Who Is In Charge

Downside of A23 about to kick in

Colorado state budget
Colorado state budget

The possibility that the Amendment 23 formula itself might drive cuts in state K-12 spending for 2010-11 was raised Monday during a legislative briefing on state revenues and budget prospects.

Members of the legislative Joint Budget Committee and other lawmakers convened to hear the September revenue forecasts from staff of the Legislative Council and the executive branch Office of State Planning and Budgeting.

The news is not good, but, as is often the case, the two forecasts varied significantly.

Natalie Mullis, chief economist for Legislative Council, said the council staff estimates a $560.7 million shortfall in the current, 2009-10 general fund budget. That’s $240.7 million higher than the $320 million in cuts already planned by Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration.

But Todd Saliman, director of the OSPB, said his agency estimates that state revenues will be sufficient to cover the 2009-10 general fund budget with the cuts already planned.

If the 2009-10 budget is balanced with permanent cuts and/or revenue increases, the 2010-11 budget still will need to be cut $188.7 million from the prior year levels, Mullis said.

But if 2009-10 cuts are only one-time, the cumulative amount that will need to be cut from 2010-11 spending is $1.3 billion, Mullis said. It’s likely the legislature will look on Ritter’s cuts as one-time only.

Saliman projects a shortfall, albeit smaller, for 2010-11.

Regardless of the numbers, Saliman said budgeting will be tough. “We’re going to have to cut deeply in ’10-11. … The choices are going to be harder.”

Todd Saliman of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (left) and Legislative Council economist Natalie Mullis (File photo)
Todd Saliman of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (left) and Legislative Council economist Natalie Mullis (File photo)

Some of the differences between the two estimates have to do with accounting interpretations about how revenue should be recorded by fiscal year.

Both forecasts also lack estimates for costs that won’t be known until later, like Medicaid caseloads, an issue that worries state policymakers. Saliman said his staff would meet with that of Legislature Council to reconcile their figures and that they would agree on the most conservative (i.e., worst case) estimate. That is expected to be done before Ritter submits his formal 2010-11 budget proposal to the JBC on Nov. 2.

Of most interest to the education community was the discussion about A23, the constitutional provision that governs the annual amount of state aid to school districts. The amendment requires support to increase each year by inflation and enrollment plus an additional 1 percent. For the 2010-11 budget, the regional inflation rate for calendar year 2009 will be used.

Both Legislative Council and OSPB are forecasting deflation for 2009, .4 percent to 1.6 percent, respectively.

Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, raised the question of how deflation would work in the A23 formula, asking if the 1 percent bonus would remain in effect, even if there were a negative inflation rate greater than 1 percent.

Mullis said that was a legal question for other officials to decide, but Saliman said his interpretation is that the two would be added together, possibly yielding a negative number. “We’re assuming that you end up with a negative .6 percent” for the A23 multiplier, he said.

“For the first time since Amendment 23 was passed we’ll have negative inflation,” Romer said. “There’s a new ball game in town as it relates to school funding.”

Romer supports the idea of increasing state revenues by ending some business tax exemptions but hasn’t yet proposed a detailed plan for doing that.

Another part of the 2010 legislative debate over K-12 spending will be whether A23 covers all state aid to schools. In addition to base per-pupil funding, districts also receive additional (and varying) amounts of money based on such factors as the cost of living for staff, district size and numbers of at-risk students – the so-called factors.

In the past, that money has been part of the overall annual A23 calculation. But now Ritter and many legislators believe the factors aren’t included in the formula. So, it’s possible the factors will be cut as lawmakers search for cash for other programs, further reducing the amount of aid districts receive in 2010-11.

(Another complication to school finance is the practice of the state backfilling projected declines in local property tax values. Department of Education officials say local tax valuations may be holding up better than expected. But, even if backfilling is needed, lawmakers may be tempted to cut back on those amounts as well. The state does not compensate districts for declines in property tax collections, as can happen with taxpayers are delinquent. That may be an increasing concern because of foreclosures.)

The K-12 funding formula for 2009-10 is firm, meaning overall budget cutting done by the 2010 legislature probably won’t affect aid to school districts. The exception to that is $110 million in school aid that the legislature set aside until January. Given the revenue situation, it seems unlikely that lawmakers will release that money for local school use. What’s not yet decided is if the $110 million will be taken off the top, or deducted from the factors. That decision could have an impact on school aid for 2010-11.

Higher education funding didn’t come up at Monday’s briefing. College budgets are basically being held at 2008-09 levels with the help of federal stimulus funds. Ritter has proposed reducing direct state aid to colleges and universities in the current year and making up the shortfall with additional stimulus money. (That plan requires federal approval.) The trouble with that plan is that federal rules require the state to restore in 2010-11 the direct aid it cut in 2009-10, about $80 million. That will put additional pressure on the 2010-11 budget process.

The forecasts focused just on the general fund, which is supported by state taxes. Total state spending, including federal, cash and other revenue, is about $18 billion a year.

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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: