Who Is In Charge

Debate takes shape over CCHE role on tuition

Should the Colorado Commission on Higher Education have a say in state college tuition increases before or after they’re imposed on students?

Two answers have been posed to that question, one by the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee and another by the 12 executives of the state’s colleges, universities and systems.

Campus montage
From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.

The steering committee was appointed late last year by Gov. Bill Ritter to develop a new master plan for state colleges and universities. But, because of the budget threats facing the state system, the steering committee Friday also made the short-term recommendation about tuition, suggesting that colleges that want to raise tuition more than 9 percent a yearwould have to seek CCHE approval.

The institution CEOs responded Friday to that proposal, instead suggesting that individual school and system boards be empowered to approve tuition hikes of greater than 9 percent, with the CCHE authorized to step in if it chose “and work with the governing board to modify the tuition increases” in individual cases.

The commission, meeting Friday afternoon at Red Rocks Community College, passed a resolution endorsing the steering committee proposal. But, the commissioners added an extra paragraph to the resolution noting that the steering committee, the governor and the legislature also should consider the CEOs’ proposal

The commission’s vote, and the CEOs’ proposal, are only one step in the process. Ritter, who has been a proponent of keeping tuition affordable but recently has indicated he’s open to discussing the issue, has yet to weigh in on what he’ll suggests to the legislature. Whatever tuition plan emerges is expected to become part of Senate Bill 10-003, a higher ed flexibility proposal that has been on hold during the ongoing tuition discussion. And that bill will be subject to lobbying, debate and amendment as it moves through the legislature.

The governor said recently that he hopes to make a recommendation to the legislature before the end of this month.

Rico Munn, director of the Department of Higher Education, Friday alluded to the fact that the discussion is moving beyond the commission and the steering committee. The governor and lawmakers “will do what they do. … “All the issues will kind of be out there for them to do with as they choose.”

Here are the high points of the steering committee’s proposed tuition plan:

  • Colleges would submit four-year financial and accountability plans to CCHE that would include tuition and financial flexibility for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.
  • The commission would consider and approve plans before the start of the 2011-12 budget cycle, which will begin next fall before the 2010 legislature convenes.
  • Any tuition increases larger than 9 percent would be contingent on an institution “demonstrating measures to protect affordability and accessibility for Colorado’s low and middle income students and families.” Institutions would have to consider all forms of financial aid and also work to minimize student debt.
  • CCHE could authorize plans for two years and would have to give fresh consideration to an institution’s request for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.
  • Because only some institutions can practically raise tuition by significant amounts, the state should take a “system-wide” approach to allocating state tax revenues among institutions and “avoid suspending campus operations or closing institutions.”
  • Institutions that seek financial and operational flexibility would have to clearly demonstrate the savings, efficiencies or service improvements that would be generated by that flexibility.

Additional key points of the CEOs’ proposal include:

  • Passage of a state law that would allow institutions to approve any tuition increases they want up to 9 percent.
  • Ending the current practice of requiring a portion of tuition revenue be devoted to financial aid for the lowest-income students. Many in higher education feel that recent increases in federal Pell Grants well protect the lowest-income students and that institutions need greater flexibility in providing financial aid to lower-middle and middle-income students.
  • Financial flexibility for colleges, such as more freedom from state accounting rules, should be handled separately from any controls on tuition.

For the last several years the legislature has used a footnote in the annual budget bill to set ceilings on how much state colleges and universities could increase tuition each year. The percentages have varied year to year; the ceiling for this year was 9 percent, and the same figure is proposed for next year.

The state’s budget woes have forced the legislature to reduce tax support of colleges and universities, which also happened during the last recession. Higher ed overall revenue has been maintained only with tuition increases and federal stimulus funds. The federal money runs out after the 2010-11 budget year, setting higher ed for 2011-12 cuts of perhaps $100 million or more. That’s the immediate crisis state leaders are struggling with.

It’s important to remember that the debate over tuition generally is focused on costs for resident undergraduate students. Institutions for several years have had the power to do what they will with graduate tuition and rates for out-of-state undergrads. That policy is expected to continue.

Archive of EdNews stories on the strategic planning process and higher education

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

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: