Who Is In Charge

Revised higher ed bill proposes big changes

Two top Senate leaders Wednesday unveiled a revised version of Senate Bill 10-003, the higher education flexibility bill, that would give state colleges and universities greater freedom to set their tuition rates and more flexibility in their financial affairs but also create new requirements for  maintaining student access and affordability and for improving quality.

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 proposal also would give advisory student members on college boards the right to vote – but only on budget matters. (That wouldn’t apply to the University of Colorado Board of Regents, whose members are elected by the voters.)

Also up consideration at the Statehouse is a resolution to allow video keno games in bars and restaurants, with revenue going to colleges. 

The rewritten version of SB 10-003, originally introduced last Jan. 13, will have its first hearing, in the Senate Education Committee, on April 28, just 10 working days before the legislature must adjourn. It was unveiled during a “stakeholder” meeting Tuesday.

The bill has its origins in a study committee that met last summer but since January has been the subject of lengthy behind-the-scenes discussions about tuition policy, how much financial freedom colleges should have and how to best deal with an intensified financial crunch that’s expected to hit higher ed beginning in 2011-12.

Senate Majority Leader John Morse, R-Colorado Springs, and Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, have been leading the effort. College presidents, who’ve long sought more freedom to manage their budgets, the Department of Higher Education and the business-backed civic group Colorado Concern also have been part of the talks.

The proposed revisions to the bill cover a wide range of issues.

Tuition and budgets

Beginning in 2011-10, college boards could set their own resident and non-resident tuition rates. (Currently annual ceilings are set by the legislature.)

But, boards could not raise resident undergraduate tuition more than 9 percent a year unless a higher increase was needed to cover “significant decreases” in direct state support.

Beginning next Nov. 10 (and every Nov. 10 after that), each college and university would have to submit detailed, five-year financial projections to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the Joint Budget Committee. The projections would have to include projected tuition revenue, other sources of revenue and funding plans for various levels of increase or decrease in direct state funding.

Those reports also would have to include a governing board’s plan for preserving accessibility and affordability for low- and middle-income students, plans for use of need-based financial aid, and plans for improving student retention.

By next Dec. 10, and every December thereafter, the CCHE would have to give the JBC an overall higher ed system plan for handling reductions in state support.

College quality

The revised bill also would require each governing board to annually give the commission a five-year plan for performance goals in areas such as access and affordability, improved student success, improved quality of instruction, improved operational efficiency and substantial additional information.

The CCHE would be required to establish benchmarks by which to evaluate each institution’s plan and annually review progress. Those progress reports would have to be submitted to the JBC.

Institutions that failed to meet one or more benchmarks by 5 percent or more would lose some of its tuition-setting freedom.

(The bill would repeal the existing system of performance contracts.)


The bill also would change the current controls over numbers of resident and non-resident students, allowing colleges to admit as many non-residents as they chose. But, colleges would have to admit all qualified Colorado applicants based on admissions requirements, plus the additional 20 percent of Colorado students colleges can admit for other reasons. (That’s the so-called “window.”)

Financial operations

The revised bill also proposes various changes in the degree to which certain state construction, purchasing and financial rules and procedures apply to colleges and universities. It also contains some provisions that would apply only to the Colorado School of Mines.

The higher ed flexibility discussion comes at a time when college and university spending has been maintained only through increased tuition and federal stimulus funds. Some legislators fear higher education may have to be cut by $300 million in 2011-12, with a similar cut for K-12 aid.

It’s unclear how the bill might fit – or conflict – with the ongoing higher education strategic plan study that was commissioned by outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter. The administration in the past has urged that no major changes be made in higher education until after the strategic plan is finished at the end of this year.

College presidents and some legislators have been pressing for action to be taken sooner.

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Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.

parent voice

It’s not enough just to stay open, say Memphis parents of their struggling elementary school

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Sonya Smith, a longtime community organizer in Memphis Frayser, speaks to parents at Hawkins Mill Elementary School on Thursday during a community meeting about state intervention plans.

For six years, Hawkins Mill Elementary School has been on the state’s radar because of students’ low scores on standardized tests — an issue cited again last month when Tennessee officials urged local leaders to close the Memphis school.

Shelby County Schools is passing on that recommendation, but agrees with the state on one thing: Hawkins Mill faces big challenges, including declining enrollment and a mostly impoverished student population.

Now the question is what to do about it. Among the issues is whether Principal Antonio Harvey should stay on for a sixth year, and if the district’s first $300,000 investment in Hawkins Mill went toward the right interventions this school year.

During a Thursday evening meeting, about 50 parents and community members got their first opportunity to ask questions about competing visions for their Frayser school.

What parents like

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Principal Antonio Harvey, front, and parents listen to a Shelby County Schools presentation on the state’s new accountability model.

Parents applauded the district’s stance to keep Hawkins Mill open, in defiance of the state’s recommendation, in order to give their school a fair chance to improve.

Many also spoke in favor of Harvey, describing him as a stabilizing and nurturing force who has ushered in new opportunities in the arts, sports, and other extracurricular activities. The school’s suspension rate also has declined in recent years, except for a slight uptick last year.

“I saw how he took unruly, disrespectful kids and they shake his hand now. He sits down and talks to them. … We’re constantly adding programs,” said PTA member Sharanda Person. “Doing things that way makes me think he cares about the kids.”

Several spoke favorably of their children’s school experience.

“Since she’s been here, I’ve seen exponential growth,” said Tonyas Mays, who transferred her daughter from a state-run school last August. “My child’s potential has been recognized here and she’s testing out of (special education) now.”

What parents didn’t like

A presentation on the low percentages of students on grade level in reading and math drew moans from parents as the data was explained by Antonio Burt, the district’s assistant superintendent for its lowest performing schools.

Notes: 2013-14 science and 2014-15 social studies test scores were not listed in the state report card. Elementary students did not take TNReady in 2015-16. The 2016-17 social studies test did not count toward school accountability measures.

But some questioned the validity of the state’s new test called TNReady, which has been marred by technical glitches in administration and scoring during its first two years.

“The state of Tennessee has made excuses as to why the test wasn’t ready. They get a pass while our children don’t,” said Sonya Smith, a community organizer. “Every time our children meet the test, they tell us that test was no good.”

Another disappointment is declining enrollment. Hawkins Mill had 357 students when Harvey started in the fall of 2013. Last month, enrollment was at 314.

What parents aren’t sure of

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Antonio Burt, assistant superintendent for low-performing schools, speaks to parents.

Burt said some assessments and attendance data show “some positive trends” this school year.

His presentation was void of nitty-gritty detail on progress as outlined under the school improvement plan that went to effect this school year. However, information provided to Chalkbeat on Friday showed that student growth this school year was higher than average in reading and math — a measure key to showing whether students can catch up. Also, the school’s suspension rate so far this school year is about 4 percent of students, compared to almost 13 percent at this time last year.

Several parents asked whether Harvey would remain as principal, worrying that a new leader could set the school back because of the adjustment in getting to know the students and faculty.

Burt responded that leadership is being reviewed, but that no decisions have been made. “To be completely transparent, we have to reassess everything,” he said.

Because Hawkins Mill is a priority school on track for state intervention, the state Department of Education must approve any plan outside of its recommendation to close.

The school is slated to continue under Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them. District leaders are still discussing the amount of new funding and where to invest it.

Burt thinks the district’s plan has a “50/50 chance” of state approval since it’s new.