Who Is In Charge

Dems hunt for K-12 answers

Legislative Democrats know they don’t like Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed 2011-12 budget, but they don’t yet know quite how to soften the blow to K-12 education.

“The budget we pass won’t be the same as the governor’s proposal,” Senate President Brandon Shaffer told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t know how it will be different.”

Sens. Brandon Shaffer and Bob Bacon
Senate President Brandon Shaffer (left) and Sen. Bob Bacon weren't nearly as cheerful as they looked in this photo as they talked to reporters about K-12 budget cuts on Feb. 16, 2010.

Hickenlooper’s budget plan, unveiled Tuesday, proposes cutting K-12 spending for next year by $332 million from current levels. That cut would reduce average per-pupil funding from $6,823 to $6,326 and make total program spending about $5.1 billion.

The governor’s K-12 spending plan would be $836 million below what full 2011-12 funding would be under the terms of Amendment 23. Details in this story.

Legislators, lobbyists and others at the Statehouse weren’t blindsided by the Hickenlooper plan; a cut of $300 million to $400 million had been widely expected.

Still the actual announcement had a shock effect, which was still rolling through the Capitol Wednesday.

The subject came up as the House debated 2010-11 budget balancing bills, as the Senate Education Committee discussed non-budget bills and during a Senate Democratic caucus after the morning floor session ended.

“In my mind the legislative session just started” with Hickenlooper’s announcement, Shaffer said.

The Senate president and education committee chair Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, met with reporters Wednesday afternoon to talk about their commitment to education funding and about – without many specifics – what they hope to do about it. Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, was supposed to participate but was held up on the House floor, trying to scrape a little extra education money out of 2010-11 budget balancing bills.

Shaffer and Bacon evaded saying what level of K-12 would be acceptable to them.

One reporter asked if Hickenlooper’s budget was “dead on arrival” in the legislature. Bacon replied, “I certainly hope in part it is DOA.”

But the two talked only in general terms about what can be done to reduce the K-12 bite.

Hickenlooper has proposed setting a 4 percent general fund reserve for next year instead of the 2 percent sometimes used in tight budget years.

“That may be a point of discussion,” Bacon said.

Hickenlooper pointed out to reporters Tuesday that cutting back to a 2 percent reserve would only free up about $100 million and suggested that wouldn’t make much of a difference. Shaffer said Wednesday, “In my world $100 million is a lot of money.”

“I can’t tell you where the money is” to help education, Shaffer said. “This is a negotiation.”

The two also mentioned Senate Bill 11-001, a measure they are cosponsoring.

The bill would create a temporary and somewhat convoluted system to funnel an undetermined amount of money to K-12 schools. It would work like this: If the balance in the state general fund next December is larger than the March 2011 estimate of general fund revenue, the difference would go into a Knowledge-Based Economy Fund and then given to the Department of Education in January 2012. The money then would be distributed to school districts to partially offset cuts. Monday from audit recoveries also would be swept into the fund.

No fiscal analysis has yet been done on the bill, and Shaffer couldn’t estimate how much money it might raise.

Both agreed the revenue probably would be modest.

Shaffer also said money for education is “not going to come from one place,” adding, “There will be other initiatives that will come forward,” without being specific.

The president also has introduced Senate Bill 11-109, which would allow citizens to contribute to education through income-tax check-offs. He acknowledged that wouldn’t raise much money.

In response to a question, Shaffer said he wasn’t going to try to raise education funds by selling off the Pinnacol workers’ comp insurance company. That’s been a radioactive issue in recent sessions. “That’s not where I’m going.”

Raiding state cash funds, a popular tactic in past downturns, probably isn’t much of an option, Shaffer said. “I unfortunately think most of the cash funds are tapped out.”

Both men vowed to at least make education funding an issue of intense debate this session.

Shaffer noted that last year it took the Senate only six minutes of floor discussion to approve cutting some $265 million from K-12 support.

“We’re not going to let that happen” this year, he said.

