From the Statehouse

Politics makes changing bedfellows

The Colorado Education Association may be the 800-pound education group in Colorado politics, but that doesn’t mean other interest groups aren’t trying to weigh in on 2010 legislative races.

Who’s supporting whom?

Click here to see charts listing education group endorsements in House and Senate races for 2010.

To get a sense for who’s supporting whom, Education News Colorado reviewed legislative candidate contributions by the CEA-affiliated Public Education Committee and the AFT Colorado Federation of Teachers, School, Health and Public Employees Small Donor Committee, along with endorsements or contributions by three other groups.

Those are the Colorado Association of School Executives, a federation of school administrator groups, which makes endorsements; the Democrats for Education Reform Small Donor Committee, which makes a limited number of contributions; and Stand for Children, which makes endorsements and has a small donor committee.

Four other education groups that are active in legislative lobbying and in some ballot measure campaigns do not endorse candidates. They are the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado PTA, the Colorado League of Charter Schools and Great Education Colorado.

The common thread among the five groups reviewed is that they overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates. Of the more than 130 contributions or endorsements by the five groups, 90 percent went to Democrats. Only CASE, with eight of 32 candidates, and Stand for Children, wih five of 18, endorsed Republicans. Stand also endorsed the legislature’s only independent, former Democratic Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison.

Stacks of cashThe five groups cover a majority of the legislative races on the ballot – 47 of 65 House contests and 16 of 19 Senate races. Because senators serve four-year terms, an additional 16 Senate seats aren’t up for election this year this year.

But individual group contributions and endorsements don’t necessarily follow simple patterns. Teachers unions like CEA and AFT-Colorado don’t give money just based on how candidates stand on specific bills or issues; they also have a longstanding pattern of of seeking to elect Democratic majorities.

A group like CASE shares views with the unions on some issues but also has concerns about things like local control of schools, which affect its endorsements.

Some contributions and endorsements are as simple as a “courtesy” to influential lawmakers who are in the legislative leadership. All groups use voting records, questionnaire responses and other tools to help determine endorsements and contributions.

Those varying motivations make for a shifting pattern of endorsements and contributions, the “changing bedfellows” phenomenon that makes interest groups unite behind one candidate and puts them on opposite sides in another race.

Here’s a look at some of the patterns in this year’s endorsements and contributions. See the charts at the bottom of this article for a full list of who’s backing whom.

Bandwagon races

John Morse
Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs

The only race where all five groups are backing the same candidate is in Colorado Springs’ Senate District 11, where Democratic Majority Leader John Morse is battling Republican former Air Force officer Owen Hill. This is a true swing district, with voter registration evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliateds.

Republicans see unseating Morse as a step toward Senate control, or at least slimming the Democrats’ majority. A total of nearly $200,000 has been raised by the two candidates.

Morse initially voted against Senate Bill 10-191, the teacher effectiveness law, but supported it on final consideration. While not a leading voice on K-12 issues, Morse was the sponsor of Senate Bill 10-003, the higher education tuition flexibility law.

In Senate District 20, which stretches from Golden on the west to Edgewater on the east, four of the five groups – all but CASE – have endorsed Democratic former state Rep. Cheri Jahn, who faces Republican small businessman John Odom. The district has more than 21,000 registered Democrats, nearly 18,000 Republicans and more than 19,000 unaffiliateds. More than $100,000 has been raised in this race, a bit over $90,000 by Jahn, and Odom has raised more than $60,000 in loans.

Differences of opinion

There are five races where at least some of the education groups are on different sides of the fence.

Carole Partin
Carole Partin

The House District 47 seat in Pueblo County is open because of term limits, and recently retired Pueblo Education Association President Carole Partin is trying to hold it for the Democrats.

She’s raised nearly $67,000, including contributions of $7,500 from CEA and an affiliate and $500 from AFT-Colorado. Construction executive Keith Swerdfeger has raised more than $81,000 and has been endorsed by Stand for Children. Democrats have a slight registration edge over Republicans, with a substantial number of unaffiliateds.

In the Four Corners region, current state Rep. Ellen Roberts, a Durango lawyer, is challenging appointed Senate District 6 incumbent Bruce Whitehead of Hesperus, a water engineer. This is another seat that Republicans hope to turn. The GOP has a modest registration edge. Both AFT and CEA have contributed to Whitehead and CASE has endorsed him, while Stand for Children has endorsed Roberts. Whitehead voted against SB 10-191; Roberts for it.

Democratic retired teacher Laura Huerta is challenging Republican incumbent Kevin Priola, a member of the House Education Committee, in Adams County’s House District 30. Democrats have a modest voter registration edge, but Priola is far ahead in fund raising. Both unions have contributed to Huerta, while CASE and Stand for Children have endorsed Priola, who voted for Senate Bill 10-191.

