Who Is In Charge

Higher ed budget back in play

Colorado will seek a waiver from federal stimulus rules that require a minimum level of state support for higher education, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education learned Thursday.

Approval of such a waiver would allow the legislature to reduce the amount of state funding that goes to colleges, but the intention is to cover the loss with stimulus dollars that haven’t yet been allocated, said David Skaggs, director of the Department of Higher Education.

“That’s certainly what everyone is intending,” Skaggs said.

Such a reduction of state support would give lawmakers a bit more wiggle room as they try to cover a $384 million shortfall in the 2009-10 budget.

While overall higher ed spending would be held level if the plan works, it would leave colleges and universities with a lower base of state support when the stimulus ends in 2011.

The commission Thursday also unanimously approved a resolution to convene a Sept. 21 higher ed “summit,” a meeting intended to kick off a 15-month project to create a new master plan for the state’s postsecondary system.

Higher education’s financial pinch is a key impetus behind the master plan, which is being pushed by Gov. Bill Ritter and Skaggs despite hesitation by some college presidents.

Recession-driven revenue declines forced the 2009 legislature to cover about $1.4 billion in shortfalls in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 budgets.

Higher education was in the crosshairs during that process, and one proposal called for cutting state support of colleges by $300 million in 2009-10.

That was averted by a plan under which state support of higher ed was cut back to 2005-06 levels (a deeper cut would have made Colorado ineligible for education stimulus funds). Then, $150 million of stimulus money was used to bring college support back to 2008-09 levels. The legislature has intended to use the same formula for 2010-11, meaning higher ed would be frozen at the same level for three budget years.

This year and next, higher is to receive about $555 million in state funds and $150 million from the stimulus. Cutting the $555 million and replacing the cut with stimulus funds would keep higher ed stable, but leave colleges with a big hole to fill when the stimulus ends. (Colleges receive additional funds from tuition and fees, federal grants and private donations.)

That plan (and a lot of other proposed state spending) is threatened by a continued decline in state revenues, highlighted in an updated state forecast released late last month.

State economists now estimate the state will have to cover an additional $384 million shortfall in 2009-10.

The Joint Budget Committee will start tackling the problem next fall and the full legislature in January, but Ritter already has asked state departments to come up with 10 percent cuts.

“We are very optimistic the waiver will be granted,” Skaggs said, adding he believes the federal Department of Education will act quickly. “We’re not going to be the only state in this predicament.”

Earlier, discussing the master plan, Skaggs said, “This is a hugely ambitious undertaking, and a lot of questions have been raised, especially by institution presidents.”

But, Skaggs added, “It is at least the governor’s view … that this is even more necessary than before” because the state will need to show “the people of the state will be getting for their money” if there’s a ballot proposal in 2011 to raises taxes for higher education or other state programs.

The commissioners spent a fair amount of time discussing how college presidents view the idea.

Commissioner Greg Stevinson asked more than once if the college presidents “are all on board on this?”

“It’s fair to say all the CEOs are not on board,” Skaggs said.

Nancy McCallin, president of the community college system, said, “I think there was a great deal of concern on a couple of fronts.” (McCallin hosted the meeting at the system’s Lowry headquarters.)

First, some presidents are concerned that a master plan might come up with new duties for higher ed but no funding, and second, presidents are focused on the current financial crisis.

As currently envisioned, the master plan process would examine student access and success, the role of higher ed in academic growth and innovation, how to improve institutional efficiency and productivity and adequate funding.

The work would be done by a steering committee of educators, policymakers and citizens, assisted by working groups that would focus on the subjects listed above. A final report would be adopted by CCHE in November 2010, with recommendations forwarded to the 2011 legislature.

The department already is doing some planning work with a grant from the Lumina Foundation but hopes to receive a $2 million, four-year continuation grant. Skaggs estimated the master plan could cost “several hundred thousand dollars to do it the right way, which means being out in the state” gathering a broad range of views.

But, the exact shape of the proposal “is still a work in progress” and will be tweaked up to the Sept. 21 summit, Skaggs stressed.

Do your homework

Skaggs memo about the master plan
Detailed draft proposal for the master plan process

election 2019

College student, former candidate jumps into Denver school board race – early

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Tay Anderson speaks to students at Denver's South High School in May 2017.

A Denver college student who as a teenager last year unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the district’s school board announced Wednesday that he plans to try again in 2019.

