Help with college

Denver sales tax hike for college scholarships defeated

Mayor Michael Hancock at a Yes on 2A kickoff event (Jon Murray, The Denver Post).

Denver voters Tuesday rejected a measure that would have raised taxes to subsidize college scholarships.

Final unofficial results showed voters rejected Measure 2A by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

The proposal was born out of concerns by some education and civic leaders that more needs to done to make college more affordable, particularly for lower-income and first-generation students.

That concern was heightened by the fact that state budget constraints make it virtually impossible for state government to increase its commitment to financial aid, which now totals about $125 million a year.

The Denver proposal took a different approach to financial aid than the traditional direct grants to students that are paid to colleges to offset students’ bill. The Denver College Affordability Fund was structured to funnel most of its money to non-profits like the Denver Scholarship Foundation, which provide scholarships to students.

The fund was set up to reimburse those non-profits for part of the scholarships they give, provided that the students stay in college and are successfully advancing. Nonprofits also would receive funding to support the counseling and support programs they provide to help students stay in college.

Higher education leaders increasingly believe that such support services are key to keeping students in college and advancing towards a degree.

“Literally billions of dollars are spent on kids who never graduate,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, referring to federal Pell Grant, a major source of financial aid nationwide. Garcia also is director of the state Department of Higher Education and a leading advocate for broadening access to higher education.

Garcia also has been involved in a state program called the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI), which is structured in a fashion similar to the Denver proposal.

The lieutenant governor says such programs don’t exist elsewhere in the county and acknowledges they are experiments that may or may not have an impact.

Part of the experiment is encouraging other local communities to start similar programs. Garcia was asked about the problem of a Denver student having access to support while a similar student just across the city limits in Lakewood or Aurora doesn’t.

“What we want to see if Lakewood come up a program,” Garcia said. The goal is “to spark more community-based initiatives.”

Advocates also hope that providing even modest amounts of government funding to scholarship programs will inspire businesses and foundations to devote more funding to financial aid.

The Denver program would provide only a modest contribution to the state’s overall financial aid picture.

Colorado students receive about $2.1 billion in financial aid a year, according to the state higher education department. About half of that is loans, and about half of grants are provided by colleges and universities.

Asked about the size of unmet need, Garcia said the department has tried to estimate that but hasn’t been able to come up with a solid figure. Several years ago, the department looked into expanding the state’s aid program but concluded “there just wasn’t a pot of money anywhere big enough,” he said.

The campaign for 2A has been low-key and not focused on the intricacies of the plan. Some city council members and city Democratic leaders have opposed it, arguing that college financial aid isn’t a municipal responsibility.

Funded by $150,000 from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and money from other donors, a last-minute TV ad campaign launched last week to shore up support for the plan.

Details of 2A

  • Imposes a .08 percent increase in sales and use taxes to fund the Denver College Affordability Fund, to be administered by a seven-member appointed board.
  • Raises an estimated $10.6 million annually.
  • Revenue would be used for grants to non-profits for scholarships and support services. Some funds also would help students with loan repayment.
  • Program would sunset in 10 years
  • Eligible students would have to be three-year Denver residents attending non-profit or state colleges and be no older than 25. Recipients would have to maintain satisfactory
  • Eligibility determined on a sliding scale of family income.

More information on campaign website

Ruling

Judge orders Nashville schools to turn over student information to state charters

A Nashville judge has sided with Tennessee’s Achievement School District in the tussle over whether local school districts must share student contact information with charter networks under a new state law.

Chancellor Bill Young this week ordered Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools to turn over information requested by LEAD Public Schools, which operates two state-run schools in the city. The district has until March 16 to comply or appeal.

The ruling is a blow to local district leaders in both Nashville and Memphis, who have argued that a federal privacy law gives them discretion over who gets that information. They also contend that the intent of Tennessee’s new charter law, which passed last year, was that such information should not be used for marketing purposes.

The State Department of Education has backed information requests by LEAD in Nashville and Green Dot Public Schools in Memphis, both of which operate charter schools under the state-run turnaround district known as the ASD. State officials say the information is needed to increase parental awareness about their school options and also to help the state’s school turnaround district with planning.

Nashville’s school board has not yet decided whether to appeal Young’s ruling, according to Lora Fox, the city’s attorney.

Shelby County Schools was not included in the state’s lawsuit leading to this week’s ruling, but the case has implications for Memphis schools as well. Last summer, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen ordered both districts to turn over the information. Both have been defiant.

Lawyers representing all sides told Chalkbeat this week that Young set the March 16 deadline to allow time for the legislature to address ambiguity over the state law and for Nashville schools to notify parents of their right to opt out.

Rep. Bill Forgety already has filed a bill in an attempt to clear the air. The Athens Republican chaired the key House committee that advanced the new charter law and has said that recruitment was not the intent of the provision over student contact information. His bill would restrict charter school requests to a two-month window from January 1 to March 1, confine school communication with non-students from February 1 to April 1, and open up a two-way street for districts to request the same information from charter schools.

