Who Is In Charge

Prop 103 donations nearing $175,000

Support Schools for a Bright Colorado – the primary group backing Proposition 103, a measure to temporarily raise state income and sales taxes to fund schools – has now raised almost $175,000, including $22,000 in the past six weeks, campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State this week show.

Voting check imageThe largest single contribution by far is a $100,000 donation in mid-June from the Gary-Williams Company, the primary funder of the Piton Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to improving the lives of children in Colorado. An earlier $100,000 gift to the Bright Colorado campaign was made by the Piton Investment Fund. That check was returned at the donor’s request, and a new check was issued from the Gary-Williams business account, the filings show.

The second-largest donation comes from the Colorado Municipal Bond Dealers, which contributed $12,000 at the end of July. Other large contributions during this reporting period include $5,000 from Colorado WINS, which represents 31,000 state employees; $1,200 from Impact on Education, a Boulder County-based education advocacy group; $1,000 from civic leader Caz Matthews, the former president of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield; and $1,000 from investment firm Stifel Nicolaus.

Other earlier large donations include $5,000 from the Arc of Colorado, which advocates for people with development disabilities; and $10,000 from Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, who has been the driving force behind this initiative all along.

“This is not going to be a glitzy campaign,” Heath said Wednesday. “We don’t think it will be a huge-dollar campaign. The ballots come out on Oct. 12, so there’s not a lot of time to spend a lot of money.”

Heath said he hopes the campaign can, nevertheless, raise another $200,000 or so.

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Under Heath’s leadership, the initiative backers obtained enough signatures on petitions to get it placed on the November ballot.

If passed, the measure would raise the state income tax to 5 percent from its current 4.63 percent and the state sales tax to 3 percent from 2.9 percent, their levels in 1999. The increases would be in effect for five years, generating an estimated $550 million per year to be earmarked for increased funding of school districts and state colleges.

The latest round of contributions brings the group’s total amount raised to $173,765. Expenditures, meanwhile, have totaled $167,829, with the bulk of that – just over $131,000 – going to political consultant Samuel F. Lopez.

One other group, Great Education Colorado Action Fund, has thus far reported a single $1,000 donation from its parent group, Great Education Colorado, in support of the initiative, and reports receiving an additional $6,800 worth of non-monetary contributions.

A group organized to defeat the initiative, Too Taxing for Colorado, has so far raised $677, and has spent $306, most of it going to create a website.

“We’re talking pennies compared to what has happened for some of these big spenders,” said Penn Pfiffner, chairman of Too Taxing for Colorado.

He compared the current campaign to the 2008 Amendment 59 campaign, which would have created a savings account for education in Colorado using money that otherwise would have been refunded to taxpayers under the state’s TABOR Amendment. Despite heavy spending by proponents and minimal spending by opposition, the initiative was defeated by voters 54 to 46 percent.

“If anything, we’ll see a repeat of that this year,” Pfiffner said.

Disclosure: The Piton Foundation is a funder of Education News Colorado.

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.”