Who Is In Charge

Key bills rescued as session ends

Final update 11:30 p.m. – Four education bills in danger of dying because of the House civil unions meltdown were amended onto other education measures by the Senate Wednesday, a rescue effort ratified by the House later in the day, not long before the 2012 regular session adjourned for good.

Gov. John Hickenlooper
PHOTO: Ron Coleman
A somber Gov. John Hickenlooper announced he'll call a special session of the legislature to consider civil unions.

Also Wednesday, the House accepted the significant Senate amendments to House Bill 12-1238, the sweeping early childhood literacy program, and re-passed it 58-7.

And Senate Bill 12-068, the measure that bans use of industrially produced trans fats in school foods, passed 36-29 in House and 18-17 in Senate. The much-amended bill survived repeated efforts to kill it but was significantly watered down, containing exceptions for food programs that use federal guidelines, for smaller school districts and for food provided at fundraisers.

Here are the bills that missed a key deadline and were effectively killed as standalone measures because of Tuesday night’s House stalemate:

Senate Bill 12-172, which would require the State Board of Education to commit Colorado to one of two groups developing multistate achievement tests in language arts and math.

Senate Bill 12-046, which would eliminate most zero-tolerance school discipline requirements, give school districts more flexibility in discipline and encourage schools to reduce use of expulsions, suspensions and referrals to police.

Senate Bill 12-047, which would provide state funding to districts that chose to administer basic skills testing such as the Accuplacer to high school students.

Senate Bill 12-164, which would modernize state regulation of for-profit colleges that offer bachelors and graduate degrees and add some consumer protections for students.

Here’s what the Senate did to save them:

  • The texts of the discipline and Accuplacer bills were added to House Bill 12-1345, the 2012-13 school funding bill, which then got 27-8 final Senate approval. The House agreed and re-passed it 65-0.
  • The content of the multistate testing bill was added to House Bill 12-1240, an omnibus cleanup bill of various education laws. This bill went to a conference committee to change one letter in the bill (honestly, but it’s too complicated to explain). The conference committee report was accepted by both houses and re-passed late in the evening. This bill has gone through lots of ups and downs and caused lots of heartburn for the Department of Education. Little noticed in all the debate is the fact that the bill delays some Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids deadlines, such as that for creation of specialized diplomas. And the testing provisions added to the bill are potentially important.
  • And the text of the higher education regulation bill was added to House Bill 12-1155, another higher ed measure that originally dealt with remediation procedures. It passed 35-0 in the Senate and 65-0 in the House.

The amendments were offered by various members of the Senate Education Committee from both parties. There was no significant debate on any of the changes in either House.

Colorado has relatively strict rules that restrict bill content to the subject listed in a bill’s title. But lawmakers and staff members determined that the titles of the three bills were broad enough to accommodate the orphan measures.

In a related development, an emotional Gov. John Hickenlooper announced Wednesday afternoon that he will call a special session of the legislature to reconsider civil unions and some other orphan bills. (With Wednesday’s rescue of the four education bills, no education issues are expected to be part of the special session.)

Tuesday night’s House problems were keyed to the fact that the state constitution requires bills receive preliminary and final floor consideration on different days. All of the orphan bills were scheduled for preliminary consideration Tuesday, meaning they had to pass by midnight in order to receive final votes Wednesday.

House Republican leaders didn’t want to bring the civil unions bill to the floor, where it was expected to pass. The game of political chicken with Democrats lead to a recess that kept representatives off the floor for much of Tuesday evening, running out the clock for civil unions and 30 other bills.

For the record

Here are other education bills of note that crossed the finish line on the last day of 2012 session:

  • House Bill 12-1261 – $4,800 stipends for nationally board certified teachers who work in high-need schools
  • House Bill 12-1350 – Resident tuition eligibility for some military dependents
  • Senate Bill 12-051 – Suggested contracting procedures for school districts
  • House Bill 12-1043 – Updating of concurrent enrollment law

Also receiving final approval was House Bill 12-1086, which ratifies a large number of new state agency rules, including teacher evaluation appeals but not including parent notification of teacher arrests.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.