Who Is In Charge

Budget cuts may not be needed

A flurry of legislative budget discussions Monday raised the strong possibility of keeping K-12 and higher education spending flat in 2012-13, sparing them the cuts that had been proposed.

Colorado CapitolThe immediate spark for the discussions was an analysis of last week’s quarterly revenue forecasts done by John Ziegler, staff director for the Joint Budget Committee.

The analysis indicated that the legislature could have as much as $199.8 million available to restore cuts that had been planned in the 2012-13 budget.

A key piece of the analysis is the fact that Ziegler estimates the $199.8 million will be available even after the scheduled restoration of $98.5 million annual property tax credit for senior citizens. Up to now it’s been assumed that restoring the credit would require cuts elsewhere in the budget, most likely to education. Because of that, the Hickenlooper administration proposed a continued suspension of the program, a move opposed by majority Republicans in the House. Most statehouse observers had expected a major fight over that issue.

During committee discussions that followed Ziegler’s presentation, JBC members indicated interest in using some of the “new” money to eliminate a planned higher education cut of nearly $30 million. The committee was firmer on wanting to use some the funds to avoid a planned $57.2 million cut for K-12.

But other state programs also could use the money, and the JBC hasn’t yet sorted out the all the competing priorities and decided on a final budget proposal. Members are scheduled to continue their talks Tuesday.

The administration has a somewhat lower estimate – $149 million – of how much money might be available for restoring planned cuts. But Henry Sobanet, director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, said that figure isn’t comparable to Ziegler’s $199 million, partly because the administration wants to first divert money into the pinched State Education Fund, which is used to supplement school district support and for special purposes, such as paying for state tests.

Total program funding, the total that districts receive for basic operating expenses from both state and local revenues, is about $5.23 billion this year. State colleges received $519 million in direct state aid this year while receiving about three times that much from tuition.

Busy day for higher ed bills

Bills affecting the state’s colleges and universities moved ahead on both the floors and in committee Monday. Here’s the rundown:

  • Two college name-change bills got preliminary House floor approval. Senate Bill 12-148 would convert Metro State into a university, and House Bill 12-1080 would do the same for Adams State College in Alamosa. There was some scattered opposition from Republican members complaining about “mission creep,” but the bills got easy voice-vote approval.
  • Speaking of changing an institution’s status, the House Education Committee gave 12-0 approval to House Bill 12-1324, which would change the admissions standards for Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction from “moderately selective” to “selective.” Mesa was upgraded to university status by the 2011 legislature.
  • The Senate voted preliminary approval to House Bill 12-1144, which would allow colleges and universities to offer multi-year contracts, up to three years, to faculty members who are not on the track for tenure. The bill is considered a tool that institutions, particularly community colleges, can use to create some stability in their adjunct faculty ranks at a time when rising enrollments have forced hiring greater numbers of such teachers.

Two charter reform bills advance

The House voted preliminary approval to Senate Bill 12-061, which would create uniform minimum standards for charter school applications and also set some new standards for authorizing districts. A key feature of the bill clarifies when a charter application is “complete.” Lack of clarity about that in current law has created issues in some charter appeals to the state.

House Education voted 11-0 to pass Senate Bill 12-067, which clarifies state law and requires that charter schools be non-profit organizations, although charters would be free to hire for-profit organizations to manage and run schools. The bill is intended to help ensure that charters are operated by stand-alone organizations with local board members and not puppets of for-profit operators. The bill wouldn’t affect the status of any current Colorado charters.

Both the bills are based on the recommendations of the so-called 1412 Committee, a panel of district and charter representatives created by the 2010 legislature and assigned to suggest new standards for both charter schools and the districts that authorize them.

For the record

The Senate voted 23-12 for final passage of Senate Bill 12-130, which would consolidate several early childhood agencies now scattered throughout state government in the Department of Human Services. The bill doesn’t particularly affect educational programs like the Colorado Preschool Program, which would remain in the Department of Education. But the Hickenlooper administration considers the bill part of its policy priority to improve early childhood services and education.

The bill was criticized in floor debate by conservative Republicans who tried to paint it as big-government overreach into family life. Interestingly, all the Senate’s Republican men voted against the bill, while all three GOP women, Ellen Roberts of Durango, Nancy Spence of Centennial and Jean White of Hayden voted yes.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”