From the Statehouse

Funding fight brews over literacy bill

Two of this year’s most significant education bills – the annual school finance act and the proposed early literacy legislation – have become entangled in maneuvering over how to pay for the literacy measure.

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

Rep. Tom Massey acknowledged Monday that he wants the finance measure, House Bill 12-1345, to sit in the House until he has a better idea what the Senate wants to do about funding House Bill 12-1238, the measure that would encourage holding back some third-graders with low reading skills and generally seek to upgrade literacy education in early grades.

Massey, a Poncha Springs Republican and chair of the House Education committee, is the prime House sponsor of both bills.

The funding bill went to the House floor on April 10. Normally, the school finance act moves more or less in synch with the main state budget bill. This year’s version of that measure, House Bill 12-1335, passed the House last Thursday.

The school funding legislation has been on each day’s House calendar since late last week but has been laid over every day, including on Monday.

Chatter about the issue has spread around the statehouse. During a budget briefing for senators Monday, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, referred to the school finance bill “being held hostage in the House at the moment.”

The literacy bill has drawn the most public attention on the issue of holding back some third graders.

But the bill doesn’t propose mandatory retention of third graders based on reading scores, and those parts of the bill were softened as the measure moved through the House. Massey said Monday he doesn’t think that should be an issue, although he said he’s hearing “there still seems to be some heartburn over retention.”

Rather the potential cost of a new literacy program in the early grades has emerged as the biggest concern as the bill moved from the Republican-controlled House to the Senate, where Democrats have the majority.

“That is a significant part of the discussion,” said Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont.

Massey noted that various interest groups are arguing that “costs will be more significant” than originally estimated. If the bill needs more funding, Massey said that might well have to come from the finance act. The two bills “are integrally linked,” Massey said.

“We want to control our own destiny,” he said, explaining why he’d like the finance bill to stay in the House until there’s some agreement on costs and how they should be covered.

Shaffer said, “One of the major concerns is that the bill creates unfunded mandates.”

The current version of the literacy bill would provide about $5.3 million for the new Colorado Early Literacy Act, most of it taken from the existing Read to Achieve grant program, which serves only a small percentage of students statewide.

One person familiar with the ongoing literacy negotiations said the two sides are $5 to $10 million apart on how much more funding the bill should have. (At one point, some school district representatives reportedly argued that the bill should require $37 million in funding.)

School districts have experienced successive years of state budget cuts and also are sensitive about the unfunded requirements of recent reform legislation, including the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids and the 2010 educator effectiveness law. So they’re digging in their heels on the literacy bill.

Massey said he agrees that bill needs to be appropriately funded.

Shaffer said a lot of work remains on the funding issue. “There are a variety of ideas [but] we’re really at a brainstorming stage. … I wish I could be more specific. … We’re still in the process of trying to figure that all out.”

The literacy bill currently is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee on April 25.

Asked if discussions would be wrapped up by then, Shaffer said, “We are working on it and hopefully have something positive in the next week or two.”

Taking money out of the 2012-13 school finance act for the literacy bill could be a tricky issue. As it now stands, the finance act would provide enough state funding in 2012-13 to keep per-pupil funding at the same level as this year, although many school districts would still have to make cuts in their budgets. Eating into that pot of money for literacy programs would reduce funding for overall school operations, a move school districts would resist.

awarding leaders

Meet the nine finalists for Tennessee Principal of the Year

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
From left: Docia Generette-Walker receives Tennessee's 2016 principal of the year honor from Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Generette-Walker leads Middle College High School in Memphis. This year's winner will be announced in October.

Nine school leaders are up for an annual statewide award, including one principal from Memphis.

Tracie Thomas, a principal at White Station Elementary School, represents schools in Shelby County on the state’s list of finalists. Last year, Principal Docia Generette-Walker of Middle College High School in Memphis received the honor.

Building better principals has been a recent focus for Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen as roles of the school leaders change under school improvement efforts.

“Successful schools begin with great leaders, and these nine finalists represent some of the best in our state,” McQueen said. “The Principal of the Year finalists have each proven what is possible when school leaders hold students and educators to high expectations.”

The winner will be announced at the state department’s annual banquet in October, where the winner of Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year will also be announced.

The finalists are:

West Tennessee

  • Tracie Thomas, White Station Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Stephanie Coffman, South Haven Elementary, Henderson County School District
  • Linda DeBerry, Dyersburg City Primary School, Dyersburg City Schools

Middle Tennessee

  • Kenneth “Cam” MacLean, Portland West Middle School, Sumner County Schools
  • John Bush, Marshall County High School, Marshall County Schools
  • Donnie Holman, Rickman Elementary School, Overton County Schools

East Tennessee

  • Robin Copp, Ooltewah High School, Hamilton County Schools
  • Jeff Harshbarger, Norris Middle School, Anderson County Schools
  • Carol McGill, Fairmont Elementary School, Johnson City Schools

you better work

Hickenlooper, on national TV, calls for bipartisanship on job training for high school graduates

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke to reporters on the eve of the 2017 General Assembly.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sunday said Republicans and Democrats should work together to rethink how states are preparing high school graduates for the 21st century economy.

“It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue to say we want better jobs for our kids, or we want to make sure they’re trained for the new generation of jobs that are coming or beginning to appear,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, appeared on the Sunday public affairs program alongside Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to discuss their work on healthcare.

The Colorado governor brought up workforce training after moderator John Dickerson asked what issues besides healthcare both parties should be addressing.

“Two-thirds of our kids are never going to have a four-year college degree, and we really haven’t been able to prepare them to involve them in the economy where the new generations of jobs require some technical capability,” Hickenlooper said. “We need to look at apprenticeships. We need to look at all kinds of internships.”

Hickenlooper has long supported a variety of education reform policies including charter schools and linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. Last fall he backed a new program that is expected to this year connect 250 Colorado high school students with paid job training.

Watch Hickenlooper and Kasich here. Hickenlooper’s remarks on job training begin right before the 11- minute mark.