Supreme court nixes charter funding question

Monday’s denial by the Colorado Supreme Court to consider a charter school funding case effectively ends an attempt to clarify state law about a district’s obligation to secure buildings for its charter students.

“The specific issue in this case involved what obligation of support there was for charter schools coming from their authorizer for their buildings,” said Bill Bethke, attorney for Dolores Huerta Preparatory High charter school. “Unfortunately … this means that issue hasn’t been addressed.”

Huerta is a Pueblo charter school that is part of the Cesar Chavez Schools Network. When Huerta and Pueblo were working out the school’s charter in 2003, the school sought $900,000 to purchase land and build a facility.

Pueblo school board members initially agreed to the $900,000 but then rescinded their decision, deleting a specific amount from the contract. Huerta leaders signed the contract but have appealed in the years since to an arbitrator, to the Colorado State Board of Education, to Denver District Court, the Colorado Court of Appeals and, most recently, to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Bethke, one of the attorneys for Huerta, points to a provision in the state’s Charter Schools Act requiring that a contract between a charter school and its authorizer specify how the district will support “any start-up facility needs” and “any long-term facility needs” of the charter school.

“The contention of the school in this case is that they received no assistance,” he said, “and no assistance is not identifying what assistance will be received.”

An arbitrator sided with Huerta in 2006, ordering the district pay the charter school the $900,000 in 90 days. But the district appealed to the State Board of Education, which rejected the order by a 5-2 vote.

Colorado courts also sided against Huerta. In April, the Colorado Court of Appeals sided with the trial court’s dismissal of Huerta’s claim, agreeing that the school lacked standing to sue the district and the board.

The appellate court ruled the school is a political subdivision and “disputes between a subordinate and a superior state agency are properly to be resolved within the executive branch without resort to judicial review.”

“The case really got hung up on what can only be characterized as technicalities,” Bethke said. “What are the mechanisms for resolutions of different kinds of disputes between charter schools and school districts – when do they go to the state board, when do they go to court and when do they apparently go nowhere?”

The Supreme Court today declined to hear Huerta’s appeal, though at least one judge believe there was merit to the consideration. Justice Alex J. Martinez cited four issues worthy of the court’s time, including the issue of district support for charter school buildings needs. See his reasoning here.

“I think the message from the Court of Appeals is that obviously it’s a statutory provision that school districts are pretty safe to ignore,” Bethke said.

Neither Lawrence Hernandez, founder of the Cesar Chavez Schools Network, nor Pueblo City schools officials could immediately be reached this afternoon for comment.

Click here to read the appellate court judgment in Dolores Huerta Preparatory High v. Colorado State Board of Education, Pueblo District 60.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at [email protected] or 303-478-4573.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.