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.

Five questions

Why this Memphis Republican supports school vouchers — but is concerned about accountability

PHOTO: TN.gov
From left: Rep. Mark White of Memphis speaks with Gov. Bill Haslam at a bill-signing ceremony at the State Capitol.

Only one school voucher bill remains under consideration in Tennessee, and it’s all about Memphis.

The proposal, which would pilot a voucher program exclusively for students in Shelby County Schools, is putting a spotlight on the 16 state lawmakers who represent Memphis and Shelby County, including Rep. Mark White.

White is one of only four from the county’s legislative delegation to pledge support for the bill, which would allow some Memphis parents to use public education funding to pay for private school tuition.

The East Memphis Republican, whose district includes Germantown, has long supported vouchers. But he’s also concerned about how private schools would be held accountable if they accept public money.

Chalkbeat spoke with White this week about the legislature’s last remaining voucher proposal, as well as a bill to give in-state tuition to Tennessee high school students who are undocumented immigrants.

If vouchers pass, what kinds of things would you look for to ensure they’re effective?

PHOTO: TN.gov
<strong>Rep. Mark White</strong>

Accountability is important. Five years ago, when we we first considered vouchers full force, I was in agreement totally with vouchers, with not a lot of limitations. But … if we’re going to hold our public schools accountable, we need to hold everyone accountable, and that’s why I want to get to the part about TNReady (testing).

Can the Department (of Education) and can (the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability) manage what the bill is asking them to do? I want to answer those questions. If we want to ensure that a student taking a voucher takes the TNReady test, who is going to oversee that? Who is going to make that happen? That’s the part I think we still need to work out if it moves forward through the various committees. It’s not good to go to the floor without all of the answers.

Most elected officials in Memphis oppose vouchers and are also concerned that this bill goes against local control over education. How do you respond to that?

I’d rather it be statewide. But you know, they’ve tried that in the past. The reason it got to be Shelby County is because we had more low-performing schools in the bottom 5 percent. And so therefore the bill got tied to Shelby County. If it was more someplace else, it would have gone there.

Shelby County Schools has made major improvements, boosting its graduation rate and receiving national attention for its school turnaround program, the Innovation Zone. Would vouchers undermine those efforts by diverting students and funding from the district?

Go back to 2002. We were looking for answers, so we started pushing charters. Those who wanted to preserve public schools fought that tooth and nail. Then we went to the Achievement School District. As a result, Shelby County Schools has created the Innovation Zone. …  Memphis is now known as Teacher Town. We’ve brought so much competition into the market. It’s a place where the best teachers are in demand. That’s what you want in every industry.

A lot of good things have come about, and I think it’s because we have pushed the envelope. Is this voucher thing one thing that keeps pushing us forward? I like that it’s a pilot, and we can stop it if we see things that aren’t working. I think trying all of these things and putting competition into the market has made things improve.

Every Memphis parent, student, and teacher who testified this week before a House education committee opposed vouchers. You’ve been steadfast in your support of them. What do you take away from hearing those speakers?

Any time you talk about children, people get passionate, and that’s a good thing. Conflict can be a good thing, because then we can move to resolve it. If you have an issue, look at it head on and let’s talk about it. If you don’t agree with vouchers, if you do agree vouchers, let’s talk about ways we can stop failing our children.

I’ve heard from just as many on the other side; they just weren’t here (on Tuesday). I’ve had an office full of people just begging us to pass this. I’ve had people on all sides want this.

I think this bill still has a long way to fly. We’ll see where it goes. But I think the challenge is good for all of us. It makes us look at ourselves.

You’re the sponsor of another bill to provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students. This is the third year you’ve filed the bill. Why is that issue important?

What I’m trying to do is fix a situation for people who want to get a higher education degree. They’re caught up in the political mess of 2017, and all we’re trying to do is say, ‘Hey, you were brought to this country, and now we want to help you realize your dreams.’ We’re not trying to address any federal immigration issue. Everyone deserves a chance for an education.

how's it going?

