Who Is In Charge

Carroll proposes charter standards study

House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, Friday introduced a revised charter school regulation bill, proposing the issues of charter school and authorizer standards be studied by an appointed commission for nearly a year and then decided by the State Board of Education.

The quality of charter school management and the rigor of charter authorization have been the subject of debate since the problems of the Pueblo-based Cesar Chavez Charter Network came to a head last year. (See Education News Colorado coverage of the controversy.)

Improvements in standards are a priority for the Colorado League of Charter Schools, the state Charter School Institute and such national groups as the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

Carroll, a long-time charter supporter, introduced three bills on the issue earlier this session. House Bill 10-1343 proposes charter quality standards, House Bill 10-1344 sets out quality standards for authorizers and House Bill 10-1345 would grant a school board and the institute “the ability to request from the commissioner of education the power for an external entity to have control over a charter school that is considered to be in an emergency situation.”

But weeks of talks among various interest groups reportedly have failed to bring agreement on the detailed language in the first two bills and the new measure, House Bill 10-1412, is apparently the compromise that Carroll is proposing to replace them.

The bill creates a 13-member commission that will be appointed by Oct. 31 and have until Aug. 1, 2011, to make recommendations to the State Board of Education for school and authorizer standards. The bill also gives the board power to issue regulations in those two areas. The measure directs the commission to divide into two subcommittees, one to study school standards and one to focus on authorizer issues.

As is usual in situations where there are several contending interests, the bill lays out the appointment process for the board and the qualifications of its members in minute detail.

The speaker of the House will appoint a charter leader, a charter founder or board member, a charter administrator with finance expertise and a charter parent. (Although he’s term-limited, Carroll will remain speaker through the Oct. 1 appointment deadline.)

The president of the Senate will appoint a school board member from a district with exclusive chartering authority, a school district administrator with charter experience, a charter teacher and a member of a national organization with expertise in charter authorizing standards.

The minority leader of the House will appoint a public school parent who serves on a district accountability committee, and the minority leader of the Senate will appoint a board member from a district that shares chartering authority with CSI.

The governor will appoint a member of the CSI board and a school district administrator with authorizing experience, and the state board will appoint somebody to represent the Department of Education.

And just to make things trickier, the bill says, “the composition of the committee shall reflect, to the extent practicable, Colorado’s ethnic, racial, and geographic diversity.”

No hearing date has been set for the bill but the House Education Committee does have a light agenda on Thursday.

Roundup

Fridays at the Capitol usually are a little looser than other days of the week, and this Friday was lively with observance of “College Day,” when lawmakers wear their school sweatshirts and rib each other about the qualities of their respective colleges. (The day is part of the CollegeInColorado promotion designed to get more high school students interests in college.)

But some work did get done, particularly in the House.

Arts in schools bill

The House voted 42-21 to reject Senate amendments to House Bill 10-1273, Rep. Mike Merrifield’s arts in the schools measure. The Senate had amended the bill to make it more of a “recommendation” bill. The measure will go to conference committee (get background here).

School data reporting bill

An otherwise unremarkable measure, House Bill 10-1171, has generated a little conflict in the last few weeks and a conference committee Friday added another twist to the story.

The bill would eliminate a handful of reports that school districts have to make to the Department of Education. The wrangling involves the Colorado Education Association and a report titled CDE-18. That’s a six-page summary of their budgets that districts and other education agencies have to submit to CDE once a year.

School districts find the report a hassle to compile and CDE officials have repeatedly said nobody asks for the data except CEA.

The bill would have eliminated CDE-18 but Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, recently won passage of a Senate floor amendment to restore it.

The conference committee vote 5-1 to propose a version of the bill with the CDE-18 requirement removed. Hudak was the only no vote.

2010-11 budget goes to the governor

The House and Senate on Friday both agreed to conference committee amendments to House Bill 10-1376, the 2010-11 state budget, and re-passed the bill. The Senate vote was 23-12, and the House approved it 38-24.

On another budget matter, the House voted 55-8 to go to conference committee on House Bill 10-1383, which would transfer about $45 million out of a CollegeInvest scholarship program to state need-based scholarships and to the state general fund.

Why legislators dread Friday mornings

With the budget out of way, it’s time for the House and Senate appropriations committees to tackle the long list of spending bills that have been stacking up on their calendars. Some bills don’t make it out of the 7:30 a.m. Friday sessions.

Hudak went 1-1 in Senate Appropriations Friday. She asked that the committee kill her Senate Bill 10-005, intended to ensure high-quality services for poor children who move from preschool to kindergarten. Neither of the sources of federal money she’d hoped for panned out. The committee obliged her.

The committee did vote 6-4 to pass her Senate Bill 10-054, which as amended would require four hours a week of education be provided to juveniles locked up in county jails. This one faces an uncertain future, though.

Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, also got lucky with her Senate Bill 10-039, which passed 7-3. It would create a $1 million program for job retraining scholarships. The money would come from the money that’s being taken from CollegeInvest (see HB 10-1383 above).

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

Budget woes

In budget address, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker proposes modest education increases

J.B. Pritzker speaks during a round table discussion with high school students at a creative workspace for women on October 1, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.

Even while calling his proposed budget “austere” and speaking plainly about the yawning deficit he inherited, Illinois’ new governor, J.B. Pritzker, struck an optimistic chord when describing how he plans to plow more money into schools.

His fiscal year 2020 budget would allocate a total of $7.2 billion for K-12 funding, including an extra $25 million in addition to the mandated $350 million annual minimum increase under the state’s funding formula.

“There’s a focus here on trying to not only rebuild from the damage that was done over the last four years but also to set us up for growing the economy, which happens in part because of our investments in education,” Pritzker said, nodding to a nearly two-year budget stalemate under his predecessor, Republican Bruce Rauner, that left the state with billions in unpaid bills.

During Wednesday’s speech, the governor said the long-term solution to the state’s budget deficits  was a progressive income tax that would take more money from Illinois’ wealthiest residents.

In the shorter term, though, Pritzker’s budget proposal includes an additional $25 million for Illinois schools, an increase of $21 million in special education grants, and a $5 million boost for career and technical education programs for high school students.

Also in the proposal: $50 million in need-based college grants, another $35 million in university scholarships, and $2 million to cover waived fees for low-income students taking Advanced Placement tests.

Pritzker’s budget would allocate an additional $100 million to the Early Childhood Block Grant. That would bring the state investment in early childhood education to $594 million next year.

The governor Wednesday also proposed freezing a tax credit for businesses and individuals who contributed scholarships for private schools. Critics argued the program cut into state income taxes that would otherwise help fund public schools. Supporters, including Rauner, said it was one of the few ways struggling families could afford private schools.

Pritzker noted that given Illinois’ economic reality, there is a limit to how much cost-cutting alone could do. Instead, he promised to pass a budget that would include an increase in funding across the board as a way to invest in the state’s future, with a particular focus on education.

“We must stop slashing programs that build future prosperity,” Pritzker said in his budget address. “Over the long term, we must make investments in education, livable wages, innovative human service programs and job training.”

In unveiling his budget, the governor spoke plainly about the state’s dire fiscal situation: a $3.2 billion budget deficit and $15 billion in debt from unpaid bills — an amount that is equal to funding “free four-year university tuition for more than 12,000 students,” he said.

Nearly two years without a state budget under the previous governor prompted a massive backlog of funding in the K-12 education budget that the state is still struggling to fill, on top of an $8.1 billion backlog of unpaid bills across state agencies.

A 2017 overhaul in the formula Illinois uses to fund schools put the state on a 10-year path to closing the more than $6.8 billion gap between what it spends on K-12 public schools and the projected cost of adequate school funding. In January, the state board of education asked for $15 billion in public schools funding.

“It’s a very teensy step and better an increase than not,” Wendy Katten with Raise Your Hand Action, a parent group advocating for public education, said of the increased funding for K-12 schools. “But that’s nowhere near the $7 billion that’s needed for basic adequacy, let alone the $2 billion needed for [Chicago Public Schools].”   

Pritzker’s proposed additions are modest, to be sure, but unions representing teachers in Chicago and statewide, as well as disability advocates, said any additional investment in education is most welcome.

“It’s clear that he understands the importance of great public schools and higher education and is committed to fulfilling the state’s responsibility to invest in them,” the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Dan Montgomery, said.

And the Chicago Teachers Union asked that Chicago Public Schools to use any extra state funding to lower class sizes and increase special education staffing.

“The increase in evidence-based funding over the statutory minimum recognizes that Illinois’ challenges with education funding equity are fundamentally rooted in the need to drive more resources to students, like those in CPS, who have suffered from decades of insufficient and unequal school funding,” Jesse Sharkey, president of the union, said.

Chris Yun, the education policy analyst with Access Living, which advocates for people with disabilities, said she was heartened to see a bump for special education funding, noting: “Students with disabilities are often forgotten because the number is much less than general education students. We have a long way to go, but this is just step one.”

Pritzker told Chalkbeat in October that contributing more money to education would require solving the state’s longstanding budget woes. At that time, Illinois was expected to enter fiscal year 2019 with a budget deficit of more than $1 billion. That figure has now more than tripled.

Its problems are compounded significantly by its pension responsibilities, making it increasingly difficult to allocate money to other needs, said Ralph Martire, director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

“The payments are jumping at levels our system can’t afford,” Martire said.

Pritzker on Wednesday said he would “smooth the pension ramp by modestly extending it,” which hints at a plan to push payments off further.

