From the Statehouse

Licensing bill on ice for 2013

Updated – Sen. Mike Johnston said Wednesday he will not introduce a teacher licensing bill this year, saying there’s not enough time left to consider such a complex topic during the 2013 session, which must adjourn by May 8.

Colorado CapitolTeacher licensing reform had been discussed as a top 2013 issue ever since a report presented to the State Board of Education last September urged significant changes in the system, including tying license renewals to teacher evaluations. (See EdNews story about the report here and the “Making Licensure Matter” text here.)

Johnston promised to introduce such a bill and has been meeting with educators and others over the winter and spring to discuss the issue. But the Denver Democrat also has had to spend lots of time on the undocumented students tuition bill (Senate Bill 13-33) and the school finance reform bill (Senate Bill 13-213). That latter measure is still pending.

As recently as last Friday Johnston said he still hoped to introduce a licensing bill this week. Some education interest groups were privately urging him not to do that, citing the waning amount of time left in the session.

Johnston told EdNews Wednesday that he’s now decided there isn’t enough time, especially since SB 13-213 remains unresolved. That bill has passed the Senate but has yet to be considered by the full House. (See latest story on that issue.)

Instead, Johnston said, he plans to convene a series of meetings and studies over the summer and fall to develop a detailed teacher licensing proposal for the 2014 session.

Some of the ideas that Johnston had been considering included elimination of most current state regulations for teacher prep programs, making it possible for people who have college degrees and who can pass a content knowledge test to obtain “transitional” teaching licenses, creation of master licenses for highly effective educators and creation of a new appointed board to advise the Department of Education on licensing. The bill also was expected to cover principal licensing and to tie license renewal to evaluations.

With licensing off the legislative table, finance reform is the only major education issue before the 2013 session. Several other lower profile education bills also remain in play.

Funding bill for 2013-14 advances

Education bills are on the move in both houses as lawmakers feel the pressure of the looming May 8 adjournment deadline.

The Senate Appropriation Committee Tuesday voted 5-2 to advance Senate Bill 13-260, the 2013-14 funding bill for K-12 schools. (Wags are calling it “classic” school finance to distinguish it from Senate Bill 13-213, the full overhaul of the finance system now pending in the House.)

Senate floor debate on the measure is expected Friday.

SB 13-260 contains some $5.5 billion in total program funding, the combination of state and local money used to pay basic school operating costs. That’s an increase of about $200 million over this year’s level. The bill would reduce the state’s estimated $1 billion shortfall in school funding (referred to as the “negative factor”) by $35 million.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, warned the committee that the bill takes a bit more money – about $11 million – out of the State Education Fund than he would have liked. Steadman is a prime sponsor of the bill and chair of the Joint Budget Committee. “But after long discussions,” he said, “We decided to forge ahead.”

Get more information on the bill in this legislative staff summary and in this EdNews story.

Evaluation system tweak gets committee nod

The House Education Committee on Monday approved a significantly amended version of House Bill 13-1257, which affects teacher evaluation systems developed by individual school districts.

As originally introduced, the bill basically would have given teachers unions veto power over evaluation systems developed by districts. The measure was suggested by the American Federation of Teachers Colorado, which represents teachers in the Douglas County Schools, where the union and the school board have been feuding.

Both mainline and education reform groups opposed that version, and negotiations produced a compromise that gives the Department of Education greater oversight over local plans. The state’s landmark evaluation law, Senate Bill 10-191, and subsequent regulations set statewide standards for evaluation but allow for some local variations.

ELL update plan moves to Senate

The House on Monday gave 60-2 final approval to House Bill 13-1211, which would extend the eligibility of students for English language learner programs and provide additional funding to districts to improve such programs. Learn more about the bill in this legislative staff summary.

Long days ahead

Facing time pressure with less than a month left to go, the Senate scheduled late-afternoon floor sessions Tuesday through Thursday and plans to work Friday “as long as necessary to clear the day’s calendar,” in the words of a note atop Tuesday’s calendar.

Despite that, the Senate made only modest progress – at least on education bills – during an evening session Tuesday.

In the House, Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, on Tuesday warned members to expect long floor sessions Wednesday through Friday “and possibly into Saturday if we need to.”

What’s the cause? Like college students, lawmakers are notorious for leaving things to the last minute. And this year Republicans are blaming Democrats for introducing a lot of late bills. Some Democrats grumble that Republicans are wasting time with long floor speeches opposing bills they know are going to pass anyway. There’s truth to both complaints.

CSI New York

Will you close my school? Transfer school staff, parents and students worry about the new federal education law

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
A class at Brooklyn Frontiers High School

Jamie Hawkins marched to the front of a Brooklyn auditorium Tuesday night holding two pieces of paper.

One had information from her son’s Individualized Education Program, which showed that when he entered high school, he read at a second-grade level and did math at a sixth-grade level. The other, she said proudly, proved he graduated from high school.

The reason her son finished school is he attended Brooklyn Frontiers High School, she said, one of several schools in New York City designed specifically for students who have fallen behind.

“He got the skills that he needed,” she explained after her testimony. When asked if he would have graduated without Brooklyn Frontiers she said, “No. Absolutely not.”

Students, teachers and parents from the city’s transfer high schools — which serve students who are over-age and under-credited — crowded into the Prospect Heights Educational Campus on Tuesday for a hearing on the Every Student Succeeds Act, which they fear will treat their schools unfairly.

These schools present a conundrum for state officials. The new law requires that schools with graduation rates under 67 percent are targeted for improvement. But for transfer schools, many people testified at the hearing, that is often an unrealistic standard.

“The language of this legislation, the ESSA legislation, puts our schools in grave danger,” said Rachel Forsyth, director of partnership schools at Good Shepherd Services, a nonprofit that works in multiple transfer schools.

So what will happen to transfer schools under New York’s draft ESSA plan? Are they really in danger? Here’s what we found out:

What does the plan currently say?

The state’s draft plan does not separate the way it evaluates transfer schools from how it judges traditional high schools — but it does gives all high schools some wiggle room.

Instead of using on-time (four-year) graduation rates, the state allows six-year graduation rates in its draft plan. That might not be enough for transfer schools, though. The average six-year graduation rate for transfer schools is 46.7 percent.

If a school does not meet a six-year graduation rate of 67 percent, it will be identified as a school that needs improvement.

Can the state make an exception for transfer schools under the law?

The state says all high schools have to reach a 67 percent graduation rate. Based on information the state’s education department has received from the U.S. Department of Education, there is no exemption for transfer high schools, state officials said.

But advocates say the law offers more leeway. Under the regulations approved by former U.S. Education Secretary John King, schools that serve special populations — such as alternative schools — were permitted to use different metrics than traditional high schools.

Those regulations have been undone by Congress, but the fact that they existed before shows the law allows that flexibility, said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of EdTrust-NY.

“We believe that the state can and should propose a different methodology for identifying specialized schools, such as transfer schools,” Rosenblum said.

What will happen if transfer schools are identified for improvement?

At one point during the hearing, a transfer school advocate gestured to the crowd and declared that if this plan moves forward, all the transfer schools represented in the room would soon cease to exist.

That is very unlikely to come to pass. Even if a school is identified as needing improvement, it would probably be several years before it could face any serious consequences under the new law, according to the state’s draft.

If a school is identified for Comprehensive School Improvement (CSI), it has three years to receive extra support and to implement an improvement plan. Then, it could be put into the state’s receivership program, which means it would likely have another two years to demonstrate improvement. If it does not demonstrate enough improvement, it risks being taken over by an outside receiver.

The state has already proven itself lenient in forcing an independent receiver on schools. So far, only one school in New York state has been threatened with takeover. According to state officials, once schools are in receivership, the state education commissioner has some flexibility in tracking their progress and determining whether schools should still be deemed struggling.

Still, any threat looms large for transfer schools, whose advocates say even if the worst-case scenario never plays out, they are still being rated by unfair metrics.

“We’re already working with kids who have been told repeatedly they are failures. Now we’re looking at a system where 90 percent of the [transfer] schools in the city will be looked at as failing schools,” Forsyth said. “I don’t think it’s really understanding the population we’re working with.”

State officials said they are aware of these concerns and will work to come up with a solution.

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.