Who Is In Charge

Hick’s education council gears up

Education funding isn’t necessarily supposed to be a top issue for the new Education Leadership Council, but the subject kept popping up Tuesday afternoon at the council’s first meeting.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia
Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia

Gov. John Hickenlooper, who created the group by executive order last January, spoke briefly with members at the start of the meeting. Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the administration’s education policy leader, did much of the talking during the nearly three-hour session.

The meeting took place on the same day as September state revenue forecasts were issued, renewing Capitol talk about the possibility of $200-$300 million K-12 funding budget cuts for 2012-13. See story.

Hickenlooper first raised the subject, saying, “We’re going to have to face the reality that we’re probably not going to have more resources than we did” during the 2011 legislative session.

Garcia picked up the topic later in the meeting, quoting administration budget chief Henry Sobanet that “Flat is the new up.”

He continued, “For next year, we still are looking at significant cuts … between $250 and $500 million” in the overall general fund budget. “You know where those cuts are going to come from” – K-12 and higher education, he added.

Garcia: Prop 103 ‘about the only short-term solution out there’

Garcia then turned to Proposition 103, the ballot measure that would raise state income and sales taxes for five years to raise some $3 billion for schools and colleges.

While noting that Hickenlooper has pledged not to seek new revenue during his first year in office, Garcia acknowledged that 103 “is about the only short-term solution out there.”

Significantly, he said, “We certainly are not going to do anything to get in the way of that effort.”

But, Garcia said, “Whatever happens … we can’t allow the state’s budget problems to serve as an excuse” for not seeking ways to improve education.

Later in the meeting, Garcia returned to the subject, saying, “I would encourage people to talk about what Proposition 103 might do for the state,” then adding, “That’s all I should say about it.”

Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs
Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs / File photo

During group discussion, Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, noted, “Resources always come to the surface when you talk about education.

“We need to find dedicated sources of revenue” for education, Massey said. “We could significantly increase our mineral severance taxes and devote that to higher education,” he suggested, freeing up money in the main state budget for K-12.

“We’re not trying to balance this on business,” Massey said, saying industry might be willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for lighter regulation. “It would go a long way toward shoring up the system.”

Kelly Brough, CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, sounded a cautionary note, saying other state study groups have looked at funding and that education reform should be the top priority of the leadership council.

Ken DeLay, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, noted the fiscal pressures on state colleges and universities and their importance to economic development: “If we do not put our fiscal house in order,” the state won’t have the higher ed system it needs.

DeLay also hinted that perhaps the administration should rethink its neutrality on Proposition 103.

Hereford Percy, chair of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, agreed, “We need to find a dedicated sustainable source of funding.”

What’s on the council’s plate – Hick’s ed goals, and more

The administration’s initial goal for the council is to have it assist with Hickenlooper’s current education goals – implementation of in-progress reforms like new state tests and education evaluation systems, improving third-grade literacy and reducing the college remediation rate.

Education Leadership Council
First meeting of Education Leadership Council on Sept. 20, 2011.

Garcia said the council’s scope would encompass “birth to lifelong learning,” expanding the preschool-to-grad school emphasis of the council that advised former Gov. Bill Ritter.

But, Garcia said, “We don’t want to limit the group to those specific ideas. … We shouldn’t be bashful about adding our own ideas into the mix.”

The governor, who arrived at the meeting a few minutes after it started, acknowledged that his administration has focused on economic development in its first year and paid less attention to education, health care and transportation. He indicated that will change in the future.

“In education, there’s not a whole lot of mystery about what we need to do,” Hickenlooper said. “We are not training the kids for the jobs that are most likely going to be there for them. … How do we begin to address that?”

While Colorado has examples of successful education initiatives, Hickenlooper said, “We haven’t been able to put it together and maintain significant improvement over a significant amount of time.”

The state needs to work on “how quickly can we turn this around,” he said.

Garcia told the group he and the administration expect it (or at least a subcommittee) to be a sounding board and review panel for proposed education bills during the 2012 session. The chairs of the two education committees, Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and Massey are members of the council.

Christine Scanlan, a former legislator who’s now Hickenlooper’s top lobbyist, said, “I expect that group to meet fairly frequently during the legislative session.”

Garcia said the council will divide into various working groups over the next three years, some short-term and some of longer duration. The council will use a consensus approach to make recommendations.

The next meeting of the full council is Nov. 8. See full list of members here.

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.”

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.