Who Is In Charge

House debates “unfunded mandate”

Allowing high school students to take college classes before graduation usually is a feel-good issue that attracts wide legislative support. A 2009 upgrade of what’s call concurrent enrollment passed both houses unanimously.

Colorado CapitolBut House Bill 12-1043, which would create opportunities for students who are ahead of schedule in their high school studies, has had heavy going in the House, primarily because of fears about what it would cost school districts.

The bill would apply to high school students who start their senior years needing less than a full year’s worth of classes to graduate. Such students could choose to take college classes, and districts would be responsible for paying college tuition up to $3,176 a year. Districts would continue to count such students as enrolled and receive per pupil funding, which averages about $6,500 a year statewide.

A key issue is student choice; existing concurrent enrollment programs require district approval for students enrolling in college classes.

Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton and sole sponsor of the bill for now, had the bill amended in the House Education Committee to meet some district concerns.

But that apparently wasn’t enough for some House Democrats, who criticized the bill during floor debate.

“Here we are about to pass another unfunded mandate,” said Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. “The intent of the bill is good … the problem is the bill doesn’t come with any additional funding,” added Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County.

A Hamner amendment to make the program optional for districts was defeated, but the House did give voice approval to a Kerr amendment that says school districts wouldn’t have to implement the program until per-pupil funding returns to levels of 2008-09, the last year before school budget cuts began.

Conti returned to the microphone to defend the bill, saying, “There has been a lot of confusion on this issue.”

Then, Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, stepped to the podium and exercised the majority leader’s prerogative, laying the bill over until Tuesday.

Estimated cost of tax holiday trimmed

Committee amendments made to the sales tax holiday bill would trim the amount of lost state revenue from about $5.8 million a year to about $4.5 million, according to a new legislative fiscal analysis released Monday.

House Bill 12-1069 would create a three-day sales tax holiday during the first weekend in August during which school supplies costing $50 or less, clothing not costing more than $75 and computer equipment costing $1,000 or less would be exempt from state sales taxes. (The House Finance Committee reduced those amounts from those proposed in the original bill.) The holiday would run annually through 2016. Counties and cities would be free to decide whether to exempt such items from their portion of the sales tax.

During a Feb. 8 meeting of the committee, Chris Howes of the Colorado Retail Council argued that a tax holiday actually would increase state revenue, based on the experience of other states.

But the legislative fiscal analysis sticks with its estimate of a tax loss. The latest analysis reads: “Sales tax holidays tend to attract more shoppers into stores, which often relates to increased sales on taxable items that would not have occurred otherwise during the holiday period. This increased spending may partially offset the loss of sales tax revenue to the state and local governments due to the sale of exempt items during the sales tax holiday. Increased sales, however, may only represent a shift of purchases as consumers wait for the anticipated tax holiday to purchase items that they were already going to purchase at some point.”

Contracts bill passes on party-line vote

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins
Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins

Senate Bill 12-051 sparked a bit of a floor fight on preliminary Senate consideration last Friday, but the bill received final approval Monday with no debate. All 20 Senate Democrats voted yes, and all 15 Republicans voted no.

The bill would direct school boards to “consider” adopting contracting policies that would include the factor of “whether the contractor understands the culture of the affected school and will execute the contract in a manner that supports student success.”

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins and chair of the Senate Education Committee, is carrying the bill in the Senate. The House prime sponsor is Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and chair of the House Education Committee.

No debate on digital learning study

Massey also is a prime sponsor of House Bill 12-1124, which passed the House 64-0 on Monday. The measure would require the state Department of Education to hire a Colorado-based consultant to conduct a comprehensive study of digital education and report back to the State Board of Education, the governor and the legislative education committees by Jan. 31, 2013. (Get more details in this story about committee consideration.)

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, is carrying the bill in the Senate.

In other action

Concealed carry bill: In another piece of parliamentary maneuvering Monday on the House floor, House Bill 12-1092 was sent back to the House Judiciary Committee. The measure received preliminary floor approval on Feb. 14 – after addition of a Democratic amendment that broadened the definition of school property on which the bill wouldn’t apply.

The bill would give people who have a legal right to carry handguns the ability to carry them concealed without obtaining a separate concealed weapons permit. Several Democrats questioned the need to send the bill back to committee, but the motion carried on a 34-30 votes. Gun rights bills are a Republican priority in this election-year session.

Another ASSET delay: Senate Bill 12-015, the ASSET bill that would create a special category of college tuition for undocumented students, has again been laid over, this time to the Senate floor calendar for Feb. 27. The measure is awaiting final Senate approval, but supporters are trying to drum up additional support outside the Capitol before sending the bill to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock
Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock
Philosophical grousing:

A relatively minor bill consumed nearly an hour Monday afternoon before the House Education Committee voted 8-5 to pass House Bill 12-1218. The measure would extend the sunset date of the Early Childhood and School Readiness Commission, a legislative study panel, from this coming July 1 to July 1, 2017.

Some Republican members wondered if the group’s work overlaps with other state committees and complained that government is getting too deeply involved in families.

“I have a big concern about how we’re inserting ourselves younger and younger into private citizens’ lives,” said Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield and committee vice chair.

“I too have a great deal of concern at government getting too much into families’ lives,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock. But she and Massey joined the panel’s six Democrats to send the bill to the House Appropriations Committee on an 8-5 vote.

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: