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.

More grades?

Schools with lots of transfer students say A-F labels don’t fit

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Schools with large numbers of kids who transfer in or out should get an extra grade from Indiana’s A-F system, a legislative committee said Thursday.

The proposal, backed by both Democrats and Republicans on the House Education Committee, would give schools a second A-F grade based just on the scores of students who have attended for at least a year.

The goal is to account for schools with “high mobility,” common in poor neighborhoods where families move frequently and kids sometimes change schools several times in a single school year. When kids change schools, their test scores often sink. Lawmakers argued the schools where they end up on test day can be unfairly saddled with a low grade that doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of teaching at the school.

Even so, the schools will still be judged the same as all schools in Indiana on their first A-F grade.

The proposal was added as an amendment to House Bill 1384, which is mostly aimed at clarifying how high school graduation rate is calculated. The bill passed out of committee today, 8-4. It next heads to the full House for a vote, likely later this week.

The amended bill would require the Indiana State Board of Education to first define a “high-mobility” school. Then, starting in the 2018-19 school year, the board would assign those schools both the typical grade based primarily on state tests and a second grade that only considers the test and other academic data of students who have attended the school for one year or more.

The second grade could not be used by the state board to make decisions about state sanctions, the bill says. But it would help parents and others better understand the circumstances at the school, said Rep. Bob Behning, the bill’s author and chairman of the education committee.

“Especially in our urban centers, there are several schools … that have very high mobility rates,” Behning said. “We could all recognize that if you’re being moved from school A to school B to school C to school D in a year, it’s going to be very difficult for your performance to be where it needs to be.”

The bill also makes a similar change to high school graduation rates, which would help Indiana better comply with new federal law, Behning said. The bill would alter the graduation rate calculation so that students who drop out would only count in a school’s rate if they attended that school for at least 90 percent of the school year. Otherwise, their graduation data gets counted at the previous school they attended for the longest time.

Melissa Brown, head of Indiana Connections Academy, one of the largest online schools in the state, testified in support of the bill. She said the graduation rate change and second letter grade better reflect the work they’re doing with students.

“We really believe that if we can keep a student, we can help them,” Brown said.

Virtual schools have performed poorly on state tests, which some school leaders argue is because they serve a challenging population of students, including those who frequently move and switch schools, come to school far behind grade level and have other learning difficulties that make them more difficult to educate.

Read: The broken promise of Indiana’s online schools

Indiana Connections Academy sees about 20 to 25 percent of students come and go each year, Brown said. Other virtual schools, such as Hoosier Academies, have reported more than double that rate.

Although the rates for individual schools could vary widely, Beech Grove schools had the highest district mobility rate in 2015 in Marion County, where 20.1 percent of students left a Beech Grove school to go outside the district, according to state data. Franklin Township had the lowest, with 8.5 percent. Generally, transfer within districts was much lower.

In IPS, the rate was 18.4 percent for students leaving to attend a school in another district, and 8.2 percent of students left their home school to attend another in IPS.

Brown said she thinks the second school grade could help all schools that see high turnover, but it also could dispel some misinformation about what virtual schools are for — it’s not a “magic pill” for kids who are far behind, she said, a scenario she encounters frequently.

“At the end of the day, it’s really about what’s best for the kid,” Brown said. “And it’s not best to send a student to another school with two weeks left in the semester expecting a miracle to happen.”

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.