While Pritzker’s progressive taxation plan has a steady thrum of support from Democratic lawmakers, the measure has not yet passed the state legislature.

Pritzker acknowledged that his 2020 budget was built on a tax structure that he still considered regressive and said he hoped to change that going forward.  

“Not only is our tax system unfair, it’s also inadequate to solve our long-term financial challenges,” he said. “Make no bones about it, I choose to stand up for working families and will lead the charge to finally enact a fair tax system in Illinois.”

Cassie Creswell, a board member of public education advocacy group Raise Your Hand Action, said the budget address was a positive indicator of Pritzker’s support for revamping taxation, but feared “the rates that will be proposed to make it politically palatable won’t make it the rate we need to fund stuff in the state.”

interview time

Four candidates left make their case before commission for open Shelby County Schools board seat

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Interim school board candidate Aubrey Howard presents before the Shelby County Commission.

Four remaining candidates for a vacated Memphis school board seat had their chance to tell the Shelby County Commission why they are the right person for the job on Wednesday afternoon.

They were the remaining viable candidates after six applicants were disqualified for living outside of District 2, the area the interim board member will represent in Shelby County Schools. Chalkbeat reported on Monday that six of the candidates live outside of the district. The appointee will fill the seat Teresa Jones vacated following her recent appointment as a municipal court judge, and will serve until the term expires in August 2020.

The four applicants are (We’ve linked to their full applications.):

  • Erskine Gillespie, an account manager at the Lifeblood Mid-South Regional Blood Bank.
  • Althea Greene, a retired Memphis educator and pastor of Real Life Ministries.
  • Aubrey Howard, the executive director of governmental and legislative affairs in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office.
  • Charles McKinney, the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College.

The interim member will join the school board at a crucial time, amid the search for a new superintendent to replace Dorsey Hopson, who left the district in December. Currently, Joris Ray is serving as interim superintendent.

Commissioners peppered the candidates with questions on big issues facing the district, including school choice, the budget process, managing the district’s aging buildings and underenrollment, and how they could improve the relationship between the district and the county commission, the funding body for schools.

In their pitches to commissioners, applicants touted their previous experiences with K-12 education, such as work with nonprofits and curriculum development, and their ties to Memphis schools. “I’m a product of Memphis schools,” was a phrase said again and again.

Most applicants expressed general support for charter schools, which have grown significantly in recent years in Memphis, but Gillespie said he believed “the influx of our charter school program is an issue that must be addressed.” McKinney sits on the board of a charter high school, and Greene and Howard said they had no issues with charter schools as a way to serve individual needs of students.

On the relationship with the county commission, Greene said: “I think it’s important that as a school board member, I’m at county commission meetings. And work as a bridge to educate children and give them the best education we can, and we know that costs money.”

Gillespie was asked by Commissioner Willie Brooks what he thinks of alternative schools, which serve students who have been expelled or suspended from traditional schools for behavioral reasons. There are several alternative schools in District 2.

“I think alternative schools are truly something necessary,” Gillespie said. “They can provide a trauma-informed response for our students.”

The questionnaire given to each candidate asked about TNReady, the state’s embattled testing system. Commissioner Michael Whaley, who chairs the education committee, asked Howard to expand on his answer that the test “didn’t work.”

“Those decisions about testing and teacher evaluations would be better met if they were local and not state controlled,” Howard replied. “For sure, the state wasted a huge amount of money with the companies they hired that failed us.”

Gillespie and McKinney described aging and often near-empty school buildings as a large issue facing the district. The interim board member would help analyze a massive district plan left by former superintendent Hopson that would consolidate 28 Memphis schools into 10 new buildings.

McKinney said the school board should be having regular conversations with the commission and the neighborhoods it serves on how demographic shifts have impacted the county, creating underenrollment in some schools.

“For the school board, those conversations need to be ongoing, so when it comes time to make a decision about whether or not to close a school, it’s not coming as a surprise,” McKinney said.

Three people from Memphis Lift, a parent advocacy group, spoke in support of McKinney. The group’s leader, Sarah Carpenter, said he’s been a consistent figure in her neighborhood of North Memphis.

Shelby County Commission
PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Commissioner Willie Brooks (left) asked candidates about how they would work with the county commission.

“I’m tired of people coming to our community when they want a seat and we don’t see them anymore,” Carpenter said. “Our children’s lives are on the line.”

Commissioner Edmund Ford, himself a former teacher, said after the interviews he would like to see an educator on the board.

“There were a lot of things I saw as a teacher, when I would go to the school board to ask for their assistance, that I would not receive,” Ford said. “Personally, I would like to see someone who has been there and done that.”

After hearing from the candidates, the commission voted to move the item to its Monday meeting, where commissioners will vote on a successor.

For more details, see our Twitter thread from the hearing.