Tuesday Churn: Voucher appeal

Updated — Douglas County School District officials today said they provided outdated data in response to a request under the state’s open-records law. The outdated information dealt with how much private schools still owe for voucher payments they’ve been asked to return. This story now reflects the new information. For comparison, here’s the outdated record and here’s the updated document.

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

The appeal of a Denver judge’s decision to halt Douglas County’s voucher pilot inched forward this week with Monday’s deadline for opening briefs in the case.

That doesn’t mean the appeal will soon be over. Monday’s deadline sets in motion an answering brief, followed by a response, followed by – possibly – oral arguments, all of which are expected to take the case into the summer.

Dougco school board members approved the voucher pilot more than a year ago, in March 2011. Their voucher pilot would have used public funding to help up to 500 Dougco students attend private schools starting in fall 2011.

But two lawsuits, later consolidated into one, filed by a handful of Dougco families, residents and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the pilot as unconstitutional and on Aug. 12, Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez agreed with them. Martinez, in his 68-page ruling, found the pilot violated five provisions of the Colorado Constitution, including the prohibition against public funding of religion, as well as the state School Finance Act.

The school district and the state, defendants in the lawsuit, notified the Colorado Court of Appeals in September of their intent to ask Martinez’s ruling be overturned.

All of that legal action doesn’t come cheap. School district officials, in response to a request under the state’s open records law, provided documents showing nearly $760,000 in expenses billed to the separate legal fund created to accept contributions to defend the voucher plan. More than $600,000 in donations had come in, but that left a deficit of $151,893.

Not to worry, the Walton Family Foundation last week donated $200,000 and the legal fund is again in the black, said district spokesman Randy Barber. The bulk of the legal fund donations have come from foundations interested in education, including a $330,000 outright gift from the Daniels Fund, which also pledged another $200,000 in a matching gift.

Meanwhile, the district has yet to get all of its voucher payments back from the private schools that received them before the pilot was halted. Records show $26,306.25 is still outstanding, with two schools owing most of that money – Lutheran High School has yet to return 10 voucher checks totaling $11,437.50 and Ava Maria Catholic School still owes 8 checks worth $9,150.

Most of the Dougco students who had planned to attend private schools under the voucher pilot decided to stay in those schools, district officials said in November.

Douglas County school board members meet at 6 p.m. tonight at Rocky Heights Middle School in Littleton. The agenda includes a community forum; a presentation by state Treasurer Walker Stapleton on reforming PERA, the state retirement system; and discussion of student fees and field trips for 2012-13, including a plan to reduce the student bus fee from $150 to $120 per year.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Randy Zila of the EAGLE-Net Alliance Monday announced kickoff of a project that will create a 4,600-mile network providing access to high-speed broadband access for schools, libraries, healthcare facilities and government offices statewide. The project is due to be finished August 2013.

Funding for network construction comes from a $100.6 million federal grant and from more than $30 million in matching funds and services from private and public organizations.

Rural parts of Colorado have lagged the nation in Internet connectivity, and rural school districts have been concerned about lack of capacity to accommodate online educational services and future online testing.

EAGLE-Net is an intergovernmental organization that provides Internet services to community and government organizations. It started five years ago as an initiative of the Centennial Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Get more information on EAGLE-Net.

What’s on tap:

The Boulder Valley board has a special meeting on the 2012-13 budget at 5 p.m. at 6500 E. Arapahoe. Agenda

The Adams 12-Five Star board meets at 5:30 p.m. in the district offices at 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton. The agenda includes a public hearing on the proposed 2012-13 budget, which includes significant cuts. Agenda

The Aurora board meets at 6 p.m. in the Mount Massive Room at the Professional Learning and Conference Center, 15771 E. 1st Ave. Agenda

A good read from elsewhere:

Hawaii R2T status in question: The bloggers at EdWeek are speculating about the future of Hawaii’s Race to the Top funding, given the legislature’s inability to pass an educator evaluation bill. That’s just the most recent question raised about the state’s progress toward meeting its R2T goals.

The EdNews’ Churn is a daily roundup of briefs, notes and meetings in the world of Colorado education. To submit an item for consideration in this listing, please email us at [email protected]

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.