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.)

Enrollment

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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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: