Who Is In Charge

Bottle bill tossed in trash

A bill proposing to put a 5-cent deposit on many beverage bottles – and to give part of the expected revenues to education – was killed 5-4 Wednesday afternoon by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

Rally in support of bottle bill
Beverly Ingle, president of the Colorado Education Association, promoted the proposed bottle bill at a Capitol rally Feb. 23, 2011.

It was a case of youthful enthusiasm meeting economic analysis and political might, and the latter two won.

The idea behind House Bill 11-1247 came from students at the Denver Green School and the Crest Academy in Salida, and a large contingent of students showed up in the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chambers to urge passage of their bill, flanked by piles of trash bags filled with empty bottles.

Earlier in the day, the students rallied for TV cameras with Democratic sponsors Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver and Sen. Gail Schwartz of Snowmass, along with Beverly Ingle, president of the Colorado Education Association.

A legislative staff fiscal analysis of the bill estimated it would raise $79 million in the first year, with some $28.8 million flowing to the State Education Fund.

Students from Denver Green School
Students from the Denver Green School testified in favor of the bottle bill at the Capitol Feb. 23, 2011.

The more than three hours of testimony and committee discussion started with the students pitching the bill and ended with industry representatives opposing the measure.

In between all of that, Massachusetts economist Kevin Dietly, testifying on behalf of one opposing group, dispassionately dissected the bill as a bad idea economically.

A repeated criticism of the bill was that it would undermine curbside recycling efforts, which Dietly said are much more economically efficient than a bottle deposit system. Ten states have bottle deposit laws, some of which were passed before the advent of curbside recycling.

The potential costs to retailers and consumers, plus fears about “smuggling” of out-of-state empties into Colorado and concerns about sanitation at recycling sites and grocery stores, seemed to worry Republican members of the committee, who all voted against the bill in the end.

Education funding wasn’t mentioned except briefly by the students, who praised the bill as good for the environment, good for education and good for their futures.

The kids left long before the vote and before Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, accused bill sponsor Pabon of using the students.

Trash bags
After the bottle bill was killed, trash bags full of empties that had been used as props ended up in a Capitol hallway.

“I am incredibly disappointed that we would bring Colorado schoolchildren into the state Capitol and use them the way we used them today. … To teach our schoolchildren one side of this issue without helping them understand the whole issue … I believe is incredibly irresponsible.”

Pabon didn’t rise to the bait, but three other Democratic representatives – Claire Levy of Boulder, Lois Court of Denver and Nancy Todd of Denver – chastised Waller.

“I think it is very unfair to suggest that Rep. Pabon is somehow cynically exploiting innocent students to advance his bill,” Levy said in her usual clipped manner.

The rest of the committee members sat silent, discomfort obvious on some of their faces.

The bill likely was doomed from the start, given the feelings of most House Republicans about government programs and mandates and given the heavyweight business opposition. Those opponents included Safeway, Nestle Waters, Waste Management Inc., the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Retail Council and the Colorado Beverage Association, on whose behalf Dietly testified.

Charter management bill slenderized

Sen. Evie Hudak’s original version of Senate Bill 11-069 would have required Department of Education licensing of educational management organizations, the growing group of companies and non-profits that run charter and other kinds of schools.

That approach gathered resistance, and the Westminster Democrat on Wednesday proposed an amendment that assigns to the Charter School and Charter Authorizer Standards Review Committee, an existing group that is studying charter school standards, to also study the management issue.

The amended bill also would require the Department of Education to post information about active educational management organizations on its website starting in 2012. The Senate Education Committee passed the revised bill 7-0.

Higher ed finance study advances

The House Education Committee on Wednesday approved a proposed study of how to finance the state’s college and universities, which now rely much more heavily on tuition than they do on tax support. The panel would include eight legislators, four representatives from the departments of education and higher education, and a large cast – 34 – of institutional representatives, students and business people. Total membership would be 46.

Sponsor Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, defended the size of the group, saying representation from every institution is important. The committee amended the bill to slightly reduce the size of the body.

The bill passed 9-3 but now goes into hibernation for a while. Because it proposes a study, it must be approved by the Legislative Council, a group of legislative leaders. Those decisions usually are made near the end of a session.

The committee also voted 9-2 for House Bill 11-1069, which would allow college police to share information about potential threats and threatening individuals with deans’ offices, campus threat assessment teams and other administrators.

In other action

The House gave 64-0 final approval to House Bill 11-1155, designed to allow Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia to also serve as director of the Department of Higher Education.

Two education bills originally on Wednesday committee calendars didn’t come up after all. House Bill 11-1048, which would allow tax credits for private school tuition, was taken off the House Finance Committee’s calendar. House Bill 11-1089, the bill to give charter schools greater autonomy in seeking some state and federal grants, was transferred from the Senate State Affairs Committee to the Senate Education Committee.

House Bill 11-1115, which would change certain financial arrangements for public construction projects, was passed by the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee but now goes to Senate Finance.

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.”

reaction

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.”