And Bacon has talked about structuring the annual school finance bill in such a way as to draw attention to the magnitude of education cuts.

In other action

• It was the House’s turn Wednesday to work through the long list of Joint Budget Committee bills designed to balance the current 2010-11 budget. Consideration of the bills was moved up on the schedule.

Debate on the bills largely mirrored that in the Senate. The House did pass a Democratic amendment to give schools any excess funds over a proposed 2.3 percent reserve.

• The Senate Education Committee approved two measures, Senate Bill 11-111 and House Bill 11-1077.

The first is the bill by Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, to create a study panel that would examine ways to attack the state’s college remediation problem. Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, wondered if such a panel is necessary, given the new executive branch education commission being organized under Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.

The committee did pass the bill, which now will require approval from Legislative Council, the leadership committee that has to OK all legislative studies.

Senate Ed also passed House Bill 11-1077, which would clean up state laws on special education and gifted and talented students.

• The Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee killed Senate Bill 11-075, which would have required state regulation of inflatable amusement devices such as “bouncy castles.”

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”


Tennesseans reflect on Candice McQueen’s legacy leading the state’s schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with Arlington High School students during a school visit Tuesday that kicked off a statewide tour focused on student voices.

As Candice McQueen prepares to leave her role as Tennessee education commissioner in January, education leaders, advocates, and parents are weighing in on her impact on the state’s schools.

McQueen 44, will become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in mid-January after about four years under the outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam administration.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy. But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Here are reactions from education leaders and thinkers across the state:

Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas:

“It was her commitment to transparency, equity, and strong accountability that helped create a nationally recognized framework that places students at its center. Commissioner McQueen’s commitment to inclusion and engagement meant that our partners across the state had the opportunity to weigh in, share their experiences, and to ask hard questions and conduct real conversations with policymakers. Tennessee continues to lead the nation in innovation and improvement in K-12 education, and that is due in no small part to Commissioner McQueen’s leadership.”

Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who in August co-penned a letter declaring “no confidence” in state testing:

“Since joining MNPS just over two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Commissioner McQueen and her team. She has been a strong advocate for Tennessee’s children, and I especially want to thank her for her support of the work that is taking place in Nashville. We send her our very best wishes — and our hearty congratulations for accepting her new role.”

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee:

“Commissioner Candice McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration. She took over the department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the department, particularly in the infrastructure. Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital. There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state. It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction. The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.”

Sharon Griffin, leader of the state-run Achievement School District:

“I have truly appreciated Dr. McQueen’s leadership and vision for the Department of Education.  From a distance and even closer in recent months, I have clearly seen the integrity and passion she brings to the work of improving student outcomes.  We have absolutely connected around our shared belief in how what’s in the best interest of students should guide our work.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of SCORE:

“Tennessee students have been served very well by the steady and strong leadership of Commissioner McQueen. Her priorities have been the right ones for our children: improving student achievement, with a specific focus on reading skills; advocating for great teaching and supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction; and emphasizing that students and schools with the greatest needs must receive targeted focus and support in order to improve.”

Sarah Carpenter, executive director of parent advocacy group Memphis Lift:

“Memphis parents want decision makers to be accessible, and we appreciate that Commissioner McQueen made a point to build relationships and hear concerns from the entire community. Hopefully, the next education commissioner will bring parents to the table for conversations about our kids’ education.”

Mendell Grinter, leader of Memphis student advocacy group Campaign for School Equity:

“In our collaborative work and position in the educational landscape, we have witnessed firsthand how Commissioner McQueen has served as a tireless advocate for students and families in Tennessee. Over the past two years her leadership has inspired school leaders, and teachers alike to recognize the sense of urgency for improving school equity and academic outcomes for more students.”

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report and vocal critic of state test, TNReady:

“After what can charitably be called a rocky tenure at the helm of the Tennessee Department of Education, Candice McQueen has miraculously landed another high-level job. This time, she’ll take over as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, an organization apparently not at all concerned about the track record of new hires or accountability.”

Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”