In House District 3, which includes south Denver and part of Arapahoe County, the CEA has contributed to appointed incumbent Democrat Daniel Kagan, who voted against SB 10-191. CASE has endorsed him, while Stand has endorsed Republican Christine Mastin, Democrats have the registration edge.

In Lakewood’s House District 22, Democratic lawyer Christine Radeff is challenging Republican incumbent Ken Summers, also an education committee member and SB 10-191 supporter. The CEA has contributed to Radeff, while CASE has endorsed Summers.

Reformers agree with unions

Pete Lee
Pete Lee

In addition to the Morse and Jahn races, Stand for Children and the two unions also are supporting Democratic lawyer Pete Lee in House District 18. He’s facing Republican small business owner Karen Cullen for the seat being vacated by House Education Committee Chair Mike Merrifield. The district is one of the few El Paso County districts where Democrats have a slight registration edge on Republicans.

And the three groups all back Democratic crime-victim advocate Rhonda Fields in Aurora’s House District 42, held by Democratic Rep. Karen Middleton until she resigned. The GOP hopeful is civic activist Sally Mounier in a district dominated by Democrats and unaffiliateds.

Stand for Children and AFT agree on six other candidates, Democratic House incumbents Jeanne Labuda in Denver District 1, Mark Ferrandino in Denver District 2, Beth McCann in Denver District 8, Joe Rice in Littleton District 38 and Christine Scanlan in District 56 in the central mountains. All supported Senate Bill 10-191 and Scanlan was a prime sponsor. Both organizations also support Democratic newcomer Angela Williams in northeast Denver’s House District 7. AFT-Colorado supported SB 10-191.

Endorsed only by Stand

  • Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, District 45, who is unopposed.
  • Rep. Kathleen Curry, I-Gunnison, District 61, who is running as a write-in candidate.
  • Democratic Sens. Chris Romer and Mike Johnston, who have adjoining, safely Democratic districts, 32 and 33, in east Denver. Johnston was the author of SB 10-191.

Unions agree with each other

Contribution details

The CEA’s small-donor committee has given to 41 candidates, while the AFT group has contributed to 42. All are Democrats. Thirty-one candidates have received money from both. CEA has a much larger statewide membership and fund-raising ability, and it’s given $4,250 to some candidates. AFT’s largest contribution has been $1,000 in a few races.

CASE’s endorsements coincide with CEA and/or AFT contributions in 20 races.

Reformers fall short in primaries

Both Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform contributed to Mark Thrum in the House District 5 Democratic primary. Stand for Children gave $4,000, and DFER gave $1,000. Thrum lost to former United Food and Commercial Workers union official Crisanta Duran, who’s received contributions from CEA and AFT.

DFER also gave $500 to Democratic primary candidate Jake Williams in House District 12. He lost to Matt Jones, who’s received money from the two unions.

The only DFER general election contributions are to Morse and Jahn.

The Stand for Children small donor committee hasn’t yet made any general election contributions, but it reported $28,029 on hand as of the most recent reporting deadline, which was Sept. 20. DFER had $1,770 on hand as of that deadline. The next set of contribution and spending reports are due to the secretary of state on Oct. 4.

Support by House, Senate district

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Information about endorsements and contributions was compiled from campaign spending reports filed with the secretary of state and from information provided by some of the groups. Search financial reports on the state website.

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rules and regs

New York adds some flexibility to its free college scholarship rules. Will it be enough for more students to benefit?

PHOTO: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his 2017 regional State of the State address at the University at Albany.

New York is offering more wiggle room in a controversial “Excelsior” scholarship requirement that students stay in-state after graduating, according to new regulations released Thursday afternoon.

Members of the military, for example, will be excused from the rule, as will those who can prove an “extreme hardship.”

Overall, however, the plan’s rules remain strict. Students are required to enroll full-time and to finish their degrees on time to be eligible for the scholarship — significantly limiting the number who will ultimately qualify.

“It’s a high bar for a low-income student,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a leading expert on college affordability and a professor at Temple University. “It’s going to be the main reason why students lose the scholarship.”

The scholarship covers free college tuition at any state college or university for students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year. But it comes with a major catch: Students who receive Excelsior funding must live and work in New York state for the same number of years after graduation as they receive the scholarship. If they fail to do so, their scholarships will be converted to loans, which the new regulations specify have 10-year terms and are interest-free.

