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.

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.”