School Finance

School finance overhaul introduced

Updated March 9 – The proposed school finance reform bill has been introduced in the Senate at the 2013 legislature’s halfway point, along with details of what it could mean for every Colorado school district.

Pile of cashTotal cost of the plan would be about $6.4 billion, roughly $1 billion more than the state and local districts currently spend on basic school operating costs.

Statewide average per-pupil funding would rise from $6,302 to $7,459, according to the Department of Education.

The measure, named Senate Bill 13-213, was introduced at about 11 p.m. Friday as the Senate ended a long day of debate on gun bills. Prime sponsor Sen. Mike Johnston told EdNews Friday that he expects Senate committee review during the week of March 18 and floor debate at the end of that week. The following week will be dominated by consideration of the proposed 2013-14 state budget, so the House may not turn its attention to school finance until April, if the Senate passes it. The legislature must adjourn by May 8.

Here’s a quick look at the potential changes in per-pupil funding for the state’s largest districts:

  • Adams 12-Five Star – Funding would go from $6,413 currently to $7,127
  • Aurora – $6,881 to $8,268
  • Boulder Valley – $6,498 to $6,885
  • Cherry Creek – $6,526 to $6,973
  • Colorado Springs District 11 – $6,465 to $7,258
  • Denver – $6,994 to $8,298
  • Douglas – $6,339 to $6,710
  • Jefferson County – $6,436 to $7,053
  • Poudre – $6,258 to $6,975
  • St. Vrain – $6,456 to $7,126

Check the full list of districts here.

Bill at a glance
  • $1 billion K-12 funding increase, if voters approve
  • Starts in 2015-16 school year
  • More money for preschool kids, kindergartners, at-risk students, English language learners, gifted and talented students
  • Across-the-board per-student bonus to help districts implement state reforms
  • New enrollment counting method
  • Incentives for low tax/high value districts to increase local taxes
  • Revenue improvements for charters
  • Regular review of the program and spending effectiveness

Johnston and his backers envision a two-part process in which the legislature would approve the complicated new formula but then voters would have to decide whether to raise taxes to pay for it. If voters didn’t approve the revenues the new system wouldn’t go into effect.

A key goal of Johnston’s plan is funneling more money to districts and schools with higher populations of at-risk students and English-language learners, which partly explains the larger increases for districts like Aurora and Denver and the smaller boosts for districts like Boulder Valley and Cherry Creek that have fewer students from poor families.

The per-pupil figures, both under the current system and the Johnston plan, don’t reflect full spending by districts. Many districts, including Cherry Creek and Denver, have received voter approval of local tax increases called mill levy overrides that add to district revenues but aren’t included in the state funding formula. And many districts, especially poor ones, receive federal Title I funds, intended to supplement spending in schools with high percentages of poor students. That money also isn’t reflected in state formulas current or proposed.

The estimates are illustrations in the sense that they show what per-pupil funding would be in 2013-14. The bill actually would go into effect in a later school year. The estimates also assume that district enrollment counts will drop an average of 2.1 percent because Johnston’s bill would move to the average daily membership method of counting students, replacing the current once-a-year attendance counts taken around Oct. 1.

The estimates reflect significant proposed increases in funding for at-risk preschool students and for full-day kindergarten and also include a flat $600 per student “bonus” to help districts cover the costs of implementing state education reforms.

Special circumstances for a few districts

Another element of Johnston’s plan would stabilize the ratio between local and state support of schools. Part of that mechanism would in effect “nudge” a few districts that levy low property taxes relative to property value to increase their taxes.

Those districts would receive the full higher funding for five years without having to raise local taxes. But after that they’d have to increase taxes to maintain the full per-pupil funding envisioned by the new plan.

Those districts are mostly in Eastern Plains or mountain areas of the state and include:

Campo, Arickaree, Bayfield, Branson, Briggsdale, Cheyenne, Durango, Gilpin, Hanover, Ignacio, Kim, Kit Carson, Norwood, Ouray, Parachute, Platte Canyon, Prairie, Primero, Rangely, Ridgway, Rifle, Steamboat Springs and Telluride.

Four other districts, Aguilar, DeBeque, Liberty and Plateau, would receive more total funding but less per pupil funding. That’s an anomaly created by adding more preschool and kindergarten students to very small enrollments.

Release of the district estimates, which has been delayed repeatedly, has been anxiously awaited by district leaders and education lobbyists. The figures are expected to affect district and lawmaker attitudes in the coming debates on the bill after it is introduced.

The Denver Democrat released an initial draft of his bill on Feb. 18 and has been working since then to gather more input on his ideas and to craft changes. The other prime sponsors are Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, and Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon. Heath was the author of an unsuccessful 2011 ballot measure to increase taxes for schools. Hamner is chair of the House Education Committee.

