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.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below:

School Finance

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders could scale back their appeal for tax increases

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

With little public support and mounting criticism, Indianapolis’ largest school district may scale back its nearly $1 billion request for increased funding from taxpayers.

Indianapolis Public Schools Board President Michael O’Connor told Chalkbeat on Wednesday that the board would likely consider a proposal next week that would reduce the potential tax increase.

All the board members present voted in favor of asking voters for up to $936 million over eight years at a meeting this past December. But there is a consensus among board members that the original proposal would raise taxes too much, O’Connor said.

“The school system needs more revenue,” O’Connor said. But “we think that’s high.”

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration is working on coming up with a revised proposal, district chief of staff Ahmed Young confirmed. But officials have not yet finalized how much the amount might be trimmed or what services would be reduced to bring down the price tag.

The revelation comes on the heels of stinging public criticism leveled against the district for asking for such a large tax increase. On Wednesday, Indiana State Board of Education member and Indianapolis resident Gordon Hendry slammed IPS’ plan to raise taxes during a state board meeting.

“This may be the most nonchalant billion-dollar tax increase ever approved by anyone,” said Hendry, a Democrat.

The original plan, which was approved by the state for inclusion on the May ballot less than a week ago, includes a measure that would raise up to $92 million per year for operating expenses such as teacher salaries and one that would pay for up to $200 million in improvements to school buildings.

If voters signed off on the operating referendum, their property taxes would rise by as much as $0.59 on each $100 of assessed value, while the capital referendum would raise $0.1384 per $100 of assessed valuation.

The board will not alter the referendum that provides money for building improvements, O’Connor said. But it will consider changing how much it seeks for operating expenses, the part responsible for the bulk of the tax increase.

In the months since the original proposal was unveiled in November, few advocates or community organizations have spoken out in support of the referendums. Instead, groups such as the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce stayed quiet as they discussed the plan internally.

It’s important to the city that the school district is successful, said Mark Fisher, chief policy officer for the Chamber. There also is general agreement that the district needs more funding, he said. But the group is waiting to hear more from the administration about how the money will be spent.

“It’s a large amount,” Fisher said. “Is this the right amount?”

Tony Mason from the Indianapolis Urban League raised similar questions.

“IPS definitely requires more support to serve the vast needs of its diverse student population,” Mason wrote in a statement. But the district must make the case in detail for the substantial amount it is requesting.

“IPS needs to be mindful of the already existing and unique tax burdens of those living in the IPS district,” he added.

The district has said the referendums are essential because of declining federal, state, and local revenue. According to the district, the operating referendum would pay for special education services, transportation, and regular maintenance. But the bulk of the money, 72 percent, would help pay regular raises to teachers. The referendum to pay for improvements to school buildings would fund updates such as new lighting and door security.

If it passed, the original operating referendum would increase the district’s annual revenue by nearly $3,000 per student. By comparison, a referendum passed in Washington Township in 2016 raised annual revenue by less than $600 per student.

When the initial plan was announced in December, Ferebee told Chalkbeat that political considerations were not used to determine the amount of the referendums.

“We didn’t arrive at this number based on what we thought would be politically appropriate and soothing, but what we actually need to continue to thrive as an organization,” Ferebee said at the time.

But it appears the political challenge of asking voters to dramatically raise their own taxes is more salient for the board.

Board members have privately heard concerns from constituents about the size of the referendums, O’Connor said. He said the district also needs to present more detail to taxpayers about exactly how the money would be spent.

Because $92 million per year is the estimated maximum amount the district could raise if the measure passes, it was always a ceiling, said Young. After the board voted to pursue the initial proposal, the district has continued to do “due diligence.”

“It’s an evolutionary process,” he added.

On Tuesday, school board member Kelly Bentley told Chalkbeat that reducing the amount the district is seeking could help increase the chance that voters approve the referendums and reduce the burden on taxpayers.

“I believe strongly that we are asking no more than what we need,” Bentley said. “But I would rather be successful than not successful in the referenda.”

Correction: February 15, 2018: This story has been corrected to attribute the statement from the Indianapolis Urban League to Tony Mason.