In Denver, Duncan promotes preschool expansion and K-12 tax measure

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan greets attendees at a town hall on early education in Denver.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan greets attendees at a town hall on early education in Denver.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Friday asked Colorado voters to support President Barack Obama’s attempt to expand access to early-childhood education and endorsed efforts here to pass a $950 million tax increase to overhaul the state’s school financing system.

“I desperately hope it moves forward,” Duncan said of the proposed tax increase, which voters will accept or reject in November.

The education secretary described the choice facing Colorado voters as reflective of a “fundamental tension” underlying much of the debate over education spending nationally. “Do we believe in education as an investment, or as an expense?” he said.

Some critics of the education tax measure worry that pouring more money into the education system does little to ensure that it will improve. But Duncan characterized the changes in funding structure that would accompany the tax increase as a smart investment.

“I will never support simply investing in the status quo,” Duncan said. Rather, he described the changes prescribed in the state’s accompanying school finance reform bill, such as increasing funding to districts that serve greater concentrations of students in poverty or learning English, as potentially transformative to the state’s educational system.

“The implications [of the funding overhaul] are truly national,” he said.

Duncan’s stop in Denver was part of his effort to sell the Obama administration’s pre-school expansion plan and also to spotlight state and national attempts to expand college access and affordability. His first stop of the day was at Clayton Early Learning, where he toured early childhood facilities and, along with Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and others, held a town hall meeting on the president’s plan. Duncan then visited Escuela Tlatelolco, where he was joined by Garcia as well as U. S. Senator Michael Bennet and Gov. John Hickenlooper for a second town hall meeting on college access and affordability, especially for Hispanic students.

Precise details of the administration’s preschool plan aren’t yet known, but Duncan emphasized that the federal Department of Education would be partnering with state and local governments to scale up programs that have been shown to succeed.

“For me, the key to all of this is really just partnership,” he said.

Duncan compared the proposal to the administration’s Race to the Top program, though he noted that there are no plans for states to compete for funding. The proposal does include plans to incentivize states to adopt full-day kindergarten policies. The Obama administration’s education policies and strategy of spurring states to adopt them through incentives have been hailed in some quarters for driving much-needed action and decried in others as unwarranted federal intrusion on local decision-making.

Early estimates of Colorado’s share of the president’s budget request, should the proposal move forward and the state choose to participate, say that Colorado would receive nearly $42 million in the program’s first year, which, combined with a smaller state match, would provide more than 5,000 low- and middle-income children with preschool services. Similarly, the administration’s proposal would send Colorado more than $7 million to expand home visits from nurses, social workers, and other education professionals to low-income families to promote healthy child development and early learning.

And while Duncan spoke to the Denver audiences, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Republican-written re-write of the No Child Left Behind law that hands much school oversight currently held by the federal government to states and significantly cuts federal education funding. Obama has threatened to veto the House version if it moves forward and, speaking to reporters after the town halls, Duncan characterized the bill as “not a real thing.”

Bennet said that he anticipated the Senate would put forth a much different version of the federal education bill rewrite and also characterized the House version as political grandstanding.

“It was a political exercise as much as anything else,” Bennet said.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.