aint over til its over

More than a day after ‘framework’ agreement, questions remain on education issues

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Speaker Carl Heastie on the Assembly floor.

State lawmakers left work on Wednesday night without finalizing a legislative deal involving New York City education issues.

Legislative leaders announced Tuesday that they had resolved their differences on the most contentious parts of negotiations that had dragged on for more than a week past their original ending date. That deal included a one-year extension of mayoral control, a modest increase to the number of new charters that can open in New York City, and a $250 million consolation prize for private and parochial schools whose push for tuition tax credits were dropped.

But there are still a host of unresolved issues standing in the way of final deal. Chief among those for Assembly Democrats is the strengthening of rent regulations, although changes to the charter-school law were also being discussed.

“There’s nothing closed down. Everything is still open,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said after emerging from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Wednesday evening.

Here are the other questions remaining about New York City education issues.

1. Will other changes be made to the charter-school law?

The framework deal clears the way for 25 additional new charter schools to open in New York City and gives the State University of New York more latitude to approve the schools.

On Wednesday morning, the ongoing talks included additional changes. Assembly Democrats said they sought measures to ensure that charter schools serve a more equitable share of high-needs students. A source familiar with the negotiations said one proposal would have required charter schools to serve comparable shares of special education students with more severe disabilities. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans wanted to increase the maximum number of uncertified teachers that a school can employ from 5 teacher to up to 30 percent of an entire staff.

But talks slowed on Wednesday, the source said, who said the most recent discussions involved changing “just the cap and nothing else.”

2. Will anything happen to the hotly contested teacher evaluation law?

After the governor pushed the new law earlier this year, some lawmakers were hoping to slow down the tight timeline in which districts have to negotiate and implement new plans. But nothing in Tuesday’s “framework” announcement suggested that gripes with the new law had factored into the deal — a loss for the state teachers union, which made evaluation changes a priority in end-of-session negotiations.

“We probably didn’t go as far as I hoped,” said Patricia Fahy, a member of the Assembly’s education committee, adding that she also sought to minimize the use of student testing for evaluations. “I’m a little disappointed about that, quite frankly.”

The only tweak announced so far appears to be aimed to appease critics without making substantive changes to evaluations. A law dubbed the “Parental Empowerment Act” will require “a review of growth model,” according to the press release announcing the legislative deal, referring the methodology through which students’ test score gains factor into their teacher’s evaluation.

The press release did say that the act would “require the disclosure of state exam questions and answers,” which a spokesman for the Senate said would be accompanied with $8.4 million in funding for the State Education Department. The state published only about half of questions last year, citing test security and cost concerns amid sharp criticism of the state’s testing program.

3. Will the mayoral-control legislation include any other changes to how New York City’s schools are run?

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over in Albany,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference on Wednesday when asked for his reaction to the one-year extension of mayoral control — a particularly harsh blow after de Blasio lobbied for a permanent renewal earlier this year.

But despite the mayor’s deference to the ongoing negotiations, his allies in the legislature said they were mostly ambivalent about fighting to lengthen the extension.

“I think there were a lot of things that we were fighting for or against and this was part of the discussion, but we didn’t focus on it,” said Linda Rosenthal, an Upper West Side Assembly Member. “There was much more talk about rent and 421-a and all of those” housing issues that have been the focus this year, she said.

The renewal offers lawmakers a chance to make changes to the governance structure. When mayoral control was last renewed in 2009, the legislature extended it for six years but required the city to hold public hearings and study the impact of school closures or space-sharing agreements prior to approving them. That provision became a legal issue one year later, and ended up derailing the Bloomberg administration’s agenda for a year.

But there aren’t any other big changes expected to be included in the one-year renewal.

Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, said a statement that the coalition of business leaders she represents was mostly relieved that legislative agreement “reflects an undiluted extension of mayoral control.”

Vision quest

Colorado lawmakers want to reimagine the state’s schools. Here’s how.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students at Merino Elementary School work during class.

What should Colorado schools look like in 2030, and how should the state pay for them?

Those are two big questions a bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers hope to answer in the next several years.

State Reps. Millie Hamner and Bob Rankin, two of the state’s most influential lawmakers on education policy, are asking their colleagues this spring to approve a bill that would create a legislative process for rethinking the state’s entire public education system.

“Right now, there’s dissatisfaction with our system,” said Rankin, a Carbondale Republican and member of the state’s budget committee. “We’re sort of average. We’re average in the U.S. We’re average in the world. That’s not good enough for Colorado.”

The bill’s sponsors have two outcomes in mind: Create a vision for improving and modernizing Colorado schools and change the way the state pays for them. The plan, they think, could create enough support to convince voters to send more money to schools as needed.

“We realize it’s time to have a conversation with the state of Colorado around what is it that they want for their kids, how can we achieve that and how can we fund it,” said Hamner, a Frisco Democrat and vice-chair of the state’s budget committee, noting two recent failed attempts at the ballot to raise statewide taxes for schools.

The discussion over the future of Colorado’s schools comes as states are being handed more control over education policy. The nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, has fewer requirements than previous iterations of the federal law.

And soon, Colorado will no longer be bound by agreements it made with the Obama administration. The state may re-evaluate and perhaps repeal some of the policies it enacted during the last decade in an effort to win federal money.

“We’ve all been working hard, but I’m not convinced we’ve been working toward the same direction — the right direction,” Hamner said.

