Who Is In Charge

ASSET bill dead for 2011

Supporters of Senate Bill 11-126, designed to make it easier for undocumented students to attend state colleges, vowed Monday to bring the idea back to the Capitol next year.

Democratic sponsors Sen. Mike Johnston and Rep. Joe Miklosi of Denver tried to cheer up young supporters immediately after the 7-6 vote to kill the bill. “We’ve got to scrap and fight. … We are on the right side of history on this one,” Johnston told a group gathered in the Capitol’s west foyer.

Crowd at committee hearing
PHOTO: Chalkbeat File Photo
The Capitol's Old Supreme Court Chambers was packed for the April 25 hearing on the ASSET bill.

A few minutes earlier, the seven Republican members outvoted the committee’s six Democrats following 5 ½ hours of testimony, unsuccessful amendments and a little bit of suspense.

The defeat in the Republican-controlled House didn’t come as a major surprise, although Johnston and other supporters had held out hope that they could get the bill out of committee and even win floor passage, given that the GOP has only a one-vote majority.

A 2009 version of the bill was killed on the floor of the then-Democratic Senate. This year the Senate passed SB 11-126, so this was the first time the idea made it to the House.

Supporters this year put heavy emphasis on what they believed were the economic benefits of the bill – getting more bright students into college and helping strengthen the state’s workforce. They dubbed it the ASSET bill – Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow.

Representatives of groups like Colorado Forum and Colorado Succeeds supported the bill in testimony Monday, along with chambers of commerce. Several education groups also supported the bill.

Denver Mayor Bill Vidal, an immigrant himself as a child, and former Mayor Federico Peña testified for the bill.

In the end that wasn’t enough to sway the vote of just one Republican.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, cheered up supporters following the defeat of the ASSET bill.

Most of the 13 committee members gave speeches explaining their views before the final votes were cast.

Several Republicans said they felt they couldn’t vote for a bill they saw as bending or breaking the law. “We are a country of laws. I just can’t set that aside because of individual stories. I don’t take any joy in opposing this bill,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock.

Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster and himself the son of a legal Mexican immigrant, talked about how he understood both sides of the issue, criticized federal handling of immigration and acknowledged that his was the vote Democrats were hoping to get.

But, Ramirez said, “I’m not going to tell you right this second how I’m going to vote.” A few minutes later, when the roll was called, Ramirez paused and then voted no.

Chair Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, who often votes with Democrats, didn’t explain his no vote but said, “I have no doubt we’ll see it again next year.”

Nearly 50 witnesses testified on the bill, about two-thirds of them in support. Aside from a couple of anti-immigration hard liners, the discussion was largely tempered and polite.

The bill would have covered students who’d attended a Colorado high school for at least three years, been admitted to a state college within a year of graduating high school or earning a GED and who had completed affidavits saying they’d applied for lawful status or intended to do so when eligible.

The bill actually would have created a third, more expensive level of tuition, since students covered by the bill would not have been eligible for College Opportunity Fund stipends or state need-based financial aid so would have paid more than other resident students, an average of $2,000.

The bill was projected to raise up to $1.28 million a year in tuition revenue for state colleges.

Democratic amendments to raise the cost for undocumented students and delay implementation of the program until a federal DREAM Act is passed, designed to attract a Republican vote, were defeated.

In other action

Several education and budget measures moved in the legislature Monday, including:

• Senate Bill 11-230, the 2011-12 school finance act, was amended in the House last week to further soften the cuts to K-12 schools – if state year-end revenues come in higher that originally forecast. The House gave final 59-3 approval to the bill this morning. The Senate will have to agree to the House amendments, but that’s expected.

• Senate Bill 11-209, the 2010-11 long appropriations bill, was re-passed by the House on a 56-6 vote. The compromise version as drafted by the Joint Budget Committee includes full $5 million funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps. The Senate is expected to approve the compromise bill later this week.

• Senate Bill 11-133, a bill that would create a between-sessions study of school discipline methods and overuse of expulsions, suspensions and police referrals, won preliminary Senate passage. While legislative leaders have put it on the “approved” studies list, it still must go through the House.

• Senate Bill 11-259, Sen. Keith King’s plan to create a special type of school district tax override that would be partially matched by the state, was introduced in the Senate. The Colorado Springs Republican may have a challenge with this, if only because the session has to adjourn the week after next. However, he does have influential bipartisan sponsorship, including Massey; Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins and chair of the Senate Education Committee, and other Democrats and Republicans from both education panels.

• House Bill 11-1277 received final floor approval in the House. Originally intended as a sweeping streamlining in state mandates on school districts, the measure has been amended to allow districts to provide information to the legislature on the potential cost of new education laws and to make some changes in special education, accountability and online education laws, particularly in reporting requirements.

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

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: