Who Is In Charge

Education bills sideswiped

Four important 2012 education bills have died because of the Colorado House’s late-night impasse over Senate Bill 12-002, the civil unions bill.

Rumors were rife at the Capitol this morning that Senate Democrats might try to graft dead bills onto other measures that are still alive. Possible maneuvers include attaching the school discipline bill onto an education laws cleanup measure. The school finance act also could be target of otherwise-unlikely amendments.

Legislature 2012 logoThe dead bills include:

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

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

Senate Bill 12-047, which would have provided 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 have modernized state regulation of for-profit colleges that offer bachelors and graduate degrees and added some consumer protections for students.

The discipline and higher education bills were the products of extensive negotiations and development by lawmakers, state officials and interest group, so months of work have been wasted. Failure to pass the bills isn’t necessarily disruptive for state schools or colleges, but it does delay reforms sought by a wide variety of policymakers and groups.

The state constitution requires that bills receive preliminary and final floor consideration on different days. All of these bills were scheduled for preliminary consideration Tuesday, meaning they had to pass by midnight in order to receive final votes today, the last day of the 2012 session. A total of 31 bills suffered the same fate, according to our partners at State Bill Colorado.

Senate Bil 12-068, the proposed ban on added trans fats in school foods, did get preliminary House approval Tuesday evening. The two biggest education bills of the session, the 2012-13 school finance act and the early childhood literacy bill, were not affected by the impasse.

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 kept representatives off the floor for much of Tuesday evening, running out the clock for civil unions and the other bills.

Some lawmakers are urging Gov. John Hickenlooper to call a special session for consideration of the civil unions bill. It’s unknown if he will do that, or if he will include other issues if he does.

Historically, special sessions are limited to consideration of one issue, or to very few. The governor’s formal written “call” for a special session limits the subjects to be covered, so crafting a call that includes multiple topics but excludes other issues could be tricky.

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.