at the capitol

House Education Committee passes gifted education spending bill

PHOTO: Chalkbeat Colorado
High school student Dylan McNally (right) testified in favor of gifted and talented bill. Sponsor Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westerminster, is at left.

The House Education Committee Monday passed yet another schools spending bill, this one intended to improve gifted and talented education at a cost of $5 million.

The discussion and vote on House Bill 14-1102 followed a now-familiar pattern. First there’s lengthy testimony highlighted by opposition from school district witnesses who argue the money would be better spent on restoring past K-12 budget cuts. Bill passes by relatively narrow margin. Then the bill is sent to an uncertain fate in the House Appropriations Committee.

Key elements of House Bill 14-1102 would require that districts (or “administrative units” such as boards of cooperative educational services) hire qualified gifted and talented coordinators and also evaluate all students to determine gifted and talented status before the third grade.

Over the last two weeks the committee has passed bills to support Advanced Placement classes in rural districts ($1 million) and to improve the quality of early childhood education programs ($12 million).

Six bills with a combined draw on the State Education Fund of about $40 million already have been introduced in the legislature. Another 10 bills without specific price tags also are in the mix.

Such bills are at ground zero in a battle over how to spend additional K-12 funding in 2014-15. School districts, administrators and the state’s largest teachers union have drawn a line in the sand this year, insisting that any extra money available for K-12 education be used to backfill at least some of the $1 billion in cuts schools have taken in recent years.

(Statehouse jargon for this proposal is “buying down the negative factor,” referring to the formula used by the legislature to trim K-12 funding from what it otherwise would have been.)

Lawmakers of both parties have proposed earmarked uses of extra education funding, such as the gifted and talented bill. And Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and a bipartisan group of allies are working on a bill to direct about $250 million into elements of Johnston’s 2013 shelved school-finance overhaul. (See this story for details on that.)

School district interest groups are hardening their position on this issue, and a majority of Colorado’s superintendents are expected to deliver a letter to lawmakers and Gov. John Hickenlooper, perhaps as early as this week, insisting that $275 million be devoted to “buying down” the negative factor in 2014-15. (If there’s no significant buy down of the negative factor, there’s even quiet talk of a lawsuit challenging it, on the grounds that it violates Amendment 23, the 2000 constitutional provision that was approved by voters and which sets the rules for annual increases in K-12 spending.)

The negative factor was mentioned repeatedly in opposition testimony Monday on House Bill 14-1102.

“We do see it as a mandate” on school districts, said Don Anderson, executive director on the East Center BOCES, which provides services to districts on the eastern plains. “These funds would be far more beneficial in buying down the negative factor.”

That theme was repeated by other witnesses, including Bruce Caughey, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, and Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards. “If we truly want to serve our students we much reduce the negative factor,” she said.

Supporters of the bill stressed the need to identify gifted students early so that they can receive the kind of instruction that will engage them and keep them in school.

“I was sitting in the classroom bored out of my mind,” said Loveland High School junior Dylan McNally, who said he wasn’t identified as gifted and talented until he was in the third grade. “I think we need to get kids identified early.”

Linda Crane, executive director of the Colorado Association for the Gifted and Talented, said, “gifted students from lower income families will continue to fall through the cracks” unless universal evaluation of students is implemented.

The bill passed on a party-line vote, with all seven committee Democrats voting for it and all six Republicans voting no. The sponsor, Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, is committee vice chair and a longtime gifted-and-talented advocate who is serving her last term in the House. Passage of the bill in House Education reflected party solidarity among Democrats, something that may change when education spending bills are winnowed later.

In other action

House Education also voted 7-6 to pass House Bill 14-1156, which would make all students in grades 3-12 who are now eligible for reduced-price lunches eligible for free lunches. (A state law passed a few years ago made free lunches universal for students in grades PRE-2, regardless of whether family income made them eligible only for reduced-price lunch.)

“The reality is that when families are hurting that doesn’t stop at the third grade,” said sponsor Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. He was sponsor of the earlier bill that applied to PRE-2 and also of last year’s breakfast-after-the-bell law.

The measure also goes to the House Appropriations Committee. Financing is less of an issue with this bill because its $2.4 million price tag would be offset by an estimated increase of $21.4 million in federal reimbursements to the school lunch program.

The committee was more bipartisan on Senate Bill 14-004, the measure that would allow community colleges of offer bachelor of applied sciences degrees in such vocational fields as dental hygiene, water quality management and culinary arts. The bill passed 11-2, with only two GOP members voting no.

Use the Education Bill Tracker to read bill texts and find additional information.

School Finance

Why some IPS schools are facing big budget cuts, and others are mostly spared from the pain

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
School 107 is expected to lose about $230,000 next year, one of the larger cuts in the district.

At campuses across Indianapolis Public Schools, principals are grappling with a painful prospect: cutting hundreds of thousands of dollars from their school budgets. And that may be just the beginning.

The district is looking to cut about $21 million from its $269 million general fund budget for 2018-19, including about $8.9 million that will come from budgets for schools and certified staff such as teachers, according to a preliminary budget document. Officials declined to give school-by-school breakdowns until they are finalized later this summer.

The district initially planned to fill its budget gap by asking voters for nearly $1 billion in extra funding in May, but after the proposal received little support, the board first shrunk and then delayed the request. The cuts that begin next year could continue if the state’s largest district isn’t able to find other savings or win voter support for a referendum to increase taxes and school funding in November.

“We have the hope of a referendum,” said Weston Young, the district’s chief financial manager.

Chalkbeat has the details on what types of schools are expected to lose the most, what schools might cut, and what this means for the future of the district.

Big schools — including high schools — are taking the brunt of the cuts.

