Who Is In Charge

Session goes down to the wire

Nearly two-dozen education bills remain short of the finish line as the Colorado General Assembly races to meet a Wednesday adjournment deadline. Passage of most of those bills is expected amid the last-minute confusion, but there are some key issues to watch. Here’s a look:

Colorado CapitolSchool finance – The $5.3 billion school funding bill for 2012-13 has a Senate committee hearing Monday morning, meaning preliminary floor debate could come later in the day, with final passage Tuesday. House Bill 12-1345 will then return to the House for consideration of Senate amendments. While the funding plan at the center of the bill isn’t in dispute, the measure could be a vehicle for “statement” amendments intended to spark floor debate over the Lobato v. State school funding case.

Literacy – The much-amended, much-compromised House Bill 12-1238 is intended to improve outcomes for K-3 students who struggle with reading. It’s awaiting House approval of Senate amendments.

Testing – Senate Bill 12-172 would require the State Board of Education to commit Colorado to one of two multi-state testing programs. It’s the only major education bill that still faces its first House committee hearing. This is one that could go down to the wire on Wednesday.

Discipline – The first House floor consideration of Senate Bill 12-046 is scheduled for Monday, meaning that if all goes smoothly final passage could come on Tuesday. There’s little disagreement over the bill’s policy goal of eliminating most school zero-tolerance policies, and it appears that concerns have been eased about the bill’s data-reporting requirements.

Sales tax holiday – House Bill 12-1069 also needs Senate Committee review and then two floor votes. There’s a bit of uncertainty lingering over the holiday for back-to-school purchases, but the bill does have strong bipartisan sponsorship in the Senate.

Trans fats – Senate Bill 12-068, which would ban added trans fats in some school foods, is to have its first House floor debate Monday. There’s not a lot of lawmaker enthusiasm for this measure, but it’s been significantly watered down in order to reduce opposition.

Catching up

Here’s an update on the fate of some other education bills considered late last week.

House Bill 12-1333 – This Republican bill, which would have allowed teachers to withdraw from unions at any time, rather than only during specified periods, was killed on a 3-2 party-line vote early Thursday morning in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

House Bill 12-1306 – This proposal would have allowed school districts that gained students after the Oct. 1 count date to seek extra per-pupil funding from the Department of Education at the end of the school year. Republicans Sen. Keith King of Colorado Springs and Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker introduced the bill in response to criticisms that large numbers of online school dropouts were returning to regular schools that weren’t receiving funding for them.

During the draining Senate Education Committee meeting Thursday night, King again mentioned legislative staff research that indicated the problem was a small one and then asked that the bill be killed, saying he’d made his point. (King also had concerns that Democrats might try to amend provisions onto the bill that he didn’t want.)

House Bill 12-179 – This measure was an attempt by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, to deflect criticism from the Building Excellent Schools Today program. Some BEST projects have had construction deficiencies linked to a Fort Collins engineering firm. It would have changed review of construction plans and also altered the BEST board. Education lobbyists didn’t like the bill, the Senate Education Committee wrestled with it twice and the Senate Appropriations Committee killed it during a brief late-afternoon meeting on Friday.

The calendar

Here’s the schedule of education bills as issued by legislative staff on Friday. Consider it an approximation, because things can be fluid during the last days. Check here for links to the full calendars of all bills, resolutions and other business.

MONDAY

10 a.m. – House final consideration

  • Senate Bill 12-160 – Membership of state parent advisory council

House preliminary consideration

  • House Bill 12-1109 – Budget cuts elsewhere in state government to fund education
  • Senate Bill 12-051 – Suggested contracting procedures for school districts
  • Senate Bill 12-068 – Ban on added trans fats in some school foods
  • Senate Bill 12-046 – Reform of school discipline policies

House consideration of resolutions

  • HJR 12-1023 – Legislative legal intervention in Lobato v. State

10 a.m. – Senate preliminary consideration

  • House Bill 12-1240 – Education law cleanup bill, including some CAP4K delays

Upon floor adjournment – House Appropriations Committee, room TBA

  • Consideration of bills as assigned, such as late-moving Senate measures

Upon floor adjournment – Senate Appropriations Committee, room 356

  • House Bill 12-1345 – School finance act
  • House Bill 12-1261 – Stipends for board-certified teachers in high-needs schools
  • House Bill 12-1069 – Back-to-school sales tax holiday

1:30 p.m. – House Education Committee, room 0112

  • Senate Bill 12-172 – Multistate testing

TUESDAY

9 a.m. – House preliminary consideration

  • House Bill 12-1252 – Online financial transparency requirements for some universities
  • Senate Bill 12-164 – Regulation of for-profit colleges

9 a.m. – Senate preliminary consideration

  • House Bill 12-14 – Technical measure on dental hygienist degrees
  • House Bill 12-1155 – Reform of higher education remediation methods

WEDNESDAY

Whatever’s left over

Both chambers, particularly the House, have amendments to consider before final re-passage of bills. The most important measure on this list is the literacy bill, and none are expected to be contentious. Here’s the lineup:

House consideration of Senate amendments

  • House Bill 12-1081 – Financial flexibility powers of Auraria Higher Education Center
  • House Bill 12-1324 – Admissions standards of Colorado Mesa University
  • House Bill 12-1124 – Commissioning of digital learning study
  • House Bill 12-1043 – Concurrent enrollment modifications
  • House Bill 12-1086 – Ratification of state agency regulations, including SB 10-191 appeals rules
  • House Bill 12-1238 – Early literacy

Senate consideration of House amendments

  • Senate Bill 12-036 – Requirement of parent consent for most school surveys

The Senate also still has to vote on numerous gubernatorial appointments, including positions on the Metro State and Western State trustees and the boards of the community college system, CollegeInvest and the Charter School Institute Board.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below:

Mergers and acquisitions

In a city where many charter schools operate alone, one charter network expands

Kindergarteners at Detroit's University Prep Academy charter school on the first day of school in 2017.

One of Detroit’s largest charter school networks is about to get even bigger.

The nonprofit organization that runs the seven-school University Prep network plans to take control of another two charter schools this summer — the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies elementary and the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies middle/high school.

The move would bring the organization’s student enrollment from 3,250 to nearly 4,500. It would also make the group, Detroit 90/90, the largest non-profit charter network in the city next year — a distinction that stands out in a city when most charter schools are either freestanding schools or part of two- or three-school networks.

Combined with the fact that the city’s 90 charter schools are overseen by a dozen different charter school authorizers, Detroit’s relative dearth of larger networks means that many different people run a school sector that makes up roughly half of Detroit’s schools. That makes it difficult for schools to collaborate on things like student transportation and special education.

Some charter advocates have suggested that if the city’s charter schools were more coordinated, they could better offer those services and others that large traditional school districts are more equipped to offer — and that many students need.

The decision to add the Henry Ford schools to the Detroit 90/90 network is intended to “create financial and operational efficiencies,” said Mark Ornstein, CEO of UPrep Schools, and Deborah Parizek, executive director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

Those efficiencies could come in the areas of data management, human resources, or accounting — all of which Detroit 90/90 says on its website that it can help charter schools manage.

Ornstein and Parizek emphasized that students and their families are unlikely to experience changes when the merger takes effect on July 1. For example, the Henry Ford schools would remain in their current home at the A. Alfred Taubman Center in New Center and maintain their arts focus.  

“Any changes made to staff, schedule, courses, activities and the like will be the same type a family might experience year-to-year with any school,” they said in a statement.