Politics & Policy

Reform group makes endorsements

Election 2012 LogoDemocrats for Education Reform has issued its 2012 legislative endorsements, backing three Senate candidates and seven House contenders, all of them Democrats.

All of the candidates endorsed by DFER’s Colorado chapter also have received contributions from political committees related to teachers’ unions.

There’s also considerable overlap between the candidates endorsed by DFER and those supported by Stand for Children, the other education reform interest group that endorses in legislative races. Stand endorsed six Democrats and five Republicans.

In one contest, House District 28 in Lakewood, the two reform groups are on opposite sides of the fence. DFER is backing Democratic community organizer Brittany Pettersen while Stand supports Republican businesswoman Amy Attwood. The race is one of several battleground contests in Jefferson County.

Here are the other candidates endorsed by DFER:

House

District 18 (Colorado Springs) – Rep. Pete Lee. Also endorsed by Stand, Lee is in a tight race with Republican businesswoman Jennifer George.

District 32 (Adams County) – Dominick Moreno. The mayor pro tem of Commerce City, Moreno faces Republican Paul Reimer, a counselor.

District 42 (Aurora) – Rep. Rhonda Fields. Her name was on several education bills in 2012, and she’s considering possible dropout and truancy legislation for 2013. She faces Republican Mike Donald, a businessman.

District 47 (Pueblo and Otero counties) – Chuck Rodosovich. A former state agency executive, Rodosovich helped found a Pueblo charter school and faces Republican Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff in a closely watched race.

District 50 (Greeley) – Rep. Dave Young. The former teacher faces Republican insurance agent Skip Carlson. Stand endorsed Young.

District 61 (Central mountains) – Rep. Millie Hamner. The former superintendent of the Summit County district, Hamner has emerged as a key figure on major education bills. She’s in a three-way race, facing Republican Debra Irvine and independent Kathleen Curry, who formerly served in the House as a Democrat. Stand also has endorsed Hamner.

Senate

District 26 (Arapahoe County) – Sen. Linda Newell. This is considered one of the closest Senate races in the state. Newell faces Republican businessman David Kerber. She was one of the prime sponsors of Senate Bill 12-046, the law that rolls back most zero-tolerance school discipline policies.

District 25 (Adams County) – Sen. Mary Hodge. As a member of the Joint Budget Committee, Hodge is deeply involved with K-12 and higher education funding. Her GOP opponent is retired federal ICE agent John Sampson.

District 35 (San Luis Valley) – Crestina Martinez. A Costilla County commissioner, she faces GOP community activist Larry Crowder. This is another close race.

All three Senate candidates also were endorsed by Stand.

DFER also endorsed Democratic State Board of Education member Angelika Schroeder, who’s running in the 2nd District.

The DFER Advisory Committee, which issued the endorsements, includes such well-known figures as Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, State Board of Education member Elaine Gantz Berman and state Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.

new plan

Lawmakers want to allow appeals before low-rated private schools lose vouchers

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, authored HB 1384, in which voucher language was added late last week.

Indiana House lawmakers signaled support today for a plan to loosen restrictions for private schools accepting state voucher dollars.

Two proposal were amended into the existing House Bill 1384, which is mostly aimed at clarifying how high school graduation rate is calculated. One would allow private schools to appeal to the Indiana State Board of Education to keep receiving vouchers even if they are repeatedly graded an F. The other would allow new “freeway” private schools the chance to begin receiving vouchers more quickly.

Indiana, already a state with one of the most robust taxpayer-funded voucher programs in the country, has made small steps toward broadening the program since the original voucher law passed in 2011 — and today’s amendments could represent two more if they become law. Vouchers shift state money from public schools to pay private school tuition for poor and middle class children.

Under current state law, private schools cannot accept new voucher students for one year after the school is graded a D or F for two straight years. If a school reaches a third year with low grades, it can’t accept new voucher students until it raises its grade to a C or higher for two consecutive years.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s author, said private schools should have the right to appeal those consequences to the state board.

Right now, he said, they “have no redress.”  But public schools, he said, can appeal to the state board.

Behning said the innovation schools and transformation zones in Indianapolis Public Schools were a “perfect example” for why schools need an appeal process because schools that otherwise would face state takeover or other sanctions can instead get a reprieve to start over with a new management approach.

In the case of troubled private schools receiving vouchers, Behning said, there should be an equal opportunity for the state board to allow them time to improve.

”There are tools already available for traditional public schools and for charters that are not available for vouchers,” he said.

But Democrats on the House Education Committee opposed both proposals, arguing they provided more leeway to private schools than traditional public schools have.

“Vouchers are supposed to be the answer, the cure-all, the panacea for what’s going on in traditional schools,” said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary. “If you gave an amendment that said this would be possible for both of them, leveling the playing field, then I would support it.”

The second measure would allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a private school accredited and allow it to immediately begin receiving vouchers once it has entered into a contract to become a “freeway school” — a type of state accreditation that has few regulations and requirements compared to full accreditation.Typically, it might take a year or so to become officially accredited.

Indiana’s voucher program is projected to grow over the next two years to more than 38,000 students, at an anticipated cost — according to a House budget draft — of about $160 million in 2019. Currently in Indiana, there are 316 private schools that can accept vouchers.

The voucher amendments passed along party lines last week, and the entire bill passed out of committee today, 8-4. It next heads to the full House for a vote, likely later this week.

Betsy DeVos

‘Receive mode’? The D.C. school DeVos visited responded to her criticism with a withering tweetstorm

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Howard University.

Washington D.C.’s Jefferson Middle School Academy is standing up for its teachers after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said they are “waiting to be told what they have to do.”

DeVos made the comments in one of her first interviews since being confirmed last week. She said teachers at the school — the first one she visited on the job — were “sincere” but seemed to be in “receive mode,” which she said “is not going to bring success to an individual child.”

The school took to Twitter late Friday to make its case. In 11 messages, the school described several teachers who creating new programs and tailoring their teaching to meet students’ considerable needs.

“JA teachers are not in a ‘receive mode,'” read the final message. “Unless you mean we ‘receive’ students at a 2nd grade level and move them to an 8th grade level.”

The former and current D.C. schools chiefs have also weighed in. Chancellor Antwan Wilson, who accompanied DeVos on her school visit, issued a statement praising the teaching at Jefferson Academy. And his predecessor, Kaya Henderson, tweeted her withering take on DeVos’s comments:

Here’s the full tweetstorm from Jefferson Academy, which D.C. Public Schools considered a “rising school” because of its good -but-not-great test scores.