She’s no Tony Bennett or Glenda Ritz — Jennifer McCormick is charting her own course as Indiana’s schools chief

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

For years, Indiana’s state superintendents have made huge political waves while in office.

Tony Bennett was a major Republican proponent of choice-based education reform. Democrat Glenda Ritz led an administration filled with political clashes with then-Gov. Mike Pence, a staunch conservative.

But this could be changing with Indiana’s newest schools chief, Jennifer McCormick.

More than two months into her administration and more than halfway through the 2017 legislative session, educators and advocates are praising McCormick’s focus and remain optimistic about her tenure.

“The general perception is people are finding her and her staff are good to work with,” said Betsy Wiley, head of the Indiana Institute for Quality Education, a local school reform organization that made large donations to McCormick’s campaign. “I think she’s been working really hard on making sure people know that her door is open.”

As a Republican official taking office under a Republican governor, McCormick is better positioned politically to accomplish her goals. Her relationship with Gov. Eric Holcomb has appeared relatively tension-free so far. They’ve made joint announcements about state initiatives related to STEM education and workforce development, and McCormick has been on-board with his budget proposal.

McCormick said that so far, there has been lots of talking.

“We’re not always going to agree, but at least the conversations are happening,” she said. “We have our hands and eyes and voice in a lot of the education bills that we’re concerned about, so we’ve been right there at the table offering amendments” to legislators.

But mostly, McCormick has been quiet when it comes to public state policy debates.

“I think she’s learning the ropes, and rightly so,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said. “She and her team are working closely with the state board, so I consider it very good — No controversy of any kind.”

Yet McCormick’s approach doesn’t sit as well with Minority Leader Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. He said he’s worried she’s leaving too much power to top GOP lawmakers in charge of education and not taking enough initiative at the department of education.

“I’m not familiar with any of the work that she’s doing,” he said. “The work that is happening on education is happening in the House and Senate chambers … If it’s her aim to just be ‘go along, get along, whatever Rep. Behning says or Sen. Kruse says is A-OK,’ I don’t know that she’s going to have a major role to play.”

Bosma and Pelath’s difference in opinion reflects some of the debates occurring in the Indiana General Assembly this year about whether to make the state superintendent an appointed or elected position. Part of the conversation inevitably centers around how people view McCormick’s role and it’s purpose.

It’s not clear yet if McCormick will step forward with ideas of her own or be more of an administrator who solely implements the policies of lawmakers, which GOP leaders repeatedly. But she has supported Gov. Eric Holcomb’s plan to make the role an appointed one.

McCormick has testified once this year before the Indiana Senate. During that hearing last week, she expressed concerns about testing and teacher evaluation that routinely were dismissed when Ritz was in charge, such as advocating for “computer-adaptive” tests. She also told senators there should be more conversations about how test scores are tied into teacher evaluations and whether that provision should be removed.

McCormick isn’t — and never has been — in lockstep with other Republicans on education policy. That was clear during her campaign, when, despite having mostly school choice advocates and Republicans as donors, she disagreed with GOP policies and instead advocated for changes to the school funding formula and seriously evaluating the impact of state-funded vouchers for private school.

Wiley said that although McCormick hasn’t shown herself to be an aggressive supporter of all school choice policies, such as vouchers, Wiley still thinks her organization made a good investment in backing her.

“She knows she has at least four years in that role, and she intends to do and get stuff done,” Wiley said. “If she doesn’t get credit for it along the way, I just don’t think she cares.”

Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, said he’s heard from school leaders that they’re seeing more timely responses to phone calls and emails with the department of education.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said she’s appreciated the time McCormick has made to talk with ISTA members, and she has no reason to believe she’s not going to support public schools — she’s “cautiously optimistic.”

Despite accusations during her campaign that she’d be too much like her Republican predecessor, Bennett, McCormick has not aligned herself with one particular education philosophy or camp. David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, said that independence is admirable.

“She is clearly her own woman, and I think there were some expectations,” Harris said. “She has been pretty clear that she’s going to follow the agenda and approach that she thinks is best.”