Who Is In Charge

Legislature 2009: Spotlight on education

Financial worries dominated the 2009 session of the Colorado General Assembly, halting efforts to rebuild state college and university budgets and prompting attempts to nibble at the edges of Amendment 23’s guarantees for K-12 spending.

The most significant policy proposal of the 2009, Senate Bill 09-163, passed easily and with little examination outside of the House and Senate education committees. It will bring an end to the CSAP-focused system of evaluating schools and replace with a system based on student growth over time, and it will give Colorado a single accountability system to replace the three the state now has.

The combination of 2008’s Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids and SB 09-163 have the potential, over time, to create a different kind of K-12 education system for the state.

Education News Colorado this session tracked more than 100 bills, budget measures and resolutions of interest to the education community. About 50 of those were significant and passed; another dozen education bills of interest didn’t make it.

Here are the highlights what your legislators did – and didn’t – do on education issues.

Innovation and reform

SB 09-163 tops this list, but lawmakers also started the state down the path toward use of educator identifiers (HB 09-1065), standardized high school/college dual enrollment (HB 09-1319 and SB 09-285) and portability of teacher pensions across all districts (SB 09-282).

Charter schools

Charter school proponents made a big push this year for creating reliable sources of funding for charter facilities. Bills were introduced for that purpose, amendments were added to other bills and provisions were proposed on budget bills. The results were clearly mixed from the charter point of view. But, a measure to give charters better access to school district bond issues, Senate Bill 09-176, was passed.

Also passed was Senate Bill 09-230, which allows charter schools to become food service authorities, making them eligible for federal programs and able to provide meals to other schools.

Money for K-12

Facing a $1.5 billion revenue shortfall in what was left of the 2008-09 budget and in the full 2009-10 fiscal year, fund transfers and budget cuts were a major focus for lawmakers this session. Much of the “extra” education spending approved by the 2008 legislature, such as $35 million for full-day kindergarten facilities and extra per-pupil funding, was slashed.

K-12 education received the full funding called for by Amendment 23, but there was debate about what exactly A23 covers, a discusssion likely to revive if the legislature has to make cuts in a few months after the 2009-10 budget year starts, and when planning begins for the 2010-11 budget.

One small slice of the education funding increase , $110 million, is off limits for school districts until next January. The school finance act (SB 09-256) authorizes the legislature to pull that back if budget conditions warrant.

No money, at least from the state

Legislators like to do things – pass bills and create programs. That can be hard to do in Colorado, given constitutional spending limitations, and it’s even harder in tight budget times.

That didn’t stop lawmakers from creating a number of education programs and studies this year – and propose they be paid for with “gifts, grants and donations.” In a few cases, it’s hoped federal stimulus funds will be available.

Those GGD programs include dropout prevention (HB 09-1243), the educator identifier, the parent advisory council and parental involvement bill (SB 09-090), the healthy choices dropout prevention pilot (SB 09-123), the teacher of the year program (HB 09-1240) and the education innovation institute at the University of Northern Colorado (SB 09-032).

Health and safety

Bills to expand free lunches to some preschool students (SB 09-033) and require creation of school policies on food allergies  (SB 09-226) were passed, but it generally was a bad year for this kind of legislation. Bills to require school bus seat belts (SB 090029), physical activity in schools (SB 09-131) and healthy snacks in schools (SB 09046) all died.

Districts and schools

The legislature finally passed a bill making it easier for parents to get time off from work for school conferences (HB 09-1057), and lawmakers eased the zero tolerance rules on bringing any kinds of weapons to school (SB 09-257), responding to the case of a suburban high schooler caught with fake drill-team rifles.

Based on other legislation, school boards will have to record their meetings (HB 09-1082). But, they won’t have to post district check registers on the Internet because SB 09-057 died. School can’t offer incentives just to get students to enroll so schools can bulk up enrollment counts (HB 09-1125). And, schools will be able to get loans from the state treasurer to build alternative energy projects or buy alternative-fuel school buses (HB 09-1312).

Education interest groups, especially those representing school boards and administrators, were nervous about tight funding this year, so they made a full-court press to kill or weaken bills seen as imposing new duties on local districts without state funding.

Study, study, study

For many lawmakers, the 120-day session is more than enough. Others like to keep at it through the summer and autumn, working up new proposals for the next legislature. No fewer than four interim or study committees will be working on issues of interest to education.

  • There will be a major study of the state school finance system, under increasing pressure because of tight state revenues and growing interest in distributing money in new ways (HJR -09-1020).
  • Another panel will take a broader look at the state’s “fiscal stability,” an issue of growing concern because of revenue problems, the impending expiration of Referendum C and new legal theories about how the state can work around the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (SJR 09-044).
  • Yet another committee will study school safety, specifically the issue of how schools should handle students returning from detention or treatment (HJR 09-1025).
  • And, a permanent legislative “commission” on early childhood and school readiness issues was created by HB 09-1343.

One thing lawmakers won’t be studying is the possible merger of the departments of education and higher education – HJR 09-1013 was killed.

Data

The brave new world of school reform, alignment, new accountability measures and the Race to the Top requires data, and lots of it.

Two little-noticed bills on this subject were passed.

  • HB 09-1214 empowers the Education Data Advisory Council to review all proposed laws and rules requiring school data reports and advise the legislature or the appropriate agency on the cost and need for those requirements.
  • HB 09-1285 extends the state Government Advisory Board and creates an education data advisory subcommittee.

Higher education

It wasn’t a particularly happy session for higher education.

The biggest scare was over money. It took some doing, but state colleges and universities were saved from cuts that would have taken them below 2005-06 levels and were basically funded at no-growth levels. That, of course, will mean budget cuts at state colleges and universities, because costs rise even when revenue doesn’t.

Since the state has little money for higher ed, there was a push to give colleges and universities more financial flexibility, but that went only so far. A bill to streamline the approval process for cash-funded construction projects was passed (Senate Bill 09-290). A more expansive measure (SB 09-295) at various times contained provisions to give college control over tuition and financial aid, exemption from state fiscal rules and to permit community and four-year colleges to seek sales and property tax revenue. But it died in the closing hours of the session.

Bills to give tuition breaks to veterans (HB 09-1039) and to students whose parents take a job in Colorado (HB 09-1063), to encourage vets to become teachers (SB 09-062) and to provide more scholarship funding for National Guard members (HB 09-1290) did pass. But the measure to extend resident tuition to undocumented students (SB 09-170) was killed in the Senate.

(Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts. Right-click on the bill number to open in a new window; close that window to return to the Tracker. We’ll shortly be editing the Tracker so that it includes only bills that became law.)

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: