Who Is In Charge

Bill would give colleges greater freedom

A bill introduced in the House Tuesday would give state colleges and universities greater autonomy in use of student fees, personnel matters and construction projects, plus additional flexibility in other administrative areas.

House Bill 11-1301 has bipartisan sponsorship and is being pushed by the University of Colorado, according to several higher education lobbyists. The House prime sponsor is Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs and assistant majority leader. The Senate sponsor is Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass and a former CU regent.

The bill has been assigned to the House State Affairs Committee, not to House Education.

The overall thrust of the bill appears to reduce the number of Colorado Commission on Higher Education and other state agency requirements that institutions now have to meet.

CU-Boulder campus view
PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Campus of University of Colorado at Boulder

Provisions of the 43-page measure would:

  • Specify that guaranteed tuition contracts cover tuition, not fees.
  • Give governing boards greater control over student fees and reduce the role of the CCHE in that area.
  • Remove the requirement that the commission approve institution plans to set up non-profit arms.
  • Give governing boards the power to indemnify their contractors.
  • Give institutions greater autonomy in their information security programs.
  • Allow institutions greater freedom to dispose of surplus property and discretion in making purchases from correctional industries.
  • Allow college presidents greater freedom to create positions not covered the state personnel system, hire contractors, rehire retired employees for longer periods of time, offer employee incentive programs and authorize administrative leave for classified employees.
  • Provide colleges greater freedom in handling construction projects, including removal of the current requirement that colleges get student input if they want to use tuition revenue as security for auxiliary facilities.

A 2009 law gave state colleges additional flexibility in handling their construction projects, and a 2010 law gave them significantly expanded power to set tuition rates – but with the oversight of CCHE.

The 2010 higher education plan developed by a citizen panel recommended a stronger regulatory role for CCHE, an idea that’s been resisted both publicly and privately by some college presidents.

Some presidents, especially Bruce Benson of CU, also repeatedly have cited steadily declining tax support for higher education as an important reason for giving colleges more freedom to manage their own finances

Counselor Corps gets its funding back

Proposed 2011-12 funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps has been on a roller coaster ever since budget deliberations starts months ago.

The Joint Budget Committee proposed cutting it to about $2.5 million, the Senate bumped it back to $5 million and the House took the number back down to $2.5 million.

Tuesday, meeting as a conference committee to reconcile the different House and Senate versions of Senate Bill 11-209, the long appropriations bill, the JBC voted 4-2 to restore $5 million for the corps.

The final version of the budget still has to be approved by both houses. But by this time of the session, the other 94 lawmakers are so sick of the budget they usually agree to the JBC’s compromise version.

The committee deadlocked 3-3 on a motion to restore $30,000 in funding for family literacy centers, another Department of Education program.

Two studies advance, two die

The Legislative Council gathered first thing Tuesday morning for a new job – prioritizing and then voting on bills and resolutions that propose various legislative studies to be done after the session ends.

Three related to education were on the list of 12.

Approved was Senate Bill 11-111, which proposes a study of how to help students negotiate school transitions (like middle to high school) and how to reduce college remediation rates. Also approved was Senate Bill 11-133, which proposes a study of school discipline methods and which methods are inappropriately used.

The panel defeated House Bill 11-1184, which proposed studying of new ways to fund higher education. Also defeated was Senate Joint Resolution 11-033, which proposed a panel to review a University of Denver tax study that a previous legislature requested. That study isn’t finished.

While Legislature Council long had had a role in deciding which interim studies are supported with legislative funds and staff, a recent law has given it expanded power to prioritize projects and vote them up or down, just like a regular committee in either house.

So, members were feeling their way through the sometimes-cumbersome process, punctuated by jokes and laughter during the more confused portions of the 90-minute session.

The measures that survived Tuesday’s review still have to be passed by the full House and Senate to go into effect.

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.”


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.”