The disagreement began with longstanding requests from state-run charter organizations for addresses, phone numbers and emails of students and their parents who live in neighborhoods zoned to low-performing schools. When local districts did not comply last summer, the charters cited the new state law requiring them to hand over student information to the charter schools within 30 days of receiving the request.

To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer on student data sharing and FERPA.

Who Is In Charge

Inner circle: Here is the team helping Ferebee chart a new course for Indianapolis schools

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has been leading Indianapolis’ largest school district for nearly five years. But in recent months, his circle of advisers has seen some notable changes.

Two leaders who played essential roles in crafting the district plan to close nearly half its high schools and create specialized academies at the remaining campuses have left for other jobs. And a new chief of staff has joined the district as Ferebee’s deputy.

As 2018 begins, the district is at a watershed moment that includes redesigning high schools and appealing to voters for $936 million more in school funding over the next eight years. Here are the eight lieutenants who report directly to Ferebee.

Ahmed Young, chief of staff

PHOTO: Provided by Indianapolis Public Schools
Ahmed Young
  • Salary: $150,000
  • Hired: 2017
  • Duties: General counsel, managing a portfolio of issues related to risk management, IPS Police, student assignment, human resources, and research, accountability and evaluation.
  • His story: Young is the newest member of Ferebee’s team. Before joining in October, he oversaw charter schools for the administration of Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. Young has a background in education and in law. He taught middle school in Lawrence Township and New York City schools, then practiced law as a prosecutor for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and at Bose McKinney & Evans. Young has a secondary education degree and a law degree from Indiana University.

Le Boler, chief strategist

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Le Boler
  • Salary: $136,000
  • Hired: 2013
  • Duties: Leads strategic planning, public relations, and parent involvement. She is responsible for fundraising and collaboration with outside organizations.
  • Bio: Boler is one of Ferebee’s closest advisors. She worked with Ferebee in Durham Public Schools, where she was a program strategist, and joined him in Indianapolis at the start of his administration. She also worked with him at Guilford County Schools. She started her career in education through administration support roles for districts in North Carolina. Boler earned a B.A. in business leadership from Ashford University, a mostly online college based in San Diego, and she is pursuing a certificate in strategy and performance management from Georgetown University.

Weston Young, chief financial manager

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Weston Young
  • Salary: $140,000
  • Hired: 2015
  • Duties: Oversees budgeting and management of finances. Participates in procurement, accounting, financial reporting, audits, investments, debt service, and economic development issues.
  • His story: Young came to Indianapolis from the private sector, where he was a wealth manager in Zionsville. Previously he worked as a manager, tax consultant, and accountant. He is a CPA with a degree in accounting and business from Taylor University.

Aleesia Johnson, innovation officer

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Aleesia Johnson
  • Salary: $125,000
  • Hired: 2015
  • Duties: Oversees innovation schools, including supporting schools, and developing processes for recruiting and selecting school leadership, evaluating existing schools and ending contracts with underperforming schools.
  • Her story: When Johnson joined the superintendent’s team, it was a clear sign of the district’s growing collaboration with charter schools. Before joining IPS, she led KIPP Indianapolis College Preparatory, the local campus of one of the largest national charter networks. She previously worked for Teach for America and as a middle school teacher. Johnson has a BA from Agnes Scott College, a master’s degree in social work from University of Michigan, and a master’s degree in teaching from Oakland City University.

Scott Martin, deputy superintendent of operations

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Scott Martin
  • Salary: $150,000
  • Hired: 2014
  • Duties: Oversees all non-academic operations, including facilities, construction management, maintenance, transportation, technology, and child nutrition.
  • His story: Martin came to Indianapolis from Davenport, Iowa, where he oversaw support services for a district of about 16,000 students. He also previously spent nearly a decade with the district in Columbus, Indiana. He has a degree in organizational leadership from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Tammy Bowman, curriculum officer

  • Salary: $125,000
  • Hired: 2014
  • Duties: Oversees curriculum, professional development, gifted, and prekindergarten programs.
  • Bio: Bowman came to Indianapolis from North Carolina, where she oversaw a high school academy for five years. She was director of the early college program, AVID coordinator, Title I coordinator, and a beginning teacher coordinator. She previously taught elementary and middle school. She has education degrees from University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a counseling degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University, and a certificate in administration from Western Carolina University.

Joe Gramelspacher, special project director

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Joe Gramelspacher
  • Salary: $100,000
  • Hired: 2014
  • Duties: Manages the administrative affairs of the Superintendent’s Office, coordinates the monthly work of the Board of School Commissioners, and leads and serves on special project teams.
  • His story: Gramelspacher previously served as special assistant to the superintendent. He began his career in education as a math teacher with Teach for America in Colorado and then in Indianapolis. He has degrees in finance and economics from Indiana University and is a 2017 Broad Resident.

Zach Mulholland, board administrator

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Zach Mulholland
  • Salary: $100,000
  • Hired: 2015
  • Duties: Manages operations for the Indianapolis Public Schools Board, including developing board policy, developing agendas and schedules, and assisting the board president.
  • His story: Before joining the district, Mulholland was a research analyst for the Indiana University Public Policy Institute Center for Urban Policy and the Environment. He has degrees in political science and economics from Wabash College and a law degree from Indiana University.