From the Statehouse

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

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.