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

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.

parent voice

It’s not enough just to stay open, say Memphis parents of their struggling elementary school

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Sonya Smith, a longtime community organizer in Memphis Frayser, speaks to parents at Hawkins Mill Elementary School on Thursday during a community meeting about state intervention plans.

For six years, Hawkins Mill Elementary School has been on the state’s radar because of students’ low scores on standardized tests — an issue cited again last month when Tennessee officials urged local leaders to close the Memphis school.

Shelby County Schools is passing on that recommendation, but agrees with the state on one thing: Hawkins Mill faces big challenges, including declining enrollment and a mostly impoverished student population.

Now the question is what to do about it. Among the issues is whether Principal Antonio Harvey should stay on for a sixth year, and if the district’s first $300,000 investment in Hawkins Mill went toward the right interventions this school year.

During a Thursday evening meeting, about 50 parents and community members got their first opportunity to ask questions about competing visions for their Frayser school.

What parents like

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Principal Antonio Harvey, front, and parents listen to a Shelby County Schools presentation on the state’s new accountability model.

Parents applauded the district’s stance to keep Hawkins Mill open, in defiance of the state’s recommendation, in order to give their school a fair chance to improve.

Many also spoke in favor of Harvey, describing him as a stabilizing and nurturing force who has ushered in new opportunities in the arts, sports, and other extracurricular activities. The school’s suspension rate also has declined in recent years, except for a slight uptick last year.

“I saw how he took unruly, disrespectful kids and they shake his hand now. He sits down and talks to them. … We’re constantly adding programs,” said PTA member Sharanda Person. “Doing things that way makes me think he cares about the kids.”

Several spoke favorably of their children’s school experience.

“Since she’s been here, I’ve seen exponential growth,” said Tonyas Mays, who transferred her daughter from a state-run school last August. “My child’s potential has been recognized here and she’s testing out of (special education) now.”

What parents didn’t like

A presentation on the low percentages of students on grade level in reading and math drew moans from parents as the data was explained by Antonio Burt, the district’s assistant superintendent for its lowest performing schools.

Notes: 2013-14 science and 2014-15 social studies test scores were not listed in the state report card. Elementary students did not take TNReady in 2015-16. The 2016-17 social studies test did not count toward school accountability measures.

But some questioned the validity of the state’s new test called TNReady, which has been marred by technical glitches in administration and scoring during its first two years.

“The state of Tennessee has made excuses as to why the test wasn’t ready. They get a pass while our children don’t,” said Sonya Smith, a community organizer. “Every time our children meet the test, they tell us that test was no good.”

Another disappointment is declining enrollment. Hawkins Mill had 357 students when Harvey started in the fall of 2013. Last month, enrollment was at 314.

What parents aren’t sure of

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Antonio Burt, assistant superintendent for low-performing schools, speaks to parents.

Burt said some assessments and attendance data show “some positive trends” this school year.

His presentation was void of nitty-gritty detail on progress as outlined under the school improvement plan that went to effect this school year. However, information provided to Chalkbeat on Friday showed that student growth this school year was higher than average in reading and math — a measure key to showing whether students can catch up. Also, the school’s suspension rate so far this school year is about 4 percent of students, compared to almost 13 percent at this time last year.

Several parents asked whether Harvey would remain as principal, worrying that a new leader could set the school back because of the adjustment in getting to know the students and faculty.

Burt responded that leadership is being reviewed, but that no decisions have been made. “To be completely transparent, we have to reassess everything,” he said.

Because Hawkins Mill is a priority school on track for state intervention, the state Department of Education must approve any plan outside of its recommendation to close.

The school is slated to continue under Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them. District leaders are still discussing the amount of new funding and where to invest it.

Burt thinks the district’s plan has a “50/50 chance” of state approval since it’s new.