From the Statehouse

School breakfast bill clears House

The Colorado House this morning gave 49-16 final approval to the “breakfast after the bell” bill.

Fourth-graders at Alsup Elementary in Commerce City have breakfast in the classroom.
Fourth-graders at Alsup Elementary in Commerce City have breakfast in the classroom.

There was no discussion before the final vote, but members were mostly supportive during preliminary debate Wednesday on the bill, which has been nipped and tucked a bit to assuage concerns about its impact.

The measure, House Bill 13-1006, is intended to provide universal free breakfast at high-poverty schools in an effort to ensure hunger doesn’t detract from student learning. It’s sponsored by freshman Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and is being pushed by Hunger Free Colorado and a coalition of other advocacy groups.

“I love this bill,” Moreno told fellow House members. “The breakfast after the bell model is proven to have an incredible success rates.”

Many schools offer breakfast before school starts, but HB 13-1006 supporters say participation rates are low. They cite Commerce City and Pueblo City schools where participation is much higher when breakfast is served after school starts.

The bill also requires that participating schools serve breakfast to all students, not just those eligible for free- or reduced-price meals. The rationale behind that is to remove the embarrassment some students feel about being labeled as poor if they eat breakfast.

Of course almost nobody’s against breakfast for school kids, but that didn’t mean some school districts, especially smaller ones, didn’t have questions. The cost of the program is intended to be covered by federal funds, but some districts were concerned the original form of the bill might have forced districts to bear some costs on their own because of technicalities in federal regulations. Smaller districts were worried that the bill might be too great a burden.

The bill has been amended in two House committees and on the floor to ease those concerns.

Here are the key changes:

• In its first year, 2014-15, the bill will apply only to schools with 80 percent or more of students eligible for free- and reduced-price meals. This was added to deal with the concern about extra costs. The percentage drops to 70 percent in 2015-16.

• Districts with fewer than 1,000 students (just over 100) wouldn’t have to participate. (The original draft of the bill exempted schools and charters that didn’t participate in the federal nutrition program.)

• There’s flexibility for schools that already have formal before-school programs and also serve breakfast and for districts where 90 percent or more of students ride the bus. (They can serve breakfast on the bus.)

The bill also has provisions allowing schools to drop out if their enrollment dips below the 70 percent threshold or if federal funding is eliminated. It’s estimated that participating schools will gain an additional $28 million in federal money by using the program.

Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City / File photo
Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City / File photo

There also have been concerns that serving breakfast after school starts would cut into instructional time. But Rep. Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff, R-Pueblo, said Wednesday the experience in her city’s schools has shown breakfast can be served in 10 minutes, while teachers are taking attendance, collecting homework and doing other start-of-the-day tasks.

There were a few discouraging words on the House floor. Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said, “Shouldn’t it be the parents’ responsibility to feed the kids?”

Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, agreed with that but said he was supporting the bill because “It’s about making sure students are prepared to learn.”

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, said he too would support the bill but asked sponsors to monitor its effects.

“Test scores should rise significantly,” said Wilson, a retired superintendent who described himself as “a conservative Republican educator – which is an oxymoron.”

Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, proposed an amendment that would have required the breakfasts include meat or meat substitutes, but that was defeated.

Not everybody’s happy with the amended bill.

Moreno went to the State Board of Education Tuesday to brief members on the proposal, including the amendments he planned to add on the House floor.

Member Marcia Neal, who represents the Western Slope, told Moreno, “A lot of superintendents in western Colorado are opposed because it dictates the way they do breakfast. … They feel very strongly that they are being dictated to in a way that indicates distrust.”

Moreno replied, “That’s definitely not the intent at all.”

Early childhood consolidation bill moves

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee gave 6-1 approval to House Bill 13-1117, which would consolidate a variety of early childhood programs and offices around state government into the state Department of Human Services.

Passing the bill is a goal of the Hickenlooper administration as part of its initiative to improve early childhood services.

A long list of witnesses supported the bill, and the only discouraging words came from Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who complained about government intrusion.

“It’s a fundamental question of the role of government, the role of the family,” Lundberg said. “I don’t think the government should assume larger roles of responsibility for families.”

Similar Republican concerns killed a 2012 version of the bill in a House committee. On Wednesday, Lundberg was the only ‘no’ vote in the Senate panel, with two other Republicans supporting the bill.

School resource officer bill clears Senate

The full Senate gave 34-0 final approval to Senate Bill 13-138, which would require better integration of school resource officers into the school safety planning efforts, give the state School Safety Resource Center $57,815 for a staff member to help districts find school safety grants and add a school resource officer (SRO) to the center’s advisory board.

The bill is the only measure directly involving school security still alive in the 2013 session.

legal opinion

Tennessee’s attorney general sides with charter schools in battle over student information

PHOTO: TN.gov
Herbert H. Slatery III was appointed Tennessee attorney general in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom he previously served as general counsel.

Tennessee’s attorney general says requests for student contact information from state-run charter school operators don’t violate a federal student privacy law, but rather are “entirely consistent with it.”

The opinion from Herbert Slatery III, issued late on Wednesday in response to a request by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, was a win for charter schools in their battle with the state’s two largest districts.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

McQueen quickly responded by ordering school leaders in Memphis and Nashville to comply. In letters dispatched to Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Director Shawn Joseph of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, McQueen gave the districts a deadline, adding that they will face consequences if they refuse.

“If you do not provide this information by Sept. 25, 2017, to the (Achievement School District) and any other charter school or charter authorizer who has an outstanding request, we will be forced to consider actions to enforce the law,” she wrote.

Neither superintendent responded immediately to requests for comment, but school board leaders in both districts said Thursday that their attorneys were reviewing the matter.

Chris Caldwell, chairman for Shelby County’s board, said he’s also concerned “whether the timeframe stated gives us enough time to make sure families are aware of what is happening.”

Wednesday’s flurry of events heats up the battle that started in July when charter operators Green Dot and LEAD requested student contact information under the state’s new charter law, which gives districts 30 days to comply with such requests. School boards in both Memphis and Nashville refused, arguing they had the right under the federal student privacy law to restrict who gets the information and for what reasons.

The attorney general said sharing such information would not violate federal law.

The requested information falls under “student directory information,” and can be published by school districts without a parent’s permission. For Shelby County Schools, this type of information includes names, addresses, emails and phone numbers.


To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer.


The opinion also backs up the new state law, which directs districts to share information that charter operators say they need to recruit students and market their programs in Tennessee’s expanding school-choice environment.

However, the opinion allowed for districts to have a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing such information. It was not clear from the opinion if the two school districts have exhausted that time.

A spokeswoman for Shelby County Schools said Tuesday the district had not yet distributed forms that would allow parents to opt out of having their students’ information shared, although the district’s parent-student handbook already includes instructions for doing so.

Below, you can read the attorney general’s opinion and McQueen’s letters to both superintendents:

Clarification, Sept. 14, 2017: This story has been updated to clarify the school boards’ arguments for not sharing the information.

First Person

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Grace Tatter covers a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in 2015.

For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.

Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.

1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.

I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.

2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.

I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.

3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.

During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.

4. Money matters.

Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.

5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.

6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.

If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.

Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.