The new regulations allow for some flexibility:

  • The loan can now be prorated. So if a student benefits from Excelsior for four years but moves out of state two years after graduation, the student would only owe two years of payments.
  • Those who lose the scholarship but remain in a state school, or complete a residency in-state, will have that time count toward paying off their award.
  • Members of the military get a reprieve: They will be counted as living and working in-state, regardless of where the person is stationed or deployed.
  • In cases of “extreme hardship,” students can apply for a waiver of the residency and work requirements. The regulations cite “disability” and “labor market conditions” as some examples of a hardship. A state spokeswoman said other situations that “may require that a student work to help meet the financial needs of their family” would qualify as a hardship, such as a death or the loss of a job by a parent.
  • Students who leave the state for graduate school or a residency can defer repaying their award. They would have to return to New York afterwards to avoid having the scholarship convert to a loan.

Some of law’s other requirements were also softened. The law requires students to enroll full-time and take average of 30 credits a year — even though many SUNY and CUNY students do not graduate on time. The new regulations would allow students to apply credits earned in high school toward the 30-credit completion requirement, and stipulates that students who are disabled do not have to enroll full-time to qualify.

language proficiency

Educators working on creating more bilingual students worry new state requirements aren’t high enough

A second grade class at Bryant Webster K-8 school in Denver (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Colorado educators who led the way in developing high school diploma endorsements recognizing bilingual students worry that new legislation establishing statewide standards for such “seals of biliteracy” sets the bar too low.

Two years ago, Denver Public Schools, Eagle County Schools and the Adams County School District 14 started offering the seal of biliteracy to their students. The three districts worked together to find a common way to assess whether students are fluent in English and another language, and recognize that on high school diplomas. Advocates say the seal is supposed to indicate to colleges and employers that students are truly bilingual.

A bill passed by state legislators this year that will go into effect in August sets a path for districts that want to follow that lead by outlining the minimum that students must do to prove they are fluent in English and in another language.

According to the new law, students must meet a 3.0 grade point average in their English classes and also earn a proficient score on the 11th grade state test, or on Advanced Placement or IB tests. For showing proficiency in the second language, students can either earn proficient scores on nationally recognized tests — or meet a 3.0 grade point average after four years of language classes.

Although educators say the law sends a message of support for bilingual education, that last criteria is one part of what has some concerned.

“It allows for proficiency in a world language to be established solely by completing four years of high school language classes,” said Jorge Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “Language classes in one school district may have a different degree of rigor than they do in another.”

The second language criteria should be comparable to the English criteria, several educators said. In the requirements set by Denver, Eagle County and Adams 14, students must at a minimum demonstrate language proficiency through a test score, or in some cases with a portfolio review and interview if a test is not available.

The three districts also catered their requirements based on what each community said was important. In Adams 14 and in Eagle schools, students must perform community service using their language skills. Students also have to do an interview in both languages with a community panel.

“Our school district team developed the community service criteria because we wanted our kids to have authentic practice in their languages,” said Jessica Martinez, director of multilingual education for Eagle County Schools. “We also wanted students to be a bridge to another community than their own. For example, one group of students created academic tutoring services for their peers who don’t yet speak a lot of English. Another student started tutoring her mom and her parents’ friends so they could get their GED.”

The state law doesn’t require students to do community service. But it does allow school districts to go above the state’s requirements when setting up their biliteracy programs.

“Thoughtful school districts can absolutely address these concerns,” Garcia said.

Several school districts in the state are looking to start their own programs. In March, the school board for the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs voted to start offering the seal. Summit School District also began offering the seal this year.

Leslie Davison, the dual language coordinator for Summit, said that although her program will change in the next year as she forms more clear requirements around some new tests, she will continue to have higher requirements than the state has set.

This year her students had prove proficiency in their second language by taking a test in that language. They also had to demonstrate English proficiency through the ACT. In addition, students did oral presentations to the community in both languages.

“Their expectations aren’t as high as mine are,” Davison said. “We’ll probably stay with our higher-level proficiencies. I do have some work to do in terms of how that’s going to look for next year, but I certainly don’t want to just use seat time.”

Meanwhile, the districts that started the seal are increasing their commitment to biliteracy so as many students as possible can be eligible to earn seals in the future.

The Adams 14 school district in Commerce City is using Literacy Squared, a framework written by local researchers for teaching students to read English by strengthening literacy in the native language. The program is being rolled up year by year and will serve students in 34 classrooms from preschool through fourth grade in the fall.

In Eagle County, Martinez said parents have shown such a strong demand for biliteracy that most elementary schools are now dual language schools providing instruction to all students in English for half of the school day and in Spanish for the other half.

Both districts are also increasing the offerings of language classes in middle and high school. The options are important for students who are native English speakers so they too can become bilingual and access the seal. For students whose primary language is not English, the classes can help ensure they don’t lose their primary language as they learn English.

Of Eagle’s 25 students who graduated with a seal of biliteracy this year, 17 were native Spanish speakers and eight were native English speakers.

“We want all kids to see their bilingualism is an asset,” Martinez said. “It’s huge for them.”