Tay Anderson, 20, said he will run next November for the board seat currently occupied by Happy Haynes. Haynes, a longtime Denver politician who is executive director of the city’s parks and recreation department, does not represent a particular region of the school district. Rather, she is one of two at-large members on the board. Haynes was first elected to the school board in 2011 and is barred by term limits from running again.

Haynes supports the direction of Denver Public Schools and some of its more aggressive improvement strategies, such as closing low-performing schools. Anderson does not.

He is the first candidate to declare he’s running for the Denver school board in 2019. Haynes’ seat is one of three seats that will be open in 2019. There is no school board election this year.

In 2017, Anderson ran in a heated three-way race for a different board seat representing northeast Denver. Former teacher Jennifer Bacon won that seat with 42 percent of the vote.

Anderson, a vocal critic of the district, campaigned on platform of change. He called for the district to improve what he described as weak community engagement efforts and to stop approving new charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run.

Bacon also questioned some of the district’s policies. The Denver teachers union endorsed her over Anderson, who raised the least amount of money of the three candidates. Bacon was one of two new board members elected in 2017 who represent a more critical perspective. The 2019 election is likely to involve many of the same debates over education reform.

Anderson is a graduate of Denver’s Manual High School. He is now a student at Metropolitan State University, where he is studying education. He said he also works at Hinkley High School in neighboring Aurora, helping with the school’s restorative justice program, a method of student discipline that focuses on repairing harm rather than doling out punishment.

Anderson posted his campaign announcement on Facebook. It says, in part:

After a lot of thought, prayer, and seeking guidance from mentors, I decided this is the path I need to pursue to fulfill my commitment to the students, teachers, and community of Denver. I learned many valuable lessons during my campaign in 2017 and I know that I need to prepare and ensure that I have the adequate time to be in every part of Denver to connect with as many voters as possible, which is why I am getting to work now!

My dedication to Denver Public Schools has always been deeply personal and this campaign is reflective of that. As I gear up for another campaign, I am once again driven and motivated by my grandmother, who was an educator for over 35 years. Her tenacity to never give up is what drives my passion for the students in Denver Public Schools. I am determined to follow in her footsteps. I have organized students around school safety and more importantly impacted students’ lives in Denver Public Schools and Aurora Public Schools. These students have a voice and I am prepared to fight for their agency in their education.

more back-and-forth

Eighteen legislators show support for TNReady pause as 11 superintendents say press on

Tennessee lawmakers listen to Gov. Bill Haslam deliver his 2016 State of the State address at the State Capitol in Nashville.

School leaders and now state lawmakers continue to pick sides in a growing debate over whether or not Tennessee should pause state testing for students.

Eighteen state legislators sent the superintendents of Nashville and Memphis a letter on Tuesday supporting a request for an indefinite pause of the state’s embattled test, TNReady.

“As members of the Tennessee General Assembly responsible for helping set policies and appropriate taxpayer funds for public education, we have been dismayed at the failed implementation of and wasted resources associated with a testing system that is universally considered — by any set of objective measures – to be a colossal failure,” said the letter, signed by legislators from Davidson and Shelby counties, where Nashville and Memphis are located.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a Democrat from Nashville, spearheaded the letter. Representatives Johnnie Turner, G.A. Hardaway, Barbara Cooper, Antonio Parkinson and Sen. Sara Kyle were among the signers representing Memphis.

Clemmons told Chalkbeat that he believes Tennessee should have a state test, but that it shouldn’t be TNReady.

“We are showing support for leaders who are representing students and teachers who are incredibly frustrated with a failing system,” Clemmons said. “We have to come up with a system that is reliable and fair.”

The lawmakers’ statement comes a day after Education Commissioner Candice McQueen responded to the Nashville and Memphis school leaders in a strongly worded letter, where she said that a pause on state testing would be “both illegal and inconsistent with our values as a state.”

The growing divide over a pause in TNReady testing further elevates it as an issue in the governor’s race, which will be decided on Nov. 6. Democratic nominee Karl Dean, who is the former mayor of Nashville, and Republican nominee Bill Lee, a businessman from Williamson County, have both said their respective administrations would review the state’s troubled testing program.

