Posted tagged ‘school budget cuts’

Thursday’s Supreme Court hearing on school funding may lead to legislative action on long term problem

March 8, 2013

On March 7, The Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the State’s appeal of the December 2011 decision that Colorado’s public school funding system is unconstitutional. CEA and other public school funding advocates hope the Court’s decision in the Lobato lawsuit will be the turning point in a decades-long effort to achieve adequate, sustainable K-12 education funding.

In the state’s highest court this week, attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Lobato case – students, parents, and school districts – argued that the December 2011 Denver District Court ruling be upheld. The State of Colorado argued that the Supreme Court should reject the ruling and, in essence, leave school funding just as it is today.

In the lower court, Judge Sheila Rappaport found, after a lengthy trial, that Colorado’s public school funding system is “irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded” and violates the State Constitution. Key findings in her decision are on the Children’s Voices web site.

Judge Rappaport ordered the State to design, fund, and implement a system of public school funding which guarantees that all students graduate with the knowledge and skills they need for citizenship, postsecondary education, and the workforce. This work falls to the Colorado Legislature.

Kathy Gebhardt, plaintiffs’ legal counsel, said, “This case has been ongoing for eight years. During that time, the violation of Colorado children’s constitutional rights has continued: school budgets have been cut, mandates added, class sizes increased, school hours decreased, student populations increased, and the number of teachers decreased. The trial court, after hearing evidence for five weeks, found that the current system of school finance is not only unconstitutional, but unconscionable.”

CEA and other education organizations have helped fund the plaintiffs’ legal work through the non-profit Children’s Voices. It’s worth your time to look at the Children’s Voices site, where you can follow the case for changing Colorado’s system of school funding.

The Supreme Court will likely issue its decision by the end of 2013.


Legislators back at work for 2013 session

January 9, 2013

The Colorado Legislature opened its 2013 session today with nearly one-third newly elected, first-time state lawmakers. They are led by Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver). These top leaders took over from Sen. Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont), who was term-limited, and Rep. Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch), who relinquished his party’s control as the result of the November elections. Sen. Bill Cadman (R) and Rep. Mark Waller (R), both of Colorado Springs, lead the minority party.

After Governor Hickenlooper’s State of the State speech tomorrow morning (Thursday, January 10), legislators will get down to business.

CEA is a partner in the Higher Education Access Alliance (HEAA), the coalition that will try again to pass ASSET legislation offering reduced tuition rates to undocumented students. The Legislature rejected the last two versions of this important legislation. Colorado ASSET will create a new category of public college/university tuition, called standard-rate, for undocumented students who meet specific criteria, such as attending and graduating from a Colorado high school or obtaining a Colorado GED. ASSET is a key element in ensuring Colorado’s economic recovery by offering more students the opportunity to attend college and increasing revenues to higher education institutions.

Through the Colorado School Finance Partnership, CEA and other organizations are working with legislators on a revision of the 1994 School Finance Act. Many in education and the Legislature believe the law is outdated and must be rewritten to enable the Legislature to provide more resources while supporting what voters say they want: safe neighborhood schools with excellent teachers who ensure that each student has the opportunity for a quality education. The finance law revision must also provide adequate resources without creating “winners and losers” among districts, as we already have this situation.

A new school finance law is one of several approaches* to achieving resources our schools need, but it alone will not solve the PreK-12 funding problem. However, if it is written well and widely accepted, a new finance act could be the vehicle to implement funding from a future tax increase.

As always, the dollar amount of school funding will be a big issue this year. Governor Hickenlooper said last fall that he does not want to make any more K-12 cuts, though he thinks the state will be able to make only a modest school funding increase for FY 2013-14.

CEA President Kerrie Dallman said, “The Governor is correct to point out that the projected increase ($31.7 million after accounting for inflation and higher student enrollment) repairs very little of the damage caused by massive state budget cuts over the last five years. Our K-12 investment is more than $1 billion behind the funding level Colorado voters said they wanted more than a decade ago. Districts have made painful, unpopular budget cuts, resulting in larger class sizes, fewer curriculum offerings, and increased fees for families. State leaders still need to address this serious situation.”

*Note: We expect a decision from the State Supreme Court in the Lobato lawsuit by summer, but likely not in time for legislators to consider the ruling before adjourning in May. Last year a lower court said the State is not providing a thorough and uniform public education system, that Colorado’s public school funding system is “irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded” and violates the State Constitution. CEA Dallman recently spoke to Colorado Public Radio listeners about the lawsuit.

Kids, not cuts!

December 7, 2012

All eyes are on Congress and the important work our federal lawmakers must do before they go home for the holidays. Right now you can add your voice to the millions of calls Association members are making to their members of Congress by calling Colorado’s U.S. Senators:  Mark Udall and Michael Bennett.

Right now – before December 13 –  we are asking CEA members and Friends of Public Eduation to call Sens. Udall and Bennett to ask for their help – and to tell them how the across-the-board cuts would affect Colorado students and schools. You can call our Senators from this web site where you will find a phone number and message. Enter your zip code to be connected to Senator Udall or Senator Bennett where you can leave a brief personal message.

Automatic, across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect on January 2 unless Congress finds a solution. Our Association believes lawmakers should take a balanced approach to this problem, ensuring that funding for national education priorities is not cut (Title I, IDEA, School Improvement, and Rural Education grants).

In Colorado, the across-the-board cuts would result in far fewer federal dollars for what we know are essential public school programs for our students. Our schools and students have already been hit with four years of cuts by the Legislature (already $1 billion), and we know how budget cuts impact real students, real classrooms, and real educators.

Want to learn more about the pending across-the-board cuts to public schools?

Watch a short video by CEA President Kerrie Dallman who went to Washington, DC to lobby Colorado’s Congressional Delegation. National media interviewed Kerrie. She told the Colorado across-the-board cuts story, saying we’d not only get fewer dollars for programs, but the cuts would certainly mean a loss of educator jobs in Colorado.

Take the Kids, Not Cuts Pledge and help Congress make the right choice for our students. Someone needs to stand up for students. That’s YOU and all Association members. US!

Find out about the specific cuts to Colorado students and their public schools that will happen unless we get Congress to change its plan.

Share your story about how federal budget cuts would affect your students.

Election victories will lead to positive changes for many P-12 students

November 7, 2012

School districts put 38 ballot issues before Colorado voters yesterday and, based on preliminary results, just three lost in bids for a combined total of more than a billion dollars in bond issues and property tax increases. Unheard of? Yes. Local school district funding elections usually don’t win this big.

Voters clearly saw the fix districts are in after consecutive years of funding cuts. During the last four years, the state has cut aid to K-12 education by more than a billion dollars. Districts have been forced to cut budgets, draw down their reserves, and increase class sizes. This school year districts are getting the same amount of state school funding as in 2011-12 with only a slight increase for student enrollment increases. All this is on top of a poorly-funded education system that must be changed if we are ever to have long term, sustainable K-12 funding. But we digress…

Here’s what some of the winning districts will be able to do with the additional revenue the voters okayed yesterday:

BOND ISSUES (no tax increase)
Genoa-Hugo, a consolidated district south of I-70 east of Denver, will build a new elementary and high school, connecting the two new additions to the existing middle school. Greeley (Weld County 6) will rebuild a middle school in Evans. Cortez in SW Colorado will replace a high school. Otis in Northeast Colorado will replace a P-12 school. Salida will replace an elementary school. Dolores School District in the southwest part of Colorado will beef up its safety and security systems in school.

Some districts will get matching funds from the State under the BEST program (Building Excellent Schools Today).

MILL LEVY OVERRIDES (property tax increase)
Del Norte in the San Luis Valley will buy books and computers. Denver will expand music, PE, and classes in the arts, as well as increase full-day preschool and kindergarten programs. Plateau Valley on the Western Slope will renovate or replace worn-out heating and cooling equipment and purchase new textbooks. St. Vrain Valley in Longmont will maintain reasonable class sizes and expand early childhood programs. Jefferson County, the state’s largest district, will stave off $43 million in cuts. Weld County RE-1, south of Greeley, will restore remedial reading, counselors, and other programs lost to recent budget cuts.

The Colorado School Finance Project (CSFP), a CEA partner organization, has a comprehensive list of the school funding elections on its web site. On this list, you’ll see that school districts plan to use the money the voters approved to “keep going” – to save programs, keep class sizes low, provide preventive maintenance, and help offset state budget cuts.

Thank you to Colorado voters for investing in our public schools.


Governor to Legislature: Hold on a second, you’re coming back next week

May 10, 2012

Lawmakers stayed up until midnight last night, wrapping up their 120-day session without wrapping up everything they had been working on.

Some bills that were waiting for second readings got caught in legislative maneuvering over a bill to make civil unions legal in Colorado, while time ran out on the process. Legislators were left to figure out how to amend the best among those bills onto others.

HB 1345, the School Finance Act, was amended twice with language from the school discipline bill and the basic skills testing bill.

The money in JN 1345 stayed the same as it was when the bill was nearly finalized  in the Senate last week. Added to the bill was language from SB 46, the school discipline bill, and SB 47, the basic skills bill. The additions:

  • The law will now include amended statutory grounds for suspending or expelling a student by increasing administration and school board discretion, making expulsion mandatory only if a student brings or possesses a firearm at school. The law requires student conduct and discipline codes to include criteria that distinguish between minor code violations and behavior that will result in a referral to law enforcement officials. It also requires school boards to have specific policies for the prevention of sexual assault in schools.
  • The addition of language from SB 47 provides $1 million from the State Education Fund for districts to administer a basic skills test for students in grades 9-12. Assessment results are to be included in students’ ICAPs and used to guide their coursework in order to avoid the need for remedial classes when students go to college.

Governor Hickenlooper called a special session to begin May 14 to address a number of issues that died on the calendar last night when the House held up the civil unions bill – but there are no public education bills among those the Legislature will review in the special session.

Legislature starts work on state budget

April 4, 2012

The state budget bill, called the Long Bill, was introduced in the House of Representatives today. HB 1335 sets the base level of K-12 funding and proposes state funding for higher education. The House is expected to work on the budget bill until April 11 or 12. Then the bill will go to the Senate.

HB 1335 establishes the state funding as required by Amendment 23. Modest increases in state revenues have made it possible to give K-12 $57 million for 2012-13. This amount will simply maintain the average per-student spending at the same level as it is now.

This year’s base funding is $5,634.77 per student. Under the school funding proposal for 2012-13, the base funding would increase to $5,843.26, up about $200 from this year. Student enrollment is expected to increase next year by about 9,000 K-12 students (1.1%), and the growth in at-risk students is expected to be about 3,300 students (1.1%). This means districts will see student enrollment growth, as well as an increase in the number of students who need the most help in school — but they will not get any more money from the state for these increased needs.

This year’s Long Bill proposes $512 million for public colleges and universities, plus $100 million for financial aid.

While we are thrilled to see that Colorado is recovering from the recession and tax revenues are climbing, the bottom line is that in order for all students to succeed, we must make a commitment to successful schools.

Coloradans can do this by investing in the priorities that advance student learning: a safe, supportive learning environment; a well rounded education; greater emphasis on reading, math, science, and technology that will prepare students for the worldwide economy; more early childhood learning opportunities in preschool and full-day kindergarten; and smaller class sizes, especially in the early elementary grades.

From our Association’s perspective, education is the best investment we can make. Education leads to higher wages and increased employment stability for individuals, higher property values, and towns and cities that are attractive to employers. It results in a skilled workforce that will compete in a global economy.

 Today’s students will be tomorrow’s citizens and leaders and they will deeply impact the quality of life in our communities. We owe it to them to invest in their future.

Calling K-3 teachers: Update on HB 1238

March 27, 2012

The House passed HB 1238 last week after approval from its Education and Appropriations Committees. The final House vote was 51-12. The bill has been extensively amended, though not with any additional dollars, and it’s worth a read over a couple of cups of coffee, especially for K-3 teachers.

The sponsors are now Reps. Massey and Hamner (original sponsors) plus Reps. Casso, Fields, Gerou, Lee, Murray, Pace, Pabon, Priola, Sonnenberg, and Swerdfeger; and Sens. Johnston and Spence (original sponsors) plus Sens. Bacon, Giron, Jahn, and Newell. As you can see, the bill has bipartisan sponsors.

When you read the bill, you’ll see a couple of nice additions to the legislative declaration, which reflects the Legislature’s intent behind the bill, but which is not part of the law.

 The House amended the definition of a “reading deficiency” to clarify specific areas of reading competency: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency including oral skills, and reading comprehension.

Despite what you may have read in news accounts, there is no mandatory retention in HB 1238. Instead, the bill requires the teacher to notify parents of a student with a diagnosed “significant reading deficiency” that state law recommends the student advance to the next grade level only if the student, despite his reading problems, is likely to maintain academic progress in the next grade level. Then the teacher, parents, other school staff members such as a reading interventionist or literacy coach, perhaps the principal, meet to make the decision about retention. If the student is completing third grade, the school’s decision goes to the superintendent who has the authority, under the current bill, to make the final decision.

To get a sense for where the Colorado business community is on HB 1238, read this column by Tim Taylor, president of Colorado Succeeds, and Kelly Brough, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

A teacher responded to the Taylor-Brough column on EdNews Colorado by saying, “Additional reading programs can have impact but it is highly-qualified teachers and reading interventionists who can make the difference. Rather than regressing to decades old practices, like retention, there seems to be more creative, collaborative, engaging solutions to these problems especially for the poor communities which are affected greatly by the lack of resources, voice and access. Even after only 6 years of teaching, I have seen reading interventionists completely cut from my district. Summer school has been cut. Our yearly schedule does not support low-income kids to sustain, develop and flourish in their reading skills throughout the summer. Kindergarten is not mandatory. Pre-school is available to some. Though the authors of this article claim that the bill is no silver-bullet, I even would go further to say that this complicated issue needs a smarter approach.

“A literacy bill sounds great to everyone. But who will it really affect in the end? Is this all about the bottom line of business? That is a piece of the puzzle, but before we go ahead and shame families through retention and throw another policy at school districts, let’s take some time to find the root causes and ramifications. I would love for the authors of this bill to visit my classroom and try to visualize what this legislation would do. Is there funding for rigorous interventions?”

We’d like to hear from K-3 teachers, or any other teachers, about HB 1238. Please comment on this post or send us an email.