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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Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

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.”