From the Statehouse

Bullying bill packed with mandates

A new anti-bullying bill introduced in the legislature Thursday proposes to do everything from creating a legislative study committee on the issue to requiring schools to conduct annual surveys about student perceptions of the problem.

The measure, House Bill 11-1254, was introduced on a day that saw several education news developments, including committee approval of the concussion bill and defeat of a bill to give Colorado State University students and faculty voting seats on the system’s board. (See bottom of story for details on those.)

Here are some of the key provisions of the bullying bill:

  • A legislative study committee would meet after the session adjourns in 2013 and make a report to the 2014 legislature.
  • A bullying prevention grant program (to be funded by donations, not tax dollars) would be created in the Department of Education to give schools grants for anti-bullying programs.
  • A School Bullying Prevention and Education Board would be created to administer the grant program and produce reports on its effectiveness.
  • School districts would be required to keep records of confirmed bullying incidents and adopt anti-bullying policies.
  • Individual schools would have to provide annual reports on incidents.
  • Teachers would be required to take training on bullying prevention.
  • Schools would have to conduct annual surveys of students on perceptions of bullying.

The bill also would apply to charter schools.

Reps. Kevin Priola, R- Brighton and Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, are the prime sponsors, along with Sen. Pat Steadman D-Denver.

The bill seems to be considerably more expansive that originally described by sponsors before the session, and it may raise eyebrows from school officials who’ve been hoping the 2011 legislature will reduce or streamline mandates on local schools districts rather than increase them.

Ed McCaffrey, Kelli Jantz, Sen. Nancy Spence
Kellli Jantz (wearing glasses at right) and Sen. Nancy Spence (red jacket) listen to former Bronco Ed McCaffrey urge adoption of the concussion bill.

Concussion bill campaign hits Capitol

The Senate’s largest hearing room was packed Thursday afternoon as the Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 11-040, the proposal that would require youth sports coaches to take training in recognizing the symptoms of concussions and also set standards for taking injured youths out of practices and games.

Before the hearing, supporters rallied at a well-attended Capitol news conference to promote the bill. Boosters included Kelli Jantz, the mother of a youth who died from a head injury, and former Denver Broncos Ed McCaffrey and Billy Thompson. The Brain Injury Alliance, The Children’s Hospital and several other medical organizations, plus the National Football League, are backing the bill. The NFL has been pushing similar legislation in states across the country.

The air of enthusiasm cooled a bit once the bill got to the committee. There was debate over whether athletic trainers should be added to the list of medical professionals who could clear an athlete to play after a concussion. (An amendment to do that was defeated.)

Conservative Republican Sens. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud and Shawn Mitchell of Broomfield, who take a dim view of government mandates of any sort, questioned whether the bill is necessary but were on the losing side of a 7-2 vote to advance the bill.

The bill would require youth sports coaches to take training in recognizing concussion symptoms, require an athlete be removed from practice or a game if a coach suspects a concussion and also require such athletes be medically evaluated and have written clearance before returning to play. It applies only to sports involving middle and high school-age children. The bill proposes neither penalties nor reporting requirements to ensure compliance.

Senate prime sponsors are Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, and Linda Newall, D-Littleton.

Another defeat for student votes on CSU board

The bill to give students and faculty members voting rights on the Colorado State University Board of Governors died Thursday in the Senate Education Committee, with only Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins and committee chair, voting yes.

CSU student government leaders have pushed the bill repeatedly and in 2010 saw a similar measure pass the full House by a wide margin before dying in Senate Ed on a 2-6 vote.

This year’s proposal, Senate Bill 11-011, would have added two students and two faculty members as voting members, to be appointed by the governor from the university’s two campuses. Last year’s bill included only student members. Students and faculty currently serve on the board as non-voting advisors.

Defeat of the bill came on the same day that legislators spent consider floor time praising the university while discussing a ceremonial resolution honoring the CSU system.

“Garcia bill” has easy time

House Bill 11-1155, which would clear Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia to also serve as director of the Department of Higher Education, was approved quickly Thursday by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. Prime sponsors of the measure are the majority and minority leaders of both houses, so passage is expected.

For the record

The House gave final approval to surprisingly controversial House Bill 11-1007, which would allow Mesa State College employees to vote on whether to remain in the state personnel system or join the college’s own system. The measure may encounter more opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority.

legal opinion

Tennessee’s attorney general sides with charter schools in battle over student information

PHOTO: TN.gov
Herbert H. Slatery III was appointed Tennessee attorney general in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom he previously served as general counsel.

Tennessee’s attorney general says requests for student contact information from state-run charter school operators don’t violate a federal student privacy law, but rather are “entirely consistent with it.”

The opinion from Herbert Slatery III, issued late on Wednesday in response to a request by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, was a win for charter schools in their battle with the state’s two largest districts.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

McQueen quickly responded by ordering school leaders in Memphis and Nashville to comply. In letters dispatched to Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Director Shawn Joseph of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, McQueen gave the districts a deadline, adding that they will face consequences if they refuse.

“If you do not provide this information by Sept. 25, 2017, to the (Achievement School District) and any other charter school or charter authorizer who has an outstanding request, we will be forced to consider actions to enforce the law,” she wrote.

Neither superintendent responded immediately to requests for comment, but school board leaders in both districts said Thursday that their attorneys were reviewing the matter.

Chris Caldwell, chairman for Shelby County’s board, said he’s also concerned “whether the timeframe stated gives us enough time to make sure families are aware of what is happening.”

Wednesday’s flurry of events heats up the battle that started in July when charter operators Green Dot and LEAD requested student contact information under the state’s new charter law, which gives districts 30 days to comply with such requests. School boards in both Memphis and Nashville refused, arguing they had the right under the federal student privacy law to restrict who gets the information and for what reasons.

The attorney general said sharing such information would not violate federal law.

The requested information falls under “student directory information,” and can be published by school districts without a parent’s permission. For Shelby County Schools, this type of information includes names, addresses, emails and phone numbers.


To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer.


The opinion also backs up the new state law, which directs districts to share information that charter operators say they need to recruit students and market their programs in Tennessee’s expanding school-choice environment.

However, the opinion allowed for districts to have a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing such information. It was not clear from the opinion if the two school districts have exhausted that time.

A spokeswoman for Shelby County Schools said Tuesday the district had not yet distributed forms that would allow parents to opt out of having their students’ information shared, although the district’s parent-student handbook already includes instructions for doing so.

Below, you can read the attorney general’s opinion and McQueen’s letters to both superintendents:

Clarification, Sept. 14, 2017: This story has been updated to clarify the school boards’ arguments for not sharing the information.

First Person

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Grace Tatter covers a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in 2015.

For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.

Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.

1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.

I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.

2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.

I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.

3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.

During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.

4. Money matters.

Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.

5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.

6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.

If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.

Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.