Who Is In Charge

House Ed kills trigger bill

The proposed Colorado parent trigger bill was killed Monday on an 8-5 vote in the House Education Committee, with two Republicans joining all six committee Democrats in opposition.

House Bill 11-1270 would have allowed a majority of parents at a failing school to force closure or conversion to a charter or innovation school.

Chair Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and freshman Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, were the two Republican no votes. Vice Chair Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, was prime sponsor. Noting that Beezley also is a freshman, one lobbyist predicted afterwards that the bill will show up again in future legislative sessions.

Ramirez provided a little bit of suspense during the roll call vote on the bill, first passing and then pausing for a long time – scratching his brow and looking anxious – before asking Massey, “Mr. Chair, may we take a recess?”

Massey explained that the vote had to continue, and Ramirez voted no, ensuring the bill’s defeat because the tally to pass it was 5-7 at that point, with five Republicans voting yes and six Democrats and Ramirez voting no. Massey delivered the final no vote.

Ranking Democratic member Rep. Judy Solano then moved to postpone the bill indefinitely, and the six Democrats plus Ramirez and Massey made up the winning side of that 8-5 margin.

Beezley pitched the bill as a way to give parents a “seat at the reform table.”

Rep. Don Beezley and Jane Urschel
Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards (right) critiqued the parent trigger bill by Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, (left) during a committee hearing March 14, 2011.

Representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards, Colorado Association of School Executives and Colorado Education Association testified against the bill, and the only group in support was the Colorado Association of Charter Schools.

Van Schoales, director of Education Reform Now, said his group was neutral on the bill, but he raised a number of questions in his testimony.

Under the terms of the bill, more than 50 percent of families at a low-performing school could have petitioned a school board to close the school or convert it to a charter or innovation school. A school board could have accepted the petition, proposed another alternative or, in limited cases, rejected the petition. Parents could have appealed to the State Board of Education, which would have had the final say. A combined parent-district committee would have had oversight of a school conversion.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of CASB, characterized the bill as an infringement on the legal and constitutional responsibilities of school boards.

Schools subject to such petitions would have been those that have been required by the state to adopt a priority improvement plan for the second year in a row or that are required to adopt a turnaround plan. Those categories are part of the state’s new district and school accountability system, implemented for the first time last August.

Such schools typically have high poverty and high minority populations. No representatives of community groups that typically advocate for such schools, such as Padres y Jovenes Unidos, appeared at the committee hearing.

On the floors

The bills proposing minimum levels of physical activity in elementary schools and setting rules for handling young athletes with concussions received final floor approvals Monday, along with several other education-related measures.

House action

Colorado Capitol
Senate Bill 11-040 passed 35-27. The measure requires youth sports coaches to take annual training in recognition of concussion symptoms and sets standards for removing athletes from play or practice and for letting them return. It’s aimed primarily at middle school, club and recreation district sports as similar procedures already are in effect for high school sports.

Rural lawmakers mounted an unsuccessful last-ditch attack on the bill, arguing that it would create staffing and liability problems for small-town teams. The bill doesn’t have enforcement provisions.

The House on Friday adopted an amendment that adds specially trained chiropractors to the list of medical professionals that can authorize an athlete to return to play. An attempt to add all chiropractors was defeated.

House Bill 11-1168 passed 34-28. It would double the amount of College Opportunity Fund stipends for low-income students at private colleges. This bill is sensitive primarily because it could potentially reduce the amount of state funding going to public colleges, since the measure specifies that overall COF funding won’t increase. (Some Democrats also object to state money going to religious colleges.)

The opportunity fund is really just a budgetary device that helps exempt college spending from the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and the amount fluctuates every year. Low-income students at three private colleges currently receive half the stipend; the full stipend is credited against tuition for all students at public colleges. Colorado Christian University wants the bill; the University of Denver and Regis University are formally neutral. The bill has little chance in the Senate because of the loss it would create for public colleges, estimated at $6 per student.

House Bill 11-1121 passed 54-9. The bill changes state law on employment of felons by school districts. The bill contains some retroactive provisions, although much reduced from the original draft, and adds some drug offenses to the list of disqualifying crimes.

Senate Bill 11-012 passed 62-1. This is the bill that would allow school districts to adopt their own policies on student self-administration of prescription drugs instead of having to use all the detailed procedures now required in state law.

Final consideration of House Bill 11-1248, which would reduce elected employee and retiree representation on the Public Employees’ Retirement Association Board and add members appointed by the governor, was laid over until Tuesday.

The two Senate bills were amended in the House, so they must return to the Senate for consideration of amendments.

Senate action

House Bill 11-1069 passed 20-12. It would require 600 minutes of “physical activity” per month in elementary schools. The bill contains a broad definition of physical activity and reportedly mirrors what most elementary schools already are doing but is being pushed as at least a symbolic effort to combat childhood obesity. Several Republicans and Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge voted no. The bill goes back to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

Senate Bill 11-069 passed 26-6. It assigns the charter schools standards commission to study educational management organizations in addition to the work it’s already doing. The original version of the bill proposed a detailed regulatory scheme for such organizations and high fees on organizations to pay for reviews. Sponsor Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, quickly watered the bill down because of opposition. All the no votes were Republicans. The bill goes back to the House for review of amendments.

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

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.