Early Childhood

Appointing IPS board members on Brewer's agenda for mayoral campaign

Chris Barbic, superintendent of the state's Achievement School District, urged lawmakers to approve a bill that would permit ASD-authorized charter schools to enroll some out-of-zone students.

Indianapolis Republican mayoral candidate Chuck Brewer thinks the city should be more involved in education — so much so that he proposed adding two mayoral appointees to the Indianapolis Public School Board.

Brewer, a veteran and owner of the downtown Soupremacy restaurant, set out six education priorities for his campaign, including a plan for working with IPS that has two potentially controversial ideas: the mayor naming a Republican and Democrat to the IPS school board and creating common enrollment and school evaluation systems that would apply both to traditional public and charter schools.

Brewer said the appointments, which would up the board to nine members from seven, would let both the district and city cooperate and collaborate better than they have in the past.

“The engagement of our city’s top elected leader, the mayor, is necessary, and I want to help IPS grow and succeed,” Brewer said at a news conference today. “The two mayoral appointments will provide the opportunity for solid positive impact while respecting the democratic process and the role of the seven elected IPS board members.”

But Gayle Cosby, who currently serves as an elected IPS board member, said she believed appointment would actually dilute the diversity of the board.

“I think we would end up with a school board that’s unrepresentative and probably unresponsive to the needs of our community,” Cosby said. “You lose the voter’s voice.”

The idea of appointing IPS board members isn’t new — The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis non-profit group that pushes for innovation and change in education, called for total mayoral control of the IPS school board back in 2011.

“Chuck deserves credit for raising the issue,” Mind Trust CEO David Harris said,

But Harris, who was the director of charter schools under former Mayor Bart Peterson, also said he believed two appointments to the school board doesn’t go far enough.

“If the mayor is going to have appointments, he or she should have a majority of appointments so it’s clear who’s responsible,” Harris said. “It creates clear lines of accountability. There’s one identifiable elected official that the public can hold responsible for the quality of the schools.”

In 2011, The Mind Trust released a bombshell 160-page report calling for a massive overhaul of the management of IPS. It called for the mayor to appoint members of the school board, slashing central office spending, empowering principals to manage schools more freely and creating a strategy to recruit charter school operators to work with the district.

In the three and a half years since the report came out, IPS has embraced all of those ideas to some extent with one glaring exception: there has been no support for the idea of mayoral appointments to the board.

Brewer said he spoke with IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee about the proposed appointments. The conversations were productive, he said, but he wouldn’t comment on how Ferebee felt about the issue.

IPS spokeswoman Kristin Cutler said Ferebee also wouldn’t give further details.

“Dr. Ferebee welcomes conversations with candidates, but doesn’t comment directly on election matters,” she said.

IPS board member Kelly Bentley said she doesn’t support or oppose the idea of appointing board members, but having the discussion in the context of the mayor’s race makes the subject needlessly political.

“We’ve got a lot of important work we’re trying to do,” Bentley said. “This is just a distraction that we don’t need right now. It’s a discussion worth having, but it probably should occur outside of the politically charged environment of a mayor’s election.”

Brewer’s education plans focus on IPS

Unlike his opponent Democrat Joe Hogsett, Brewer said his vision for how the city needs to improve education concerns more focused on IPS. Hogsett has spoken about the need for the mayor to have a broader view of education across the city, including township school districts.

“I’ve started to meet with a number of the different superintendents to find out what their needs are, and I’m about halfway through,” Brewer said. “Right now, I’m focused on the district that has our brand name: Indianapolis. When people focus on where they want to live and if they want to live in Indianapolis, generally the first school system they Google is IPS.”

And with that focus comes ideas for more changes, some of which the district has started to embrace on its own. A common enrollment process — one application system by which parents can select their school preferences from among traditional public schools, magnet schools and charter schools — has also been considered by Ferebee.

But Brewer also wants to take the mayor’s process of overseeing and evaluating charter schools and extend it to IPS schools as well.

