Who Is In Charge

Budget woes loom again for 2011-12

Legislators Monday got some modest good news about the 2010-11 budget but some sobering forecasts about 2011-12.

The good news is that the 2010-11 budget, which goes into effect July 1, probably won’t need further major cuts beyond a $75 million adjustment by Gov. Bill Ritter in order to keep the state’s reserve at legal levels.

Legislative economist Natalie Mullis
Natalie Mullis, legislative chief economist, briefed lawmakers June 21 on state quarterly revenue forecasts.

Ritter said Monday afternoon that he hopes K-12 funding and higher education can be spared from the $75 million trim, but said, “Nothing is off the table.”

The governor said, “I’m very hopeful” schools can be spared further cuts but added, “Where K-12 education becomes vulnerable again is if Medicaid is not extended.”

To help ease state budget woes, the federal government has been picking up a larger share of Medicaid costs than normal, but that ends in December. A proposal to extend the higher payments is facing tough going in Congress, particularly in the Senate. If the program isn’t extended, Colorado would have to scramble to come up with $245 million or make cuts to cover that amount.

“We’re watching the Medicaid situation closely over the summer,” Ritter said, adding he hopes things will become clearer before Congress’ August recess.

Ritter also said, “It’s our hope we don’t have to do anything to impact higher education again.” The $75 million is about 1 percent of the state’s general fund. Ritter promised a package of recommendations in August.

The bad news is that the 2011 legislature may need to make about $1 billion in cuts to the 2011-12 budget, depending on future levels of federal support for Medicaid; on inflation; on growth in the numbers of prison inmates, sick people, school kids and college students; and on how lawmakers decide to replace one-time sources of money that were used to balance the 2010-11 budget, such as federal stimulus funds.

“We have a pretty tough budget year ahead of us,” said Natalie Mullis, the legislature’s chief economist.

“It looks like we will another rough year in 2011-12,” agreed Lisa Esgar, deputy director of the executive branch’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting.

Because state support for K-12 schools and higher education spending consumes nearly 40 percent of total state spending and more than half of the tax-supported general fund, any cuts are expected to fall heavily on education.

Some legislative leaders previously estimated that K-12 and higher ed could see cuts of $300 million each in 2011-12.

The two revenue forecasts released Monday offer no detailed hints of what education cuts might look like – it’s much too early in the game for that.

Here’s the overview of the budget situation:

2009-10: The state will end the year on June 30 in the black, but the reserve will be $51.7 million less than the required $132.6 million. (The OSPB estimates the reserve shortfall at $74.5 million.) The shortfall doesn’t have to be covered before the end of the year and can be rolled into 2010-11.

2010-11: Sufficient revenues are expected to cover the spending approved by the 2010 legislature, but again the reserve will fall short of required levels. Legislative Council staff estimate about $37 million will be needed to return the reserve to an acceptable level. (OSPB projects a higher number.)

2011-12: In addition to another $61.4 million reserve shortfall, lawmakers will have to replace (or cut) $617 million in one-time funds and cover (or ignore) an estimated $300 million in caseload increases. That makes up the $1 billion.

Some observers think the shortfall could be larger noting, for instance, that school districts’ local revenue likely will decline for 2011-12, putting pressure on the state to cover the difference.

The $1 billion figure didn’t come as a major shock. “This wound up not surprising us a great deal,” Ritter said. Informal estimates in that ballpark were circulating during the closing days of the 2010 session, which adjourned May 12.

But, Monday’s release of the formal quarterly revenue forecasts by legislative staff and OSPB mark a key point in the 2011-12 budget process and begin to focus the issue for legislators.

Gov. Bill Ritter
Gov. Bill Ritter discussed the state budget situation during a news conference June 21.

Executive branch departments already are refining their 2011-12 requests, another set of forecasts will be issued in late September and Ritter has to submit his 2011-12 budget to the Joint Budget Committee by Nov. 1. The panel will hold budget hearings in November and December, and another set of forecasts in late December will update the situation just before the 2011 session convenes.

The national recession began affecting state government in 2009-10 budget year, which is about to end. Lawmakers last spring had to make significant mid-year adjustments in spending, including a $130 million cut in K-12 support. Creation of a balanced 2010-11 budget required significant cuts and revenue shifts.

Overall, there have been $3.5 billion in state budget cuts and adjustment over three fiscal years, Ritter noted.

Total program spending for K-12 schools was about $5.4 billion in 2008-09 and was supposed to rise to nearly $5.7 billion this year, before the midyear adjustments trimmed it back to just under $5.6 billion.

Using a narrow interpretation of the Amendment 23 school-funding formula, the legislature approved about $5.4 billion in total program funding for 2010-11. Full A23 funding would have been about $5.8 billion. The 2010 school finance law recommends the same $5.4 billion figure for 2011-12, although that can be changed by the 2011 legislature.

(Total program funding is the amount of state aid and local revenues used for basic classroom and administrative operations. It doesn’t include additional state aid for such things as transportation and special programs, some federal programs and district revenues from bond issues.)

School districts have responded with layoffs, wage freezes and other cuts of a magnitude Colorado schools haven’t seen in years. (See the One-Stop Budget Cuts Info Center for details.)

Spending at state colleges and universities was maintained at just under $2 billion for 2010-11 – but only with the help of significant federal stimulus support and 9 percent tuition increases for resident undergraduate students. Higher ed is seen as particularly vulnerable to cuts in 2011-12. Senate Bill 10-003, the major flexibility legislation passed last spring, requires colleges to prepare reports on how they would handle a 50 percent cut in state support. Those are due next autumn.

Both forecasts found some some signs of economic hope.

“Both Colorado and the national economy are embarking on a very delicate recovery,” said Kate Watkins, a legislative economist, during the morning JBC meeting where the forecasts were unveiled.

“While the economy is recovering, it is very slow,” Ritter said. “We do believe the economy will recover” in time for the 2012-13 budget year – long after Ritter has left office.

(Both forecasts provide a wealth of information about tax revenues and  the economy of the state and its regions. See below for links to the full forecasts.)

Do your homework

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: