U.S. Representative Jared Polis

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Loveland Reporter-Herald: Polis discusses innovation, funding with TSD

U.S. House Rep. Jared Polis met with Thompson School District staff and Board of Education members Thursday

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Washington, April 13, 2017 | comments

Congressman Jared Polis didn't hide his excitement Thursday when he heard about the Thompson School District's new graduation guidelines at a meeting with district staff and the Board of Education.

There are three types of diplomas students can receive to graduate, one of which requires concurrent enrollment of a course to receive college credit.

The goal, according to Chief Academic Officer Margaret Crespo, is for every student to at least be exposed to advanced-level academics.

"You guys have that?" Polis, D-Colo., asked, adding his congratulations. "That's my favorite thing to talk about."

Polis said after the meeting that he's excited about the district implementing such a guideline.

"It's a very innovative way to show kids that they can master community college or college-level courses while they're in high school," he said. "And what we have seen nationally from that kind of participation is they're more likely to be able to succeed in college. So that's very exciting."

Polis reintroduced bipartisan legislation last month to help fund grants for high school students to earn college credit and in turn, make college more affordable and accessible through the Making Education Affordable and Accessible Act.

The U.S. representative met with officials from the Thompson School District while on a tour of the Front Range to discuss the good and the bad in his views on funding and priorities for education at the federal level.

He commended the district officials for their dual enrollment program as well as vocational pathways and entrepreneurial programs for students.

Polis also acknowledged many of the school district officials' frustrations, saying there is not a lot of good news for education at this time federally, with worries about funding cuts and a shift in priorities from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

But he said the largest worry is from Congress' actions, not DeVos, who has limited authority.

For Superintendent Stan Scheer, the state's funding for schools is unacceptable and "disgusting."

Those cuts and the negative factor — the gap in the funding required to be paid for K-12 education from Amendment 23 — are the reason the school district has run-down buildings, lowest staff salaries in the Front Range and increased costs in deferred maintenance, according to Scheer.

"It's like death by a thousand cuts," he said, adding that there's a "huge problem with tax payer equity."

"Shame on the state of Colorado when it comes to the quality of education being tied to a zip code. And that's what we have here," he said.

Scheer also discussed the misinformation in the community about the school district and how much money it receives, referencing the report compiled on reasons a mill levy increase and bond issue failed at the ballot last November.

He and board member Pam Howard also stressed Loveland's special taxing districts make voters less likely to pass taxes for the school district (some of which are just for maintenance) because their tax bills are already so high.

Howard said the Loveland City Council can "wave their magic wand" and approve new metropolitan taxing districts — developers levy additional taxes on a particular area for improvements — but it ends up affecting the school district.

"All these cuts, how long can it really last without it affecting the students?" Howard asked.

Polis said most of these issues are statewide discussions, which will have to include what districts "can sell the voters on."

The group also discussed issues of teacher shortages in Loveland and nationally; applying for innovation status for a couple of schools in the district from the state to receive waivers; funding going toward voucher grants rather than other pots of federal education money; possibility of private insurers to complement Medicaid and how it affects schools; and lack of student participation in testing because of privacy concerns (which leads to less data collection for the district); among others.

Saja Hindi: 970-699-5404, hindis@reporter-herald.comtwitter.com/BySajaHindi.

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