to proportionally restore some of the difficult cuts we already proposed in the budget. That means taking care of our state’s neediest seniors, supporting local governments and doing all we can to fund K-12 and higher education to their fullest potential.”

Henry Sobanet, Hickenlooper’s budget director, told reporters after the legislative briefing that there’s really a net amount of about $149 million that could be used to reduce about $188 million in total proposed cuts to K-12, higher education, grants to local government and senior assistance.

So, Sobanet said, about 80 percent of the proposed cuts could be rolled back, depending on what the legislature decides.

The administration’s existing budget plan calls for about $48 million in K-12 cuts and $30 million in higher education reductions. If the 80 percent is applied to those numbers, the K-12 cut could be as low as $10 million, and the higher ed could be reduced to $6 million.

The governor is sticking with his proposal not to restore a $100 million senior citizen property tax break. Instead he wants to target relief to low-income seniors.

House Republicans have been pressing to restore the so-called homestead exemption, so the administration and lawmakers will have to reach compromise on that issue before the 2012-13 budget is passed.

“We understand that we have a lot of moving parts and a lot of negotiation” ahead before the 2012-13 budget shakes out, Sobanet said.

The overall economic picture is getting brighter, according to the economists who compiled Monday’s forecasts.

“There are signs of healing in our economy,” said Natalie Mullis, chief legislative economist. But she warned, “there’s more healing required” and she cautioned that the additional revenue is “not a whole lot of additional money in the context of the whole budget.”

Sobanet said, “The economy is in recovery, and Colorado is well positioned to have a sustained recovery.” But he acknowledged uncertainties in the economy, and he agreed with a comment made by Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen and chair of the JBC: “Not going on a shopping spree [to spend on state programs] is good advice.”

Read the forecasts

JBC finally makes up its mind

Budget committee members Monday afternoon voted 4-2 to recommend spending $6.4 million in 2012-13 for development of new state tests in social studies and science and for upgrades in tests given to English language learners and special education students.

Legislature 2012 logoThe committee has had a hard time with that decision, partly because the Department of Education and the Hickenlooper administration had different ideas about testing costs. CDE wants $25.9 million to develop a full battery of Colorado-only tests; the administration asked for zero.

JBC members say it’s been difficult to discern what lesser amount CDE would settle for; on Monday, a majority of the panel finally accepted the amount suggested by committee analyst Craig Harper. The implication of the recommendation is that Colorado would extend transitional tests in language arts and math to a third year in 2014 and decide later whether to use multi-state tests expected to be available in 2015.

The JBC still has to decide on recommended funding for CDE’s educator effectiveness unit, on funding for the Building Excellent Schools Today program and on baseline funding for K-12 schools next year.

Read Harper’s revised recommendations here.

Collective bargaining sunshine bill moves in House

The House Monday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 12-1118, which would require that school district collective bargaining sessions be open to the public.

Prime sponsor Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton, pitched the bill as a transparency proposal, saying passage of the measure would “inspire greater confidence” in school district operations and that “open negotiations should inspire more civility in our negotiations processes.”

Democratic critics of the bill repeated arguments made during a committee hearing on the bill, arguing that it infringes on the local control powers of school boards and would upset the “delicacy” of negotiations, as one member put it.

When parents have an argument, “It isn’t necessary for the whole family to sit and listen to it,” said Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, saying the same discretion should apply to bargaining.

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County, said, “This bill would completely undermine collective bargaining for our school districts.” Rather than try to establish the relationships necessary for reaching agreement, negotiators “are going to be more concerned with how they’re perceived.” Hamner is both a former superintendent and a former teachers union official.

The bill is formally opposed by the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Education Association. The Colorado Association of Schools Boards lists itself as “monitoring” the bill. Several individual districts and superintendents oppose the bill. Union and district opposition could be persuasive in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Two Colorado school districts, Poudre and Mesa, currently have public bargaining, according to the Colorado Education Association. Colorado Springs District 11 bargaining is partly open.

For the record

The House Education Committee voted 12-0 to pass Senate Bill 12-045, which would create a method by which a student who has earned sufficient credits from a community college and a four-year school to combine those credits for an associate’s degree. The bill is intended to improve college completion rates by providing degrees to students who didn’t receive associate degrees before transferring and then didn’t earn enough additional credits for four-year degrees.

Still on ice

The Senate Monday again delayed action on Senate Bill 12-015, the undocumented students tuition bill, this time until Friday. And the House laid over House Bill 12-1238, the early literacy proposal whose progress has been slowed by negotiations over its student retention section, financing and other issues.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.