When it comes to cutting spending, large schools are carrying more of the burden, according to the preliminary documents. That includes middle and high schools, as well as some elementary schools. At some of the district’s smallest campuses, however, officials say budgets are already too lean for significant cuts.

Indianapolis Public Schools sends money to schools using a formula known as student-based allocation, which gives them funding based on how many students they enroll and student needs. But every school also has a baseline amount of money district officials believe they need to operate.

Small schools that serve wide grade spans, which might only have one class at each grade level, often get extra money to be sure they reach the minimum. In contrast, large campuses typically get enough from the per student formula to be above baseline. On a basic level, the district budget is based around the idea that it costs less per child to educate students in large, efficient schools.

Because of that approach, campuses that were already at minimum funding levels won’t see significant cuts, Young said. On the flip side, however, bigger campuses are shouldering a larger share of the cuts.

That could be bad news for the four high schools that will remain open in the fall. The schools will be among the largest campuses in the district, and they are expected to face significant cuts.

Last month, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee told Chalkbeat that cuts would not damage the effort to revamp high schools because, in addition to baseline funding, the schools will have donations from private partners such as Salesforce.

“Obviously, we won’t have all the resources that we’d like to have,” he said, “but we will be in a good position come August of 2018.”

Magnet schools and career and technical education get extra money — and extra cuts.

On top of their regular budgets, choice programs, such as Montessori, International Baccalaureate, and career and technical education, receive millions of extra dollars each year. That spending is also on the chopping block as the district cuts costs.

But because the district had already planned spending on those programs and some areas are easier to reduce than others, cuts won’t be spread evenly, said Aisha Humphries, director of budget and strategy for the district. In Montessori schools, for example, instructional assistants are integral to the model, she said. In order to cut that, the district would have to change the school model.

“When you do budget cuts, it may be that we want to cut equally and make everybody feel the pain equally,” Humphries said, “but you may not be able to do that.”

But there are other areas where the district can more easily cut back, Humphries said, such as by reducing the number of foreign languages offered in middle school.

Schools are giving up technology, teachers, and other staff.

As the district cuts budgets, principals ultimately decide what painful trade offs to make. Under the new budgeting approach the district rolled out this year, principals are given a set amount of money, and they have control over how they spend most it. If a principal wants to make class sizes slightly larger to pay for a school social worker, for example, they can. When it comes to budget cuts, the approach is the same.

“They are still in the driver’s seat,” Young said.

When schools got budgets earlier this year, they were built on the assumption that the district would win the May referendum. But principals knew that additional funding might not come through, and some planned for potential cuts when they created their budgets, Young said.

When principal Jeremy Baugh learned School 107 is expected to lose about $230,000 next year, he already had some potential cuts in mind. The school will cut back on new technology, instructional supplies, and professional development. Baugh also won’t go through with his plan to hire two new educators.

School 107, which enrolls just over 600 students, is expected to have one of the larger budget cuts in the district. But in part because the school is growing and will get more money for those new students, he doesn’t expect to cut current staff.

“We didn’t have to make significant cuts that were impacting staff right now,” Baugh said. “So we felt pretty lucky.”

School Finance

How much are Indianapolis teachers paid? Here are the highest and lowest paid districts in the city

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

As teachers across the country rally for more education funding and higher salaries, policymakers and the public are paying renewed attention to how much educators are paid.

Nationwide, stagnant teacher pay coupled with plentiful well-paying openings in other fields means that it’s even harder for principals and administrators to fill open positions. For some teachers, low pay is one reason they leave the classroom altogether, whether to become administrators or find another career.

In Indiana, cash-strapped districts often struggle to pay for raises even for their current staff — making it difficult to retain teachers. Educators in Indianapolis have lots of schools to choose from, and teachers can increase their pay by heading to nearby districts.

Educators in Indiana school districts made an average of about $48,743 last year, according to the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board. Pay is higher in districts in the state’s capitol, but it varies widely, with educators in the lowest paying district earning about $11,000 less on average than teachers in the top paid district. (The board only collects data on districts with teachers unions so it does not include average pay for teachers in charter schools.)

When teachers with particularly high demand skills switch jobs, they can also boost their earning by moving higher on the pay scale.

Average teacher pay in Marion County 2016-17

Source: Indiana Education Employment Relations Board collective bargaining report. (Image by Sam Park)

One reason why average pay might be higher in some districts than others is because the pay scale is higher. Starting pay in Beech Grove Schools, for example, is $38,000 per year. In Speedway Schools, a district with consistently high pay, teachers earn a minimum of $44,252.

Minimum teacher pay in Marion County 2016-17

Source: Indiana Education Employment Relations Board collective bargaining report. (Image by Sam Park)

The gap is even wider for experienced educators. In Indianapolis Public Schools, the pay scale sets the maximum salary at $72,740. That’s almost $14,000 less than the max pay for teachers in Speedway — $86,702. (Some teachers may earn more because they are still paid based on older pay scales with higher caps.)

Maximum teacher pay in Marion County 2016-17

Source: Indiana Education Employment Relations Board collective bargaining report. (Image by Sam Park)

But there’s another reason why some districts have lower average pay than others — they have more inexperienced teachers. Both Beech Grove and Indianapolis Public Schools have higher floors and ceiling for pay then they did in 2013-2014. Nonetheless, the average pay in those districts has declined, likely because they have more inexperienced teachers with lower salaries.

This year, both districts have relatively high numbers of teachers in their first year, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education. In Indianapolis Public Schools, nearly 10 percent of certified educators are new to the classroom. In both Beech Grove and Warren Township Schools, about 7 percent of educators are new.