Who Is In Charge

SB 191 teed up; CSAP bill redone

The educator effectiveness bill squeaked out of its last committee, the CSAP cutback proposal was completely rewritten and the higher ed flexibility bill got final approval Monday as the 2010 legislative session moved into its chaotic final three days.

Teacher effectiveness

After an emotional and sometimes angry hearing, the House Appropriations Committee voted 7-6 to pass Senate Bill 10-191, the controversial educator evaluation and tenure bill, to the House floor for preliminary consideration.

But, House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, announced late in the afternoon that the would be heard on the floor Tuesday to give it sufficient time for debate and because amendments still were being drafted. (The House also had a social function Monday evening – the annual “Hummers” show in which members of the minority party spoof the majority.)

That means the House couldn’t take a final vote until Wednesday, the last day of the session, if the bill passes preliminary consideration on Tuesday. House-Senate differences also would have to be resolved on the last day.

Democratic appropriations members Mark Ferrandino of Denver and Jim Riesberg of Greeley joined the committee’s five Republicans to pass the bill out of committee. SB 10-191 passed the House Education Committee last Thursday on an equally slim 7-6 margin.

Ferrandino, the son of two school teachers who recounted his personal story of being a special education student, choked up and began to cry as he said he was going to vote for the bill. “I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this bill. … This is a difficult bill for me.”

Appropriations Chair Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, was scathing in his criticism of both the Colorado Department of Education and of some business backers of the bill.

He accused CDE of changing its story about its financial condition, claiming earlier in the year that its budget was severely stressed yet now saying it can fund the initial costs of SB 10-191 from a department contingency fund if federal grants don’t come through.

“You tricked me,” Pommer said to Associate Commissioner Rich Wenning. Pommer noted that he’s leaving the House because of term limits, but “I think a top-to-bottom look at your funding would be appropriate.”

Pommer also had harsh words for business groups that support the bill, pointedly noting that some of them opposed elimination of tax exemptions Pommer sponsored earlier in the session. “When I looked at the list of supporters in the paper it turned my stomach,” Pommer said.

Democratic Reps. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder, Sal Pace of Pueblo and Joel Judd of Denver also had harsh things to say about the bill.

Wenning and sponsors Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillion, and Carole Murrary, R-Castle Rock, remained composed under the criticism during the 35-minute hearing.

CSAP bill gets a whole new look

The Senate Senate Education Committee Monday gutted House Bill 10-1430, the measure that would have eliminated high school CSAP tests starting in the 9th grade next school year and also would have made writing tests a district, not a state responsibility.

The panel voted 6-2 for the new version, proposed by Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, to replace the version proposed by Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, and passed by the full House 47-16 last Thursday.

The new version reportedly is close to the provisions agreed to by several interest groups last March before Solano redid it. The Department of Education strongly opposed Solano’s proposals, saying they would be costly and would disrupt the department’s data system.

The Senate version basically expands on the plan for replacing the CSAPs that’s already contained in the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. It stresses that schools need to use formative and interim tests in addition to the annual “summative” tests. The bill sets July 1, 2013, deadline for ending the current CSAP system but gives the State Board of Education flexiblilty in meeting the testing-adoption deadline originally contained in CAP4K.

Tuition and flexibility bill passes easily

The House voted 56-8 for final pasage of Senate Bill 10-003, the bill that creates a five-year program under which state colleges and universities can raise tuition up to 9 percent a year and apply to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education for larger hikes.

The bill also gives colleges greater control over allocation of state financial aid and exemption from some state financial and purchasing rules. (See this story for details on the bill’s provisions.)

There are some minor House-Senate differences that need to be resolved, but this bill is basically done. The bill passed the House 34-1.

Romer loses two

Senate Bill 10-210, the recently introduced bill that would have allowed a pilot rewards-for-reading program funded by the Read-to-Achieve program, failed on a 5-8 vote Monday in the House Education Committee. The panel then postponed it indefinitely.

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted 5-0 to lay over Senate Concurrent Resolution 10-004 – until July 4, long after the legislative session ends. This was the proposed keno-for-colleges constitutional amendment.

Both were pushed by Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver. Romer also unsuccessfully proposed Senate Bill 10-215, a different, non-constitutional proposal to expand gambling to fund college scholarships. That was killed in Senate Ed on May 5.

Romer argued that the 2010 legislature needed to do something about looming higher ed financial shortfalls in the 2011-12 school year, ahead of the seating of a new governor and legislature in January 2011.

For the record

Here’s a rundown of what lawmakers did Monday on other education-related measures:

  • House Bill 10-1274 – Notification of schools when students return from residential treatment, 35-0 final Senate passage.
  • House Bill 10-1131 – Creation of Kids Outdoors grant program, passed Senate 24-11
  • Senate Bill 10-064 – Simplification of college stipend application, Senate preliminary approval
  • Senate Bill 10-202 – Creation of CollegeInvest job-training accounts and allowing tax deductable employer matches – House preliminary approval
  • Senate Bill 10-161 – Charter school collaboratives, House preliminary approval

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

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.