House Bill 1287 would create a series of committees to craft a vision and strategic plan for the state’s schools.

Already, it is being met with caution by some district-level school board members who hold dear their constitutionally protected local control.

“I can see the noble desire to invest in a vision and strategic plan. But many school districts have already done this locally,” said Doug Lidiak, a member of the Greeley school board. “I worry the outcome is more education bills coming from our state legislature.”

The idea faces other challenges: educators who feel taxed by a slew of mandates and are wary of change; school leaders already dealing with with tightening school budgets; and growing inequalities between schools on the Front Range and in the more rural parts of the state.

“Whatever comes out of this process needs to take into consideration the various differences of districts in size and geography,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

Some education lobbyists at the Capitol have also voiced concern that the process laid out in the bill is too bureaucratic and could take too long to address urgent needs.

The bill would create a series of committees.

The first legislative steering committee would be made up of a dozen state lawmakers, including the chairs of the House and Senate education committees and two members of the Joint Budget Committee.

A second executive advisory board would be made up of the state education commissioner, two members of the State Board of Education, representatives from the early childhood leadership commission and higher education department. The governor would also have a representative on the advisory board.

The third committee would be made up of teachers, parents, school board members, education policy advocates, representatives of the business community and others. These individuals would be appointed by the legislative steering committee.

The work would be done in four stages.

In the first phase, the committees would take stock of Colorado’s current education landscape and create a process to solicit input on what the state’s schools should look like. The second phase would collect that input. The vision and plan would be drafted in the third phase. And lawmakers would consider any legislation necessary to make the vision and plan a reality in the fourth phase.

The bill also requires the committees to meet periodically after the vision and plan are adopted to monitor how the plan is being carried out across the state.

Rankin, the House Republican, said Colorado’s education system could benefit from short-term fixes, but that it was important to take the long view, too.

“If you fight a lot of tactical battles, it ought to fit into your overall strategy,” he said. “We’re trying to build something the public can buy in to.”

legislative update

GOP plan to appoint Indiana’s schools chief claws its way back to a win in Senate panel

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
House Speaker Brian Bosma presents legislative priorities for Indiana House Republicans at the beginning of the session. Bosma is the author of the bill to appoint the next state superintendent, one of this year's priorities.

Indiana Republicans are pulling out all the stops to make sure the state schools chief would be appointed, not elected, in the future.

The Senate Rules Committee passed and amended a bill on Monday that would change how the state’s top education official is selected, giving new life to a measure that GOP leaders say has been debated in Indiana for 45 years — and is one of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s 2017 legislative priorities.

“It’s been advocated by every governor since 1985,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, the bill’s author. “It’s been advocated by both parties, in fact.”

Supporters of the measure say it’s finally time to align efforts between the state’s top executive and education official, reducing the possibility for political squabbles that have marred previous administrations. Opponents argue the change disenfranchises voters, taking away their chance to have a voice in the direction of the state’s education policy.

The amended House Bill 1005 includes two major changes from an earlier version debated last month. It would allow the governor to appoint a “secretary of education” beginning in 2025, a change from the originally proposed 2021 start date.

That seemingly small change could be a point of contention as the bill moves forward. With the 2021 start date, Holcomb, a Republican, would make the appointment if elected to a second term. Pushing it four years farther puts the first appointment out of Holcomb’s — and potentially GOP — control.

Additionally, a 2025 start date would allow current state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, also a Republican, to run for a second term in 2020 before a possible replacement would be appointed.

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

The new bill also introduces qualifications for the position. In addition to living in Indiana for at least two years prior to an appointment, the secretary of education candidate would also be required to:

  • Demonstrate “personal and professional leadership success, preferably in the administration of public education.”
  • Have an advanced degree, preferably in education or educational administration.
  • Hold, or have previously held, a license to be a teacher, principal of superintendent, or otherwise be employed as such for at least five years before taking office.
  • Have five years of working experience as an executive in the education field.

Senate President David Long, chairman of the committee, said these changes to the bill make it “substantially” different from Senate Bill 179, a similar proposal that was defeated by the Senate 26-23 last month. According to Senate rules, another bill with the same language could not be considered unless significant changes were made.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said he believed the Senate violated its own rules by even having a hearing on the House bill. Senate rules state that if a bill has had a majority of senators vote against it, it is “decisively defeated,” and similar language cannot be considered again that year.

“It does not say it shall not be voted on, it says it shall not be considered,” Lanane said. “It pays respect to the idea in the Indiana Senate that we don’t do do-overs.”

But Republicans on the committee disagreed, and said their amendment means the bill can proceed.

Now, a few concerns remain as the bill heads to the full Senate.

First, Indiana’s constitution says that there “shall be a State Superintendent of Public Instruction,” not a secretary of education. Bosma said he doesn’t think that’s a problem because the bill’s language allows for the change.

And second, if the Senate passes the bill, it heads to conference committee, where lawmakers come together to try to reconcile differences over bills. Democrats on the rules committee said they were worried that parts of the original bill — no specific qualifications for candidates, a 2021 start date — might resurface at that point.

Long reassured the committee that only minor changes could be made. But Bosma was less decisive on that point, which might indicate that the closed-door dealings on this bill could be particularly contentious.

Bosma has said all along that he’s waited years for this proposal to become a reality, and he sees no point in waiting any longer.

“Maybe we should wait another 40 years from when this was first proposed,” he joked. “The time is right.”