Archive for January, 2010

29th 2010
CFO: Jeffco’s Site Leads Colorado in School Financial Transparency

Posted under Independence Institute & School Board & School Finance

Last week I introduced you to my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow‘s new 3-page report on “What Should School District Financial Transparency Looks Like?” Highlighted prominently in the paper and in Ben’s testimony last week before Colorado’s House Education Committee was the remarkable work of Jefferson County Public Schools — Colorado’s largest school district — in creating perhaps the best online financial transparency database of any school district in the nation.

This week Ben interviewed Lorie Gillis, the chief financial officer of Jeffco Public Schools, for a 12-minute iVoices podcast. Follow this link or click on the play button below to listen: Continue Reading »

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28th 2010
Not Enough Money for Colorado K-12? Let’s Try Private School Choice

Posted under Education Politics & School Choice & School Finance & State Legislature

Yesterday I heard education lobbyists testify before Colorado’s House Finance Committee that tax credits must be repealed to help offset budget cuts to K-12 schools. I can’t say whether or how much they have a point, because for years (or so big people tell me) of funding increases they have constantly said there’s not enough money. It kind of reminds me of that little boy who kept yelling something until nobody believed him anymore.

Well, has it occurred to anyone that the structure of the system, the framework for how we spend money on K-12 education, might need to change? Is that even part of the conversation? Enter the Cato Institute‘s Adam Schaefer, who puts the spending on a national scale into context in his brand-new piece for National Review:

K–12 schooling is the biggest item on state and local budgets. Judging by the 2005–06 totals from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), state and local governments now spend well over $500 billion each year on public K–12 education. The Bush and Obama administrations have overseen a startling increase in the federal involvement in and funding of K–12 education, but the federal government provides just 9 percent of education funds, compared with 44 percent from local sources and 47 percent from states.

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27th 2010
Does Louisiana’s School Choice Program Hold Any Lessons for Colorado?

Posted under Education Politics & School Choice & Urban Schools

The New Orleans Saints’ first trip to the Super Bowl may be the biggest story out of The Pelican State these days, but it’s not the only one. Serious school choice supporters ought to check out a great new article in Education Next. Harvard research fellow Michael Henderson details the interesting behind-the-scenes story how his native Louisiana came to adopt a now-growing private school choice program.

How much of the momentum for creating the program was fueled by the terrible 2005 disaster of Hurricane Katrina? Or are there important lessons for school choice advocates in other states they can apply to their own political battles to expand educational opportunity for K-12 students? Michael Henderson’s account and analysis deserve some serious consideration. Please check it out.

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26th 2010
How Much Can We Trust Poverty Numbers in School Lunch Program?

Posted under Federal Government & School Finance

Education News Colorado reports on the latest K-12 student enrollment numbers from the Colorado Department of Education, leading with the following:

State enrollment figures released Monday show the number of Colorado students living in poverty climbed this year at its highest rate since at least 2003 as families grappled with the dismal economy.

As of Oct. 1, 39 percent of students in kindergarten through grade 12 were eligible for participation in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, a common indicator for poverty.

To qualify for the program, a family of four must report an annual income below $40,793.

Colorado’s overall enrollment was up 1.7 percent this fall, to 832,368 students, while the poverty rate was up 3.08 percent. Enrollment growth has typically exceeded growth in poverty in recent years.

Continue Reading »

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25th 2010
First Race to the Top Test is How Few States Win Money for Real Reform

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Governor & Innovation and Reform

There’s been plenty of debate — here in Colorado, more than in most states — about the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top (RTT) $5 billion grant funding program. On the surface it sounds really good, promoting some commonsense and effective reforms that in many cases should have been enacted years ago. To some extent, it may actually yield positive results.

But now that 40 states have participated in the first round of applications (and Colorado opted for the safe “consensus” approach), we soon will find out whether the faith in RTT is justified. As the editors of the Wall Street Journal note, the first big test will be to see how selective the grant process actually is (H/T Frederick Hess):

It’s been reported that Mr. Duncan may reward as many as a dozen states in the first round. A state like California in that scenario could receive between $350 million and $700 million. That may seem like a lot of money, until you consider that California’s K-12 education budget shortfall next year is expected to be between $5 billion and $10 billion.

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22nd 2010
Hooray! Mike Miles and Harrison Taking Bold Step on Merit Pay Reform

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & School Board & Teachers & Urban Schools

While Colorado’s governor and state officials have created a 15-member Council on Educator Effectiveness and Denver Public Schools has received a $10 million Gates Foundation grant to study and develop a new teacher evaluation system, Harrison School District in Colorado Springs is moving forward on a truly bold merit-pay reform.

