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.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.