Archive for the 'School Finance' Category

March
17th 2017
Colorado Democrats Take Brave Stand for Choice

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & School Finance

I updated you last week on SB 061, which would provide fair local funding to public charter school students in Colorado. As expected, the bill sailed through the senate with broad bipartisan support, clearing the floor on a 22-13 vote. Five Democrats joined all but one Republican (Sen. Don Coram from far southeast Colorado) in passing the bill. The five Democrats were:

I have a lot of respect for the Democrats who were willing to take a stand on funding fairness. This may come as a surprise, but my posts don’t always fully capture the scale of the political forces folks feel at the capitol when big bills come through. Legislators often hear from many, many lobbyists on both sides of an issue, and the pressure exerted on them can be enormous.

Nowhere was that pressure more evident than with the debate about SB 061. Both sides lobbied heavily on the bill, but the opposition—CEA, AFT Colorado, AFL-CIO, a number of school districts, and others—were particularly hard on Democrats considering a yes vote. CEA President Kerrie Dallman penned a high-profile op-ed designed to politically damage Democrats by pinning them to their new arch nemesis, President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, multiple lobbying teams no doubt reminded Democrats that there would be severe consequences (remember all that money unions funnel to Dems?) should they break rank and side with students over special interests.

Despite all this intense pressure, these five Democrats bravely voted yes on this important bill. Granted, a couple of them insisted on including an amendment that would let school districts go back and re-ask voters whether they can share mill levy override revenue with charters—a proposal I don’t love for a number of reasons. But even so, these legislators deserve to be commended. I have a lot of respect for every legislator who voted for SB 061, but we can’t deny the fact that it was immeasurably harder for Democrats to support the legislation. Good for them!

It gets better. Two of the five senate Democrats who voted for SB 061 also took to the well (the name for the podium from which legislators deliver speeches on the chamber floor) to talk about why they believe SB 061 is the right thing to do. Their speeches were way more powerful than anything I could write, so I will shut up. Check out the video below:

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January
27th 2017
SIG Program: “The Greatest Failure in the History of the U.S. Department of Education”

Posted under Federal Government & Research & School Finance & Turnaround Schools

Almost a year ago, I highlighted a Denver Post analysis detailing the general failure of millions of dollars in federal grant money—given out in the form of School Improvement Grants—to produce the kinds of results we might expect in many underperforming Colorado schools. It now turns out that the overall results of this $7 billion federal turnaround endeavor are worse than we might have thought.

Education policy maven Andy Smarick has been a staunch critic of the SIG program since its inception, and made a compelling case against the program as early as 2010. As he says in the Denver Post story above:

If you funnel a whole lot of money to the same dysfunctional districts that have been running the dysfunctional schools, these are the results you should expect. What’s mystifying to me is that people thought the school improvement grant program was going to get dramatically different results than the dozens of other similar efforts at school turnaround in the past.

It turns out Smarick was right, not only in Denver, but in the nation overall. His latest blog post for Education Next is a scathing indictment of $7 billion spent on the SIG program, which he now brands as potentially the greatest failure in the history of the United States Department of Education. Yikes. Continue Reading »

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January
5th 2017
New Rankings Should Lead to New, Better Conversations

Posted under Academic Achievement & Research & School Finance

While Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report is just one of many K-12 state rankings out there, it tends to get a lot of attention because it’s more accessible and easier to interpret that data directly from, say, the U.S. Census Bureau or the National Center for Education Statistics. The latest edition of that report was just released, which means we’re about to see a bevy of questionably accurate news articles, accusations, and assertions crop up in the near future. In the meantime, we can talk a little about the latest results and what they may or may not tell us.

Some of you may remember that the Education Policy Center spent some time talking about Education Week’s 2016 Quality Counts report in a recent paper on Colorado school finance. Here’s a refresher on last year’s report:

Published annually by Education Week, this report ranks states on “chance for success,” academic achievement, and school finance, with ratings in each of these categories consisting of both an overall grade and a number of more granular rankings. The 2016 report, which relied upon 2013 data, ranked Colorado 37th overall in the area of school finance. As some interest groups have reported, the state was ranked 42nd in adjusted per-pupil expenditures, which account for regional cost differences. Colorado received rankings at levels ranging from 12th to 39th on a variety of other funding measures within the report.