“A single evaluation and a single enrollment system is going to allow parents to apply an apples-to-apples comparison of schools in the district,” Brewer said. “It’s going to enable them to make the best decisions for their children.”

Other parts of Brewer’s education plan are:

  • Deputy mayor. Jason Kloth’s last day in this role is Friday, but Brewer said he wants to keep the deputy mayor role.
  • Charter school office. Brewer would extend the mission of the charter school office to also oversee workforce development efforts.
  • Preschool. The plan calls for the state legislature to expand support for poor children to attend preschool.
  • Charter schools. Brewer endorsed Mayor Greg Ballard’s work to expand charter schools with good test scores and apply accountability to those that fail to improve.
  • Summer jobs. The plan suggests an online database of summer jobs available through the city and other organizations and a push to offer more of those jobs to high school students.

A new floor

Colorado’s new minimum wage means raises for child care workers and tuition increases for parents

PHOTO: Ann Schimke
Loveland's Teaching Tree Early Childhood Learning Center was one of the first two centers in the state to get a Level 5 rating in the Colorado Shines rating system.

Child care teachers and assistants absolutely deserve the raises that come from Colorado’s new minimum wage of $10.20 an hour, their bosses say, but the pay increases also mean that many providers will pass on the new expenses to tuition-paying parents already stretched thin by child care costs.

“I don’t know how much more parents can pay,” said Diane Price, who heads a nonprofit network of seven centers in Colorado Springs.

In some parts of the state, early childhood advocates also worry that the raises mandated by the minimum wage hike will cause some workers to lose public benefits by pushing their income just above the eligibility threshold — making it harder, not easier to make ends meet.

In a field working to professionalize its ranks, pay its workers more, and raise awareness about the educational and economic value of quality child care, many observers say the minimum wage increase is a step in the right direction.

“It’s an important move,” said Christi Chadwick, director of the “Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce” project at the nonprofit Early Milestones Colorado. “The thing I struggle with is we’re still not getting people out of poverty and paying them on par with the public school system.”

Price, the president and CEO of Early Connections Learning Centers, said, “Shame on us that we even have to have this discussion that early educators are in a category that pays minimum wage.”

The latest minimum wage increase, which took effect Jan. 1, is the second of four annual increases mandated by a ballot measure approved by Colorado voters in 2016. The last step of the phase-in process will boost the minimum wage to $12 in 2020.

Colorado is among 29 states — most in the northeast and west — that have set a minimum wage higher than the federal rate of $7.25 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Child care providers here say advance planning and clear communication with parents have helped them incorporate raises into their budgets.

Price, who raised tuition slightly at her centers last August, said she anticipates a budget hit of about $600,000 over the four-year phase-in period.

But that’s not just because her lowest paid staff members are getting raises to comply with the minimum wage law. Like many other child care directors, she’s giving raises across the board out of fairness to veteran employees.

Price said she didn’t want entry-level employees to catch up with those who already hav a Child Development Associate credential or an associate’s degree.

Heather Griffith, who leads the for-profit Young Peoples Learning Center in Fort Collins, is taking the same approach. Her whole staff, except two brand new employees, have received raises.

She’s already sent out a letter notifying parents that tuition will go up 6.5 percent on February 1 – that’s an additional $16 a week for a full-time preschool slot. It’s the second of three tuition hikes Griffith will institute during the minimum wage phase-in period.

While the higher costs are hard on parents, “it’s a lot tougher for these teachers to survive on non-livable wages,” Griffith said. “I’m 100 percent in support of this minimum wage hike.”

Griffith hasn’t gotten much pushback over the impending tuition increase. The thriving economy helps. Also, she said, parents like the care her centers provide and wouldn’t be able to find it for much less unless they switched to unlicensed care, which is mostly unregulated.

