From the Statehouse

Colorado Commits launches A66 TV spots

Educators and political junkies who’ve been wondering where the Amendment 66 campaign has been now need to look no farther than their TVs – the first ads boosting the amendment aired Tuesday.

Screen shot of TV ad
Screen shot of pro-Amendment 66 TV ad

The two spots, each 15 seconds long and airing in various TV markets around the state, carry the punch line “Big change, small price.”

The first shows a classroom scene, and the announcer says, “More teacher aides for $133 a year. Amendment 66 puts the money in the classroom. Big change, small price.”

The second ad shows kids in gym class, with the announcer saying, “Bring back gym class for $133 a year. Amendment 66 keeps money out of administration. Big change, small price.”

The spots run back-to-back.

The $133 a-year figure is the additional tax that the pro-66 campaign estimates will be paid on $57,685 a year, Colorado’s median household income. (You can view the ads here.)

Amendment 66 would raise the state’s individual income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent on incomes up to $75,000. Earnings above $75,000 would be taxed at 5.9 percent. The additional money raised by the new tax would be earmarked for education. (See page 5 of the state’s “Blue Book” voter guide for additional estimates of how the new tax would affect different income levels.)

Amendment 66 is a package deal with Senate Bill 13-213, a law passed last spring that would make major changes in Colorado’s school finance formula. The law won’t go into effect unless voters pass the tax hike. Major elements of SB 13-213 would provide preschool funding for all eligible at-risk students and cover full-day kindergarten costs for all students.

The law also would substantially increase funding for at-risk students and English language learners. But the bill does not specify spending on teacher aides, gym classes or to reduce class sizes. Those decisions would be up to individual school districts.

EdNews asked campaign officials about the size of the ad buy, in which markets ads had been placed and about the duration and cost of the campaign.

Curtis Hubbard, spokesman for Colorado Commits to Kids, would only say, “It’s a statewide ad buy that includes the three major markets and reaches SW Colorado via Albuquerque stations. Our aim is to reach as many voters as possible in the next five weeks to let them see for themselves that Amendment 66 promises big changes for a small price,” adding that the campaign will last “until at least 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5.”

Hubbard wouldn’t disclose the cost of the ads, saying “Financial details of the campaign are made available in our regular public disclosures.”

A source not connected with the campaign did some of his own research on Colorado Commits ad buys and told EdNews he believes the campaign has purchased ads costing at least $420,000 a week in the Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction markets.

In its news release, the campaign said the ads were produced by Putnam Partners, a Virginia-based political advertising firm. In its Sept. 30 spending report, the campaign reported paying Putnam $106,558 during the prior two weeks. (See this EdNews story for a full report on the latest Colorado Commits contributions and spending.)

While there’s been a lot of chatter in the education community about the low-key character of the campaign to date, Colorado Commits has been busy setting up field offices and hiring canvassers and conducting a fairly active campaign on social media.

Mayor Hancock endorses 66

Amendment 66 news conference
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock formally endorsed Amendment 66 on Oct. 1 at the Clayton Early Learning Center. The campaign logo had been chalked on the parking lot, along with a few thousand stick figures of children.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, flanked by sign-waving campaign volunteers and staffers, Tuesday endorsed the amendment.

“I am voting for Amendment 66 because when it comes down to it, it’s time for everyone of us to stand in the gap for Colorado kids,” he said.

The event was held at the Clayton Early Learning Center in northeast Denver to emphasize Amendment 66’s impact on preschool programs. Charlotte Brantling, head of Clayton, and Qualistar Colorado Vice President Heather Tritten also spoke in support.

The pep rally was staged on an asphalt parking lot on which had been chalked a full color Colorado Commits logo and a few thousand colorful stick figures of children. Creation of the chalk drawings was recorded on video and could show up in a future campaign video or ad. As the rally broke up, a maintenance man wheeled a power washer onto the lot, ready to clean it off.

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.