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.

Movers and shakers

Former Denver schools superintendent Tom Boasberg lands a new gig

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg, right, high-fives students, parents, and staff on the first day of school at Escalante-Biggs Academy in August.

Former Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg has been named superintendent of another organization 9,000 miles away: the Singapore American School in Southeast Asia.

Boasberg will start his new position July 1. He stepped down as superintendent of Denver Public Schools last month after nearly 10 years at the helm of the 92,000-student district. The Denver school board is in the process of choosing his successor.

Boasberg has spent significant time in Asia. After graduating from college, he taught English at a Hong Kong public school and played semi-professional basketball there. He later worked as chief of staff to the chairman of what was then Hong Kong’s largest political party.

He and his wife, Carin, met while studying in Taiwan. They now have three teenage children. In 2016, Boasberg took a six-month sabbatical to live in Argentina with his family. At the time, he said he and his wife always hoped to live overseas with their children.

“This gives us a chance as a family to go back to Asia,” Boasberg said, “and it’s something the kids are looking forward to, as well as my wife Carin and I.”

The Singapore American School is an elite non-profit school that was established in 1956 by a group of parents, according to its website. It now has more than 3,900 students in preschool through 12th grade, more than half of whom are American.

The school boasts low student-to-teacher ratios and lots of Advanced Placement classes, and sends several of its graduates to Ivy League colleges in the United States. Its facilities include a one-acre rainforest.

Boasberg notes that the school is also a leader in personalized learning, meaning that each student learns at their own pace. He called the school “wonderfully diverse” and said its students hail from more than 50 different countries. High school tuition is about $37,000 per year for students who hold a U.S. passport or whose parents do.

Leading the private Singapore American School will no doubt differ in some ways from leading a large, urban public school district. In his time as Denver superintendent, Boasberg was faced with making unpopular decisions, such as replacing low-performing schools, and the challenge of trying to close wide test score gaps between students from low-income families and students from wealthier ones.

“Denver will always be in my heart,” Boasberg said, “and we’re looking forward to this opportunity.”

it's official

Memphis schools chief Dorsey Hopson calls his work ‘a remarkable journey,’ but seeks new career at health care giant

PHOTO: Jacinthia Jones/Chalkbeat
Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson announces that he's resigning from the district to take a job with Cigna.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is leaving Shelby County Schools to lead an education initiative at a national health insurance company effective Jan. 8.

Prior to his departure, the school board expects to name an interim before the district breaks for the winter holidays, giving the panel time to seek a permanent replacement, said board chair Shante Avant.

Hopson’s job with Cigna is a new national position in government and education that will be based in Memphis, he said. He called the decision a “difficult” one that he ultimately made because of the demands on his family that are part of his job as superintendent.

“It’s been a remarkable journey,” Hopson said. “I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made together.”

A likely successor the board could tap is Lin Johnson, who was hired in 2015 as chief of finance. Johnson previously was director of special initiatives for the Tennessee Department of Education and director of finance and operations for the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board. He recently overhauled the district’s budget process to be more responsive to student needs rather than to a strict pupil-teacher ratio — a move Hopson lauded as a potential vehicle to reduce gaps in test scores for students of color living in poverty.

Hopson’s future has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks, especially after he endorsed Republican Bill Lee for governor in a race that the Williamson County businessman eventually won. A position in the governor’s office, or as education commissioner to succeed Candice McQueen, was considered among the possibilities for Hopson. But Hopson said on Tuesday that he would not be heading to Nashville to work for the Lee administration.

Cigna, Hopson’s future employer, is a Connecticut-based company that manages health insurance for about 19,500 district employees and retirees under a $24 million contract. The company is the third-largest health plan provider in Memphis with about 200 local employees, according to the Memphis Business Journal. In his new role, Hopson will help Cigna expand its services to school districts for health benefits and wellness programs.

“Having an individual with Hopson’s expertise in school administration and school district leadership in this role will be a great asset to Cigna’s consultative work serving K-12 schools,” a Cigna spokesperson said in a statement.

An attorney who had worked for school districts in Atlanta and Memphis, Hopson was named the first superintendent of Shelby County Schools in 2013 following the historic merger of city and county schools.

His hiring came on the cusp of massive change in Memphis’ educational landscape. The district’s student enrollment steadily declined after six suburban towns split off from Shelby County Schools in 2014 to create their own districts, and the state-run Achievement School District continued to siphon off students by taking over chronically low-performing schools in the city. Hopson and the school board eventually closed nearly two dozen schools to shore up resulting budget deficits.

Since then, under Hopson’s leadership, the district has gone from a $50 million deficit to investing more than $60 million in personnel, teacher and staff pay raises, and school improvement initiatives by lobbying for more county funding, dipping into the district’s reserves, closing underutilized schools, cutting transportation costs, and eliminating open job positions. The district has also sued the state in pursuit of more funding, and that lawsuit is ongoing.

“We have accomplished a great deal together, such as eliminating a $100 million deficit, investing more and students, and developing the Summer Learning Academy to prevent summer learning loss. That, in part, is what makes this decision so difficult,” Hopson said. “I would love to see this work to the finish line, but I feel confident that we have laid a strong foundation for the next leader.”

Now, fewer schools are on the state’s list of lowest-performing schools and the district’s Innovation Zone has boosted test scores at a faster rate than the state-run district. Schools across the state are looking to strategies in Memphis to improve schools — a far cry from when Hopson took over. And recently, Hopson was among nine finalists for a national award recognizing urban school district leaders.

“For the past six years, we have worked together to guide this great school district through monumental changes,” Hopson said. “Through it all, our educators and supporters have remained committed to aggressively increasing student achievement.”