School Finance

Panel advances other school funding bill

The K-12 lobby beat the Hickenlooper administration Wednesday in a committee tussle over funding for preschool quality improvement, one portion of the proposed school funding bill for 2013-14.

Stacks of cashThe House Education Committee voted 11-2 to send Senate Bill 13-260 to the appropriations committee, but not until after members had rejected an amendment the Hickenlooper administration wanted. The panel also defeated a second amendment that a committee member needed to pay for another bill.

The original version of the bill included an initiative, called the Expanding Quality Incentive Program, which would have created a $5 million grant program in the Department of Education. School districts could have applied for money to seek quality ratings for their preschool programs and also to improve program quality. That program, plus a 3,200-student increase in state-funded preschool slots, are key parts of the bill and were included partly in response to the wishes of the Hickenlooper administration, which has made early childhood education a policy priority.

But the program was stripped on the Senate floor by a coalition of Republican and Democratic senators and the money was diverted into general school support.

A group of school district and association lobbyists (known around the Capitol as the “K-12 Mafia”) and school district executives pushed for that change. State school funding has been cut by an estimated $1 billion over the last four years through use of a budget-balancing device called the negative factor. The K-12 lobby has been united this year in resisting new programs, arguing that lawmakers should prioritize reducing that shortfall as much as possible.

Bill sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, on Wednesday proposed what she called a “compromise” amendment that would give $3 million to the preschool quality program.

Hamner’s amendment caught many committee members by surprise, and some felt it didn’t meet legislature rules for prior notice of multi-page amendments. Chair Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, said she let the amendment to go ahead so as to not stifle discussion with a technicality.

The discussion did stretch out for some time, with a couple of Republicans subtly indicating they didn’t appreciate being pressured by the executive branch.

The committee should say, “Sorry, governor, not this year,” commented Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock.

The committee did just that, with Hamner’s $3 million amendment failing on a 5-8 vote. Two Democrats, Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood and Dave Young of Greeley, joined the six Republicans in voting no.

Lobbyists on both sides now are laying plans and counting votes for an expected floor fight over the issue.

That same coalition combined to defeat an amendment proposed by Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora. As it came from the Senate, the bill included a $20 million boost for special education. He wanted to take $7 million from that amount and use it to fund a measure he’s sponsoring, House Bill 13-1211, which seeks to improve programs for English language learners. That measure has passed the Senate and is pending in the House, but it doesn’t have a firm funding source. Defeat of the amendment could well doom the bill.

Key elements of SB 13-260

Colorado schools are funded every year through a two-part process. Basic funding is included in the annual state budget bill, while additional fund ing and special programs are included in the school finance act.

Here are the major features of this year’s bill:

• Total program funding, the combination of state and local funding that pays for basic school operations, would rise to $5.5 billion, increase of about $210 million.

• Average per pupil funding would rise from the current $6,479 to $6,652, a 2.7 percent increase.

• Total program funding still would be 15.5 percent less that what it would have been without application of the negative factor.

• Funding would be provided to increase enrollment in the Colorado Preschool Program by 3,200 slots. Districts could use the money for full-day kindergarten.

• The facilities cost reimbursement fund for charter schools would rise to $7 million from $6 million.

• $16 million is included for implementation of the READ Act, the 2012 law intended to improve literacy skills among K-3 students.

• $200,000 is provided for the Great Teachers and Leaders Fund, which supports the State Council on Educator Effectiveness.

• Funding for special education is increased by $20 million.

• Additional funding of $2.5 million is provided for facilities schools, which serve students in juvenile detention and treatment.

• Some $1.3 million is provided for stipends to teachers who hold national board certification.

• A $3 million program to recruit high-quality rural teachers would be created, to be run by an outside consultant.

The bill also requires that half of any state surplus at the end of 2013-14 budget year be transferred to the State Education Fund, a special account used to supplement state K-12 funding. That amount is estimated to be about $137 million. Before that infusion of cash, the SEF is estimated to have between $615 million and $775 million left in it at the end of 2013-14.