Anne Lance, who heads the non-profit Teaching Tree Early Childhood Learning Center in northern Colorado, said she began planning — and frontloading — wage increases for all staff shortly after the 2016 ballot measure passed.
Currently, her entry-level teaching assistants start at $10.50 an hour even though she’s only required to pay $10.20.

“I had to get way ahead of the game … so in a couple years when it gets closer to that $12, it’s not going to kill me,” said Lance, who operates one center in Loveland and one in Fort Collins.

While the center’s two sites serve many low-income children who qualify for state child care subsidies or state-funded preschool slots, there are some tuition-paying families in the mix, too.

It’s those parents who may feel the sting of the minimum wage increases over the next couple years. Lance said she’ll keep her tuition increases to a modest 3 percent this year, but may have to jump up to 5 percent in 2019 and 2020.

On average, lead teachers with several years of experience at Teaching Tree make about $13.50 an hour. While that’s above the minimum wage, it’s not much to live on for employees on their own or those who are single parents, Lance said.

In Colorado, about one-third of child care teachers qualify for some kind of public assistance to cover housing, food, health insurance, or child care costs, according to a 2017 survey of child care workers in the state.

Chadwick, of Early Milestones, said during visits last fall to the San Luis Valley and southeastern Colorado, early childhood leaders explained that some child care workers were quitting their jobs due to fears they would lose government benefits when minimum wage-related raises took effect.

To alleviate such concerns and make child care a profession that pays a living wage, more substantial raises are needed. But Chadwick and other leaders don’t expect further funding to come from a state-level effort.

Instead, they say it will be locally-funded initiatives — already underway in some Colorado communities — that pick up the slack.

“We have to pass things like mill levies and taxes that support early childhood,” said Griffith, of Young Peoples Learning Center. “We have to do it. We have to say yes to these things if what we want is a community that has educated kids ready to go into kindergarten.”

Early childhood literacy

How to make a good reader? Combine in-school tutoring with hundreds of books for toddlers and babies

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
Fourth graders at College View Elementary in Denver.

A new literacy program for children from babies to third grade will focus on tutoring students and encouraging reading at an early age as it works with 100 families in the Munger Elementary-Middle School area.

The 3-year pilot program will combine the resources of 80 volunteers, the Munger school staff, and Brilliant Detroit, a social service organization. Brilliant Detroit will house a national program called Raising a Reader, which will ensure that the families receive as many as 100 books each over the next three years to read to babies and toddlers.

“We believe the city of Detroit is turning around,” said former state Supreme Court justice Maura Corrigan, who is spearheading the program. “But we understand that Detroit cannot turn around effectively if the schools don’t turn around, and that can’t happen unless the children learn to read.”

The program is part of a state-wide push to help more children learn to read before a new state law takes effect in 2020 that will force schools to hold back third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level. This year, fewer than 10 percent of Detroit students met that grade-level threshold.

Announced today, the program launches in January and has more than $20,000 in funding.

Munger Principal Donnell Burroughs said students who received the lowest reading test scores will likely be the ones who receive tutoring.

“Here at Munger we want our students to continue to grow,” Burroughs said. “We will identify certain families and students from preschool to third grade and they’ll work with individual tutors who come into the school every day.”

Students will work with a tutor in groups of three for 40 minutes a day.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley described another benefit of the program: helping students with disabilities.

“Perhaps an unintended consequence of the work that’s happening here is we can identify developmental delays and disabilities earlier for intervention.”

Calley, whose daughter has autism, is an advocate for people with disabilities. Studies have shown that early intervention improves outcomes.  

“We still have so far to go there,” he added. “This is a reading initiative, but it’s gonna have benefits beyond reading.”

Special education has been a pressing concern for education advocates in the state. The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren issued a list of recommendations for ways to improve Detroit schools in early December. Among them was a priority to fully fund special education.

Plans to continue or expand the program are unclear, and depend on the pilot’s success. The effort is supported by 15 local and state partners, including Gov. Rick Snyder and Raising a Reader.