“We are hopeful that the next governor will appoint a new Commissioner of Education and immediately embark on a collaborative effort with local school districts to scrap the failed TNready system,” the 18 state lawmakers said in their statement.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Director Shawn Joseph launched the back-and-forth with an Aug. 3 letter they said was sent to outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam and McQueen declaring “no confidence” in the troubled state test. McQueen’s office said Tuesday that neither her office nor the governor’s office had yet received the letter.

However, a spokeswoman for Nashville public schools told Chalkbeat on Monday that the Aug. 3 letter was sent to Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth Fiveash, who reports to McQueen. While some legislators backed the two superintendents, 11 district leaders from around the state released an email statement on Tuesday supporting state testing. Superintendents from Maryville, Alcoa, Sevier, Johnson, Dyersburg, Loudon, Clinton, Marshall, McKenzie, Trousdale, and Lenoir signed the statement, which they said was also sent to McQueen.

“Test items and question types are directly linked to the standards and are pushing students to deeper critical thinking,” the email said. “The comprehensive accountability model holds schools and districts accountable for improved student performance…. Challenges remain, but together we must be positive as we continue the work.”

The state has struggled to administer TNReady cleanly since its failed online rollout in 2016, prompting McQueen to cancel most testing that year and fire its testing company. Except for scattered scoring problems, the next year went better under new vendor Questar and mostly paper-and-pencil testing materials.

But this spring, the return to computerized exams for older students was fraught with disruptions and spurred the Legislature to order that the results not be used against students or teachers.

For the upcoming school year, the state has hired an additional testing company, and McQueen has slowed the switch to computerized exams. The state Department of Education has recruited 37 teachers and testing coordinators to become TNReady ambassadors, tasked with offering on-the-ground feedback and advice to the state and its vendors to improve the testing experience.

Read both the state lawmakers’ letter and the superintendents’ statement below:

Signers are: John Ray Clemmons, Bo Mitchell, Sherry Jones, Dwayne Thompson, Brenda Gilmore, Darren Jernigan, Antonio Parkinson, Jason Powell, Bill Beck, Mike Stewart, Barbara Ward Cooper, Larry Miller, G.A. Hardaway,  Karen D. Camper, Harold Love,  Johnnie Turner, Sara Kyle, and Joe Towns.

August 14, 2018
District leaders across Tennessee understand and validate the disappointment and frustration our teachers, students, and parents felt with the glitches and errors faced during the spring’s administration of the TNReady student assessment. It was unacceptable. However, it is important that we, as leaders, step up to say that now is the time to press on and continue the important work of improving the overall education for all Tennessee students.  
We are optimistic about where we are heading in education – ultimately more students will graduate prepared for the next steps in their lives. The foundation is solid with (1) rigorous standards, (2) aligned assessments, and (3) an accountability model that focuses on student achievement and growth.  We are now expecting as much or more out of our students as any state in the nation. Test items and question types are directly linked to the standards and are pushing students to deeper critical thinking. The comprehensive accountability model holds schools and districts accountable for improved student performance across all subgroups.  Challenges remain, but together we must be positive as we continue the work.
Our students have made strong and steady gains in achievement and growth over the past few years, earning recognition at a national level. Our students now have the opportunity to be more fully prepared and competitive to enter college and the workforce. This is not the time to press the pause button. Even with the improvements in student performance, there is much work to do. Achievement gaps for subgroups are too large and not enough students are graduating “Ready” for the next step.
We must hold the course on rigorous standards, aligned assessments, and an accountability system focused on student achievement and growth. We, the directors of Tennessee schools, believe this rigor and accountability will impact all students. We embrace the priorities outlined in Tennessee Succeeds with a focus on foundational literacy and pathways to postsecondary success. Tennessee students have already demonstrated a determination to reach the mastery of rigorous state standards and will rise to the newly established expectations. We have work to do, and we should keep the focus on instruction and closing the gaps to ensure every student in Tennessee is ready for their future. We want to send a message of confidence and determination, a relentless ambition to reach our goals. We must step up and hold the line. We cannot expect anything less than excellence. Our students deserve it. 
Mike Winstead, Maryville City Schools
Brian Bell, Alcoa City Schools
Jack Parton, Sevier County Schools
Steve Barnett, Johnson City Schools
Neel Durbin, Dyersburg City Schools
Jason Vance, Loudon County Schools
Kelly Johnson, Clinton City Schools
Jacob Sorrells, Marshall County Schools
Lynn Watkins, McKenzie Special School District
Clint Satterfield, Trousdale County Schools
Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City Schools