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

money matters

Why Gov. Hickenlooper wants to give some Colorado charter schools $5.5 million

Students at The New America School in Thornton during an English class. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

If Mike Epke, principal of the New America School in Thornton, had a larger budget, he would like to spend it on technical training and intervention programs for his students.

He would buy more grade-level and age appropriate books for the empty shelves in his school’s library, and provide his teachers with a modest raise. If he could really make the dollars stretch, he’d hire additional teacher aides to help students learning with disabilities.

“These are students who have not had all the opportunities other students have had,” the charter school principal said, describing his 400 high school students who are mostly Hispanic and come from low-income homes.

A $5.5 million budget request from Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, could help Epke make some of those dreams a reality.

The seven-figure ask is part of Hickenlooper’s proposed budget that he sent to lawmakers earlier this month. The money would go to state-approved charter schools in an effort to close a funding gap lawmakers tried to eliminate in a landmark funding bill passed in the waning days of the 2017 state legislative session.

Funding charter schools, which receive tax dollars but operate independently of the traditional school district system, is a contentious issue in many states. Charter schools in Colorado have enjoyed bipartisan support, but the 2017 debate over how to fund them hit on thorny issues, especially the state’s constitutional guarantee of local control of schools.

The legislation that ultimately passed, which had broad bipartisan support but faced fierce opposition from some Democrats, requires school districts by 2020 to equitably share voter-approved local tax increases — known as mill levy overrides — with the charter schools they approved.

The bill also created a system for lawmakers to send more money to charter schools, like New America in Thornton, that are governed by the state, rather than a local school district.

Unlike district-approved charter schools, which were always eligible to receive a portion of local tax increases, state-approved charter schools haven’t had access to that revenue.

Terry Croy Lewis, executive director of the Charter School Institute, or CSI, the state organization that approves charter schools, said it is critical lawmakers complete the work they started in 2017 by boosting funding to her schools.

“It’s a significant amount of money,” she said. “To not have that equity for our schools, it’s extremely concerning.”

CSI authorizes 41 different charters schools that enrolled nearly 17,000 students last school year. That’s comparable to both the Brighton and Thompson school districts, according to state data.

Hickenlooper’s request would be a small step toward closing the $18 million gap between state-approved charter schools and what district-run charter schools are projected to receive starting in 2020, CSI officials said.

“Gov. Hickenlooper believes that working to make school funding as fair as possible is important,” Jacque Montgomery, Hickenlooper’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This is the next step in making sure that is true for more children.”

If lawmakers approve Hickenlooper’s request, the New Legacy charter school in Aurora would receive about $580 more per student in the 2018-19 school year.

Jennifer Douglas, the school’s principal, said she would put that money toward teacher salaries and training — especially in the school’s early education center.

“As a small school, serving students with complex needs, it is challenging and we need to tap into every dollar we can,” she said.

The three-year old school in Aurora serves both teen mothers and their toddlers. Before the school opened, Douglas sent in her charter application to both the Aurora school board and CSI. Both approved her charter application, but because at the time her school would receive greater access to federal dollars through CSI, Douglas asked to be governed by the state.

Douglas said that her preferred solution to close the funding gap would be to see local tax increases follow students, regardless of school type or governance model. Until that day, she said, lawmakers must “ensure that schools have the resources they need to take care of the students in our state and give them the education they deserve.”

For Hickenlooper’s request to become a reality, it must first be approved by the legislature’s budget committee and then by both chambers. In a hyper-partisan election year, nothing is a guarantee, but it appears Hickenlooper’s proposal won’t face the same fight that the 2017 charter school funding bill encountered.

State Rep. Jovan Melton, an Aurora Democrat who helped lead the charge against the charter school funding bill, said he was likely going to support Hickenlooper’s proposal.

“You almost have to do it to be in alignment with the law,” Melton said. “I don’t think with a good conscious I could vote against it. I’m probably going to hold my nose and vote yes.”