So reports Nancy Mitchell in today’s edition of Education News Colorado:

Incentives play no part in the plan created by Miles, the superintendent here since 2006. There are no bonuses for teaching in struggling schools. Teachers don’t pocket a couple thousand bucks more if their students do better than expected on state tests.

Instead, teachers in Harrison will soon have their entire salaries based on a combination of their annual evaluations and their students’ academic progress.

No longer will teachers get annual raises for another year on the job or for taking more college classes – the way most districts in Colorado and across the country pay their instructors.

These changes are made easier by the fact that Harrison teachers do not have collective bargaining rights. Continue Reading »


21st 2010
With Jeffco in Front, Colorado Can Lead on School Financial Transparency

Posted under Independence Institute & Research & School Board & School Finance

Update: House Bill 1036 passed unanimously out of the House Education Committee this afternoon. Ben’s report and testimony added some important information and perspective to the discussion. Now the legislation heads to the floor of the lower chamber for a full 65-member vote. Stay tuned as I continue to cover the two school transparency bills as they move through the legislature.

Many months ago, after a heated debate at last year’s legislative session, I pointed out that opponents of public school financial transparency were running out of excuses.

Well, I’m proud to say that several school districts in Colorado have received the message, and at least one has done a remarkable job of making user-friendly detailed spending information available. I’m talking about Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest school district. You really have to check out their online searchable spending database.

My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow explains some more about where Jeffco’s idea came from and how much it cost, etc., in his new issue backgrounder “What Should School District Financial Transparency Look Like?” One key advantage has been to build greater trust with members of the community, by providing key details to each spending transaction. It can be a daunting step, so kudos to Jeffco.

The paper also discusses two separate bills that the Colorado state legislature will consider this session: House Bill 1036 and Senate Bill 91. In fact, HB 1036 is scheduled to be heard by the House Education Committee this afternoon. Listen in to room HCR 0112 from here.

With Jeffco leading the way, here’s hoping more Colorado school districts not only get on board the financial transparency train but also do so in a way that is effective, user-friendly, detailed and truly builds trust with local citizens. Our state already is shaping up to be a national leader in this area, and is set to go even further.


20th 2010
“Race to the Top” Consensus Approach Disappoints: Who Really Wins?

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Governor & Public Charter Schools & State Legislature & Teachers

Yesterday the state of Colorado turned in its Race to the Top grant funding application to the U.S. Department of Education. Missing the opportunity to do something bold, Colorado instead opted for “consensus” and “collaboration” — as reported by Jeremy Meyer in the Denver Post. Some of my older friends in the Education Policy Center are less surprised by this development than I am.

Still, whether it jeopardizes our chances to win some of the federal cash or not, this approach is disappointing. One of the greatest statesmen (or women) who ever lived, Margaret Thatcher, famously once said: “Consensus is the negation of leadership.” An opportunity for greater leadership was missed. We may still win some money because very few other states opted to be bold either — and in comparison we could look pretty good. But that doesn’t cut it for me. Continue Reading »


19th 2010
Georgia Performance Pay Proposal: Duke Boys Not in Trouble with Law?

Posted under Governor & Innovation and Reform & Research & Teachers

Education Week blogger Stephen Sawchuk reports that Georgia may be taking a bold step in reforming teacher compensation:

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has announced plans to support legislation that would overhaul the statewide teacher-salary schedule and allow teachers to opt into one that determines pay partly on performance-based measures.

States have tried to do statewide performance-pay before, but this example stands out because it sounds as though it would fundamentally restructure how the salary schedule operates. Teachers opting in would no longer get supplements for advanced degrees, which have only weak correlations to student performance. Instead, they would win additional compensation based on observations of teachers and growth of student performance to determine teacher effectiveness and base compensation on those results.

The plan would go into effect in 2013, and current teachers could “opt into” the plan or remain on the current salary schedule. Teachers hired after Jan. 1, 2014, would automatically be enrolled in the system.

Continue Reading »

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18th 2010
On 850 KOA, Pam Benigno Directs Parents to School Choice for Kids Site

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Parents & School Choice

My mom and dad like to listen to Colorado’s Morning News on AM 850 KOA in Denver. So how excited I was on Thursday to tune into the show and hear the “Your Health / Your Kids” segment with Robbyn Hart. Why? Because she was interviewing my Education Policy Center friend Pam Benigno.

Follow this link to listen to the informative 1-minute soundbite about the fantastic School Choice for Kids website.

Ms. Hart is correct: It is open enrollment time! So don’t waste a moment, Colorado students and parents. Head on over to School Choice for Kids right now for a free visit to learn about the education options near you and how to take advantage of them!

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