Who Is In Charge

District mandates bill reworked

State “mandates” are a longstanding sore point for Colorado school districts, which complain that the legislature keeps telling them to do more things and file more reports even as state financial support of schools is dropping.

For the past couple of legislative sessions school districts have resisted such bills, even those on such apple pie issues as recess and school safety. For the 2011 session, the mandates discussion turned in the direction of eliminating – or at least streamlining – existing requirements.

The outcome of those discussions was House Bill 11-1277, an amended version of which was passed 13-0 by the House Education Committee Monday. The measure is not a sweeping overhaul of state requirements on schools, and it covers only a handful of issues.

A key part of the reason for that, according to those involved in the discussions that led to the current version, is that many education mandates are federal and not easily changed or worked around.

Colorado CapitolAs originally introduced, the most interesting part of HB 11-1277 was a provision that any education requirement passed by the legislature had to carry funding with it. If an education law didn’t include funding, districts wouldn’t have been obliged to obey it.

That provision was dropped from the amended version passed Monday. Prime sponsor Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, told the committee that was impractical, given that “everything we do with regard to education is a mandate.”

What remains in the bill is a requirement that districts be given a week in which to reply to newly introduced education bills and estimate what the costs would be. Those estimates would have to be included in the cost memos written by legislative staff members, known as fiscal notes. Those notes currently contain estimates of what a bill would cost the state but no estimates of district costs.

Notable recent education legislation for which full costs remain to be estimated are the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids and last year’s educator effectiveness law.

The rest of HB 11-1277 touches on about eight areas, some of them minor, others somewhat more important.

The largest part of the bill is a rewrite of various special education laws, designed to update language, conform state law to federal requirements and provide general clarification, according to Laura Freppel of the Department of Education’s special education unit, who testified Monday.

(The bill was vetted by a wide variety of education interest groups and CDE, and representatives of those groups trooped to the witness table Monday to voice their support.)

Another part of the bill deals with parts of the state accountability system. One key provision would allow districts with fewer than 1,000 students to submit a single improvement plan, rather than one for every school.

Other language in that section would streamline the improvement plan approval process, in some cases requiring fewer steps to be taken by CDE.

The bill also proposes some changes in state oversight of online schools, including elimination of the requirement for an annual report by CDE’s online office. The state’s online regulation law was passed in 2007, before passage of the new accountability system in 2009. Supporters of streamlining online regulation feel the accountability structure makes some original parts of the online law duplicative. This section of the bill may see further tweaking after the bill moves into the Senate.

The bill also includes a requirement that CDE provide annual academic growth data to individual schools within 10 days after it has been given to districts. Some groups, like the Colorado Education Association, have complained that some districts are slow to share detailed achievement and growth data with individual schools and their teachers.

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Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.