Interestingly, the Education Week report is one of the few sources of school finance rankings that also directly ranks states on academic measures. The report ranked Colorado 18th in overall K-12 achievement, 15th in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading proficiency rates as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and 22nd in graduation rates. It also ranked Colorado 13th in “chance for success,” which evaluates states on a range of criteria like family income, academic achievement, and adult educational attainment. If Colorado’s ranking in school finance had any impact on its ranking in the academic areas of the report, that impact is not immediately apparent.

In other words, the state tends to do pretty well academically compared to other states despite what many interest groups cite as a catastrophic funding shortfall that leaves Colorado further down the school finance list.

That trend largely continues in the 2017 report. The headline you’re likely to see is “Colorado Earns F for School Funding,” but I encourage you not to get bogged down in Education Week’s debatable reporter-bait letter grades. Education Week says the national average grade on spending measures is a D, which somewhat calls into question the scale they are using. We should, however, pay some attention to the state’s finance rankings as they are presnted in Colorado’s highlight report—not necessarily because the percentages earned on Education Week’s grading metrics are themselves entirely relevant, but because we’re probably going to be hearing a lot about them in the coming weeks. Continue Reading »

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November
4th 2016
New Finance Paper Sheds Light on Complicated Issues

Posted under Publications & Research & Ross Izard & School Finance & Taxes & Taxpayers

Just last week, we were talking about the record number of local school-related tax increases on the ballot and how those increases fit in the context of school finance overall. I even had a reader named Larry write in to correct me on a misspelling of Michael Phelps’ name. I incorrectly thought his name was Michael Phelp (with no “s”). I suppose that’s what I get for not watching swimming. I am dreadfully ashamed of the error, and hope Mr. Phelps (and Larry) can find it in his heart to forgive me.

Fortunately, I won’t need to make any swimming references today. Instead, I’d like to continue the conversation on Colorado school finance by briefly highlighting a new issue paper published by my Independence Institute policy friend Ross Izard. Continue Reading »

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October
28th 2016
Not All Records Are Good Records When It Comes to Taxpayers

Posted under Fiscal Responsibility & School Finance & Taxes & Taxpayers

Records are usually good things to set. Consider Jamaican Olympian Usain Bolt’s blindingly fast 100m dash record. Or maybe you’d be more impressed by U.S. Olympian Michael Phelps’ record number of individual medals—a record that hasn’t been touched since a guy named Leonidas of Rhodes won his 12th individual event in 152 B.C. That’s right, B.C. as in Before Christ. If you’re more into weirder records, you could ponder the couple who hold the record for most tattooed senior citizens, the man who maintains the world’s largest afro, the cat who holds the distinction of being the world’s longest housecat (at about four feet in length), or the llama who holds the record for highest bar jump cleared by a llama. Yep, that’s a real thing.

But sometimes records aren’t so great. For instance, the record for “worst pandemic” goes to the bubonic plague, otherwise known as the “Black Death,” which killed about a quarter of the people in Europe back during the 1300s. My guess is that few people were excited about that one. And although tax increases are somewhat less terrible than society-ravaging outbreaks of plague (some may disagree on that point), I can’t imagine Colorado taxpayers are super excited to find out that 2016 has set the state record for mill levy overrides and bonds issues on local ballots.

According to Chalkbeat, there are 44 school districts asking their local taxpayers to approve MLOs, bond issues, or both this year. That’s about 25 percent of the 178 school districts in the state. But even more impressive is the number attached to all those requests: $4.4 billion. Egads! Continue Reading »

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September
23rd 2016
Pizza Pies and Dollar Signs

Posted under Fiscal Responsibility & School Finance & Transparency

I love pizza. Do you love pizza? Oh, what a silly question! Of course you love pizza. Everyone loves pizza! But here’s the big question: Do you love pizza enough to spend $2.6 million on it? Denver Public Schools does.

I ran across an interesting article this morning from Kyle Clark, my favorite 9News reporter, who has apparently discovered that DPS has negotiated an agreement with Blackjack Pizza for $886,730 in the first year. If the pizza “meets expectations” (whatever that means given that there is no such thing as bad pizza, only shades of deliciousness), the agreement could be extended for another two years. That brings the grand total to $2.6 million. Continue Reading »

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August
19th 2016
Louisiana’s Lesson: Attacking Private School Choice Hurts Public School Districts

Posted under Educational Choice & Research & School Finance & Vouchers

Buckle up, friends. We’re heading back to Louisiana for today’s post. Figuratively, of course—Louisiana isn’t exactly somewhere I’d like to be in person right now. Here’s hoping everyone stays safe down there.

The good news is that we get to remain dry (literally and figuratively) in our chairs and take a look at yet more research related to educational choice in Louisiana, this time on the financial consequences of scaling back the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP). Those who argue that private school choice sucks money out of public education may want to brace themselves; today’s post may cause severe damage to their inaccurate worldview. Continue Reading »

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July
15th 2016
Public Policy Buckets and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Posted under Rural Schools & School Board & School Finance & State Board of Education & State Legislature

You know, we spend too much time thinking about public policy in buckets. I live in the education bucket, while others live in the finance bucket or the energy bucket or the transportation bucket or… well, you get the point. But the world doesn’t really work that way, does it? Public policy in one area often deeply affects policy in another. Pull the wrong string over here and you may inadvertently spark a crisis over there.

To underscore that point, I’d like to call your attention to Exhibit A: South Routt School District (SOROCO to the locals) and the unintended consequences of the War on Coal on education in Colorado.

South Routt is a tiny school district of about 350 PK-12 students near Steamboat. I’ll forgive you if you haven’t heard of it before. Like many rural school districts in Colorado, SOROCO lives on a budgetary razor’s edge where any large swing is likely to be felt very keenly.

You can imagine the district’s panic, then, when Peabody Energy, the country’s largest coal-mining company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2016. Why would a national coal company’s bankruptcy matter to South Routt? Because it turns out that bankrupt corporations aren’t great at paying their taxes. Continue Reading »

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June
6th 2016
State Board Tackles Not-So-Super Subgroups

Posted under Accountability & Rural Schools & School Accountability & School Finance & State Board of Education & Taxpayers

Mondays are good days to roll up our sleeves and bury ourselves in education policy arcana. This Monday is a particularly good day to do that; on Wednesday, the Colorado State Board of Education will decide the fate of a complicated but important proposal related to our state’s school and district accountability system.

The proposal deals with the use of “super subgroups” (also called “combined subgroups”), which aggregate subgroups of students—minority, at-risk, English-language learner (ELL), and special education—into a single bucket for accountability purposes under Colorado’s school and district performance frameworks (SPFs and DPFs). Pushed by some school districts, interest groups, and the Colorado Department of Education, the shift toward combined subgroups is strongly opposed by a large, diverse coalition of organizations from across the political spectrum. Careful observers will note that one of those organizations is the Independence Institute, which I happen to be rather fond of.

Why is the Independence Institute involved? To understand that, you have to understand the issue in a little more detail. Brace yourself, thar be wonkery ahead. Continue Reading »

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June
1st 2016
COPs and Robbers: A Tale of Two Jeffco Schools

Posted under Fiscal Responsibility & Jefferson County Public Schools & School Board & School Finance

It’s been a little while since we talked about Jeffco, but I couldn’t resist chiming in on a CBS 4 story proudly declaring that the district has broken ground on a “brand-new K-8 school” in Arvada’s Candelas development. The construction of a new school wouldn’t normally merit a blog post, but this particular school carries such political baggage and symbolic value that it’s impossible to ignore.

If you dig deep into the locked container in your head labeled “Jeffco Recall 2015,” you’ll probably remember a bit of a kerfuffle last year about the proposed use of certificates of participation to finance new school construction in Jefferson County. COPs, as they’re colloquially known, exist mostly as an end-run around TABOR in that they allow governments to incur long-term debt without voter approval. The Independence Institute’s Josh Sharf explains it like this:

The government, in this case a school district, transfers some asset, usually a building or set of buildings, to a special-purpose entity set up specifically to administer the COP.  That entity – not the school district itself – then floats the bond on the municipal bond market.  It then leases the buildings back to the school district for lease payments that match the bond payments.  It is those lease payments that secure the debt.  In addition, the lease comes up for annual review by the school board which, in theory, could refuse to renew.

If that sounds a little shady to you, you’re not alone. Continue Reading »

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