Voter approval key to the plan

Johnston has been conducting an extraordinarily active campaign to raise support for his ideas. But key interests, including the governor’s office, elements of the business community and some districts, aren’t fully on board with the plan, especially the idea of going to the voters in November 2013.

But Johnston said he remains convinced next November is the best time to put the issue to voters and is confident he has wide support in the education and business communities.

“I certainly can’t speak for the governor, where he’ll be,” Johnston said.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the administration’s point person on education, told EdNews earlier this week that the governor still hasn’t made up his mind on the question of an education ballot issue.

“I don’t think the governor has a timeline,” Garcia said. “The governor is committed to working as quickly as possible.” While acknowledging that “timing is an issue here,” Garcia said Hickenlooper is interested in “making sure it’s the right question [on the ballot] that gets to the right solution.”

Johnston and allies who are working on the ballot issue face some tight timelines. March 22 is the deadline for submitting proposed language to the state (proponents can submit multiple proposals with different wordings). April 5 is the deadline for review of proposals and submission to the secretary of state.

The state requires 86,105 valid signatures of registered voters to put a proposal on the ballot. The deadline for submitting signatures is Aug. 5.

This story was changed on March 13 to correct statewide per-pupil figures.

Inside Senate Bill 13-213

Notable increases

  • $1 billion more for K-12 schools, if approved by voters
  • $600 per-student grant to districts for implementing reform laws
  • $100 million for an innovation fund districts could use for such things as longer school days and years
  • $80 million increase in special education funding for students with more severe disabilities
  • $6 million to provide “additional career opportunities” for highly effective teachers
  • $5 million to launch the new student count system a create a financial reporting system

Key elements of the bill

Base funding

Overall K-12 funding would be increased by about $1 billion.

Enrollment counts would be based on average daily membership counts, collected four times a year from school districts.

District funding would be calculated using prior year enrollment figures.

Multi-year averaging of enrollment losses would be retained for declining districts to soften funding cuts.

Base funding would include availability of full-day kindergarten for all students and full per-pupil funding of all high school students regardless of how many classes they take.

Additional half-day preschool slots for at-risk four-year-olds would not be included in the per-pupil base because that program is funded separately.

Adjustments to base funding

The current formula includes “factors” designed to increase funding for individual districts based on their regional cost of living, numbers of at-risk students, size and other characteristics. Johnston would retain some of those – to be called “weights” – but with some changes.

The definition of at-risk students would be expanded to also include those eligible for reduced-price lunch, in addition to those eligible for free lunches.

The number of English learners in a district would become a weight.

Double weights would be assigned for students who are both at-risk and English language learners. State at-risk funding would be more targeted to individual schools than it is now.

The small-enrollment weight would be retained only for districts under 4,300 students, taking out some districts that now receive that funding, and the current district cost-of-living weight would be eliminated.

Categorical funding

Districts currently receive additional funding outside of the main formula to help with such costs as special education, gifted and talented programs and transportation.

Johnston’s bill would retain most of those funding streams but increase by $80 million the money available for special education.

State & local shares

The bill would set a 60/40 goal for the ratio of state and local contributions to school funding. That would be used as a base to calculate the expected contribution from districts, based on a district’s property value, median resident income and concentration of poverty. Districts that aren’t contributing the amount of local revenue needed to meet their share would not receive additional state funds after an initial “hold unharmed” period, creating an “incentive” for them to seek tax increases from their voters. (This affects about two-dozen districts, and the provisions have been softened from the original draft of the bill.)

Other provisions

The state would provide matching money for districts with low property values that want to raise local taxes but can’t generate much revenue from those local increases.

An innovation fund would be created that districts could use for such things as longer school days and years.

There would be an increase in the current limits on local tax increases.

There would be additional state funding, proposed to start at $600 per student, to help districts implement state reform requirements. These funds are intended to give districts an infusion of cash to partially offset the budget cuts of recent years but would not be included in the per-pupil base so as not to put future pressure on the state budget. In the most recent version of the bill, the $600 amount would increase as revenues increase.

The proposal would not eliminate the “negative factor,” the formula used in recent years to cut what school funding otherwise would have been to the levels the legislature felt it could afford in tight budget years.

Charter schools

Districts will be required to share revenue with their charter schools from local tax increases.

There would be increased special education funding for charters.

At-risk funding would be based on actual enrollment of such students at charter schools.

The state would give extra money to schools overseen by the Charter School Institute based on a percentage of local tax increases successfully passed by districts.

There would be special enrollment counting provisions to avoid penalizing fast-growing charters.

Measuring impact

The legislature would commission an initial study of the full cost of the K-12 systems, with updates every four years. Those subsequent studies also would review whether spending is producing educational improvements and higher student achievement.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: