Who Is In Charge

Colorado readies next R2T bid

Hoping the third time’s a charm, Colorado officials are getting ready to submit their latest application for federal Race to the Top funds, which state officials want to spend on development of the new educator evaluation system.

ARRA logoDepartment of Education executives expect to learn Wednesday how much money the state will eligible for in the third “consolation” round of R2T. Just six weeks ago the state filed an application for $60 million in funding from another, separate R2T program that’s focused on early learning.

While both applications would provide financial support for key state education initiatives, neither grant would solve the cost challenges around implementation of reforms enacted in the last three years.

This third round of R2T is kind of a consolation prize for states that failed to make the cut in the $3.3 billion second round last year, when Colorado lost its request for $175 million amidst questions about the quality of the judging. (Earlier, Colorado asked for $377 million in R2T’s first round, in which only two states won grants.)

There’s a lot less money on the table this time – only $200 million to be split among Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. Colorado’s projected share is up to $12.5 million, although that could go higher if other states don’t apply or are found ineligible. There’s been speculation that California and South Carolina might not make meet eligibility rules, perhaps leaving more money for the remaining states.

Because there’s less money available, round three requires that states narrow the requests they made in round two but still meet all the various “assurances” about education reform laws and initiatives that were required earlier.

The first part of the round three application, detailing state compliance with the assurances, is due Tuesday. Colorado submitted that document last Thursday, according to Jill Hawley, chief of staff and strategy for education Commissioner Robert Hammond.

Last week the U.S. Department of Education issued some new requirements for the consolation round. The new rules require states to explain “how the selected reform effort will have a broader impact in supporting student learning and improving STEM education.” (STEM, of course, stands for science, technology, engineering and math.)

Jill Hawley
Jill Hawley, Colorado Department of Education

Hawley said those requirements were expected and don’t change the overall thrust of Colorado’s application.

The state hopes to use the funds to help pay for design of a state model evaluation system. The other major use of the money would be to support the work of “content collaboratives,” groups of educators and experts that will develop methods for assessing student mastery of new state content standards, especially in subjects not tested by the statewide assessments in reading, writing, math and science.

On the question of the federal STEM requirements, Hawley said Friday, “What we learned this week was kind of the direction we were headed anyway.”

Hammond said, “As part of the content collaborative work, we will include collaboratives specific to math and science to help develop model measures and model instructional tools to assist math and science teachers with implementing the new content standards as well as to support educator effectiveness in math and science.”

That second part of the round three application is due by Dec. 16. Hawley said a working draft of Colorado’s bid should be available the week of Dec. 5. Awards will be announced between Dec. 20 and the end of the year.

A different bid already in the hopper

Early Learning Challenge

Colorado also has applied for another, separate R2T program, the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge. The 268-page application was filed Oct. 19.

The $500 million program will provide money for support of state early learning initiatives. Some 35 states have applied, and Colorado is eligible for $60 million.

Early learning, especially third-grade literacy, is a key initiative of the Hickelooper administration, and the application was prepared in the office of Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who also has been running a statewide listening tour to gather comment on early learning needs and strategies.

The application stresses these initiatives:

  • Improving and streamlining state oversight of early childhood education
  • Developing an upgraded quality rating system for programs
  • Integrating and consolidating early childhood development guidelines
  • Improving evaluations and interventions for young children with high needs
  • Providing improved training of early childhood workers
  • Expanded school readiness assessments of children entering kindergarten

Bill for reform remains to be paid

Since passage of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids in 2008 there have been questions about how the state will pay for full implementation of reform efforts such as new content standards, new tests and new evaluation systems for principals and teachers.

Hawley noted that the $12.5 million R2T round three grant wil have to be split 50-50 between the state and school districts and will be spread out across four years.

“It turns out to be a million a year [for the state], and you spend that fairly quickly,” she said. “It’s not a lot of money for any of the states.”

But, Hawley said every little bit helps: “There’s no state funding for this right now.”

A recent study done for the state by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates estimates the costs of implementing CAP4K at $384 million (see story).

Another Augenblick study done for the State Council for Educator Effectiveness estimated a cost of $42.4 million to get evaluation systems up and running statewide.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed $7.7 million of state funding in 2012-13 to help pay costs of developing the evaluation system.

A key part of CAP4K, development of new statewide tests for launch in 2014, also is in question because Hickenlooper didn’t include the $25.9 million cost of developing the exams in his budget request. Not spending the money next year could delay launch of new tests and perhaps force the state to consider using multi-state tests now being developed by two groups (see story).

listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools

Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.

Colorado Votes 2018

Five things we learned when Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates got on the same stage to talk about education

Colorado Republicans running for governor addressed some of the state's school board members at a forum hosted by the state's association of school boards. From left are George Brauchler, Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Nine Republicans and Democrats hoping to become Colorado’s next governor offered contrasting views Friday of the state’s public schools to an audience of more than 100 local school board members.

Most of the five Republicans told the crowd of locally elected officials — who are charged by the state’s constitution with governing Colorado’s public schools — that their programs were in need of improvement and innovation, and that they were there to help.

The four Democrats hoping to succeed fellow Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, pledged to reform the state’s tax code to send more money to schools.

The candidates spoke at the annual fall delegation conference of the state’s association of school boards.It was the first forum of its kind to address education issues exclusively this election election cycle.

Unlike previous elections, Colorado’s public education system has been a key policy debate early in the campaign. Several candidates, especially Democrats, have worked on education issues before.

Here are our five takeaways from the forum:

The Republican candidates didn’t pull any punches when they said the state’s public schools were in need of improvement — and several said that they were the ones to do it.

From District Attorney George Brauchler to businessman Doug Robinson, every Republican candidate said one part or another of the state’s school system needed to do better.

“Education is life itself,” said former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell. “And there is no greater challenge facing our state than 50 percent of our at-risk kids who graduate can’t complete college-level course work.”

Both Mitchell and Robinson pointed to their experience as entrepreneurs as evidence that they could help set the state’s schools free of what they consider unnecessary red tape. Brauchler called for empowering teachers and parents.

Every Democrat and several Republicans agreed that the state’s schools were in a “funding crisis.” But they offered very different paths forward.

It was an easy question for Democrats. Businessman Noel Ginsburg, former state Sen. Michael Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne were in lock-step that the state’s schools are in need of more money.

“If we don’t fundamentally solve this crisis, the rest of the issues don’t matter,” Johnston said.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne talk after a forum for gubernatorial candidates. Both are Democrats. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Johnston and Kennedy forcefully pledged to take on the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits how much tax revenue the state can collect and requires voter approval to raise taxes.

Lynne was more tempered. While she acknowledged tax reform was needed, she said wanted a legislative committee working on school finance to complete its work before suggesting any overhauls.

Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker and a small business owner, was the only GOP candidate who said he would take on the state’s complicated tax laws. If elected, he promised to establish a committee to send a reform proposal to voters.

Robinson and Brauchler acknowledged that schools were in a funding crunch. But they stopped short of saying they’d send more money to schools.

Mitchell said “he wasn’t sure” if there was a funding crisis, but added, “The system should be reformed before it’s fully funded.”

PERA, the state’s employee retirement program, could play a prominent issue in the election — especially for Republicans.

Earlier at the conference, school board members received a briefing on a proposed overhaul to the state’s retirement program, which includes school district employees.

While the situation is not as dire as it was a decade ago, the program’s governing board has become so increasingly worried about unfunded liabilities that it’s asking state lawmakers to pass a reform package to provide more financial stability.

Two Republicans, Brauchler and Steve Barlock, who co-chaired President Trump’s campaign in Colorado, said PERA was in crisis. Barlock warned school board members that their budgets were in jeopardy as lawmakers fiddle with the system.

Neither went into any detail about how they hoped to see the retirement program made more fiscally stable. But watch for this issue to gain greater traction on the campaign trail, especially as Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton ramps up his gubernatorial campaign, and as lawmakers begin to wrestle with PERA reforms next year. (Stapleton did not attend the forum.)

Some candidates offered careful responses to a question about school choice. Others, not so much.

Every Democrat and one Republican, Brauchler, said they respected a family’s right to choose the best school for their children. But that choice, they said, should not come at the expense of traditional, district-run schools.

“I’m concerned that we’d build a system where the success of some schools is coming at the expense of other schools,” Kennedy said.

Republicans strongly supported charter schools, and in some cases, vouchers that use taxpayer dollars to pay for private schools. Robinson called on creating new ways to authorize charter schools. Mitchell said he wanted to repeal a provision in the state’s constitution that has been used to rebuff private school vouchers.

There’s no party line over rural schools.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the state needed to step up to help its rural schools, which are typically underfunded compared to schools along the Front Range. They need more teachers, better infrastructure and fewer regulations, the candidates said.

“We need to get rural areas into the modern age,” Robinson said.