Business groups challenge CEA on potential lawsuit

Leaders of seven business groups wrote to the Colorado Education Association Friday, urging the union to “to drop this ill-conceived and disruptive lawsuit” against a provision of the state’s landmark educator effectiveness and evaluation law, Senate Bill 10-191.

StockA66Logo92613CEA issued a statement saying, “The work of getting SB-191 implementation done right does not lend itself to the quick resolution the writers of this letter demand.”

The letter is the latest development in a slowly simmering controversy over a recent decision to extend the deadline for CEA and its affiliate, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, to file a lawsuit challenging part of the law, if they choose to do so.

Those two groups, plus potential defendants the Denver school board and the State Board of Education, agreed last month to extend the filing deadline from Aug. 31 to next February 1. (EdNews was the first to report the delay; see this story.)

Since then there have been charges by Amendment 66 opponents and conservative commentators that the delay was engineered to avoid bad publicity during the campaign to pass Amendment 66, the proposed $950 million P-12 tax increase.

Denver Post editorial page editor Vincent Carroll raised that idea in a recent column, and a scathing editorial in the Colorado Springs Gazette this week made the same charge under the headline “Deception key to new education tax increase.”

However, it’s hardly been a secret that the unions, particularly the DCTA, were unhappy with the mutual consent provision of the law, which requires both principals and teachers to agree to placements in a specific school. The Denver union challenged DPS’ use of mutual consent, and an arbitrator’s “advisory opinion” last year concluded the provision was unconstitutional. (Unlike other provisions of SB 10-191, which are still being rolled out, mutual consent went into effect as soon as the bill was signed.) It’s been widely assumed in education circles that a union lawsuit was possible. (Get more background in this EdNews story.)

Highlights of the letter

The business groups’ letter reads in part: “This pending lawsuit puts educator effectiveness at risk, leading you and our partners into unproductive territory that ultimately will greatly challenge our efforts to improve schools. Throwing up legal roadblocks and delaying implementation of this important statute does nothing to improve the effectiveness of our teachers, strengthen teacher and student performance, or expand the horizons of students. … Voters will decide this fall whether to fund these positive changes via Amendment 66; however, your recent actions have put a foundational piece of the reform agenda in jeopardy, and we urge you to drop this ill-conceived and disruptive lawsuit.”

Only at the end of the letter do the signers refer to the speculation about lawsuit delay. “We have been pleased to work with you in the past on many education initiatives and are ready to do so again. As a first step, we ask you to waive your legal challenge over the mutual consent provisions of SB 191 and join us in a public statement to reaffirm our shared commitment to implementing the core principles of SB 191 statewide with fidelity. But, if you are not willing to do that, Coloradans deserve to know now, not next year, that you are turning to the courts to undercut positive school reform.”

What CEA said

In response, here’s the text of the CEA statement:

“The Denver Classroom Teachers Association has been trying to work collaboratively with the Denver Public Schools district to find an alternate resolution to the problem of Senate Bill 191 implementation for two years. It is difficult for those who haven’t been part of the complex and intricate discussions between DCTA and DPS to have a clear picture of the nature of our disagreement and our objective of ensuring quality, veteran teachers are not displaced from Denver classrooms.

“Since passage of SB-191, the Colorado Education Association has been focused on implementing the law in a way that lives up to its stated objective: to give public school students the best possible classroom teachers. How best to accomplish that is at the heart of the dispute between DCTA and DPS. Keeping the best teachers with demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom is in the best interest of students, and CEA has a moral and professional obligation to ensure this is every district’s priority as the educator effectiveness evaluation system is implemented across the state.

“CEA and DPS signed a tolling agreement [the delay in the filing deadline] to allow more time for conversations and discussions to take place. This means that both sides agree to commit to action in an attempt to stay out of the courts. The quickest and most productive way to bring a resolution is it to continue quality conversation between DCTA and DPS, and we look forward to mediation and the opportunity to find a collaborative solution that is best for students.

“The work of getting SB-191 implementation done right does not lend itself to the quick resolution the writers of this letter demand. But we will continue to have diligent and intensive discussions that hopefully lead to the collaborative outcome that ultimately benefits the children and families of Denver.”

Who signed the business groups’ letter

Signing the business groups’ letter were representatives of Colorado Concern, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, as well as two regional groups, Action 22 and Progressive 15. Also signing were co-chairs Bob Diebel and Al Timothy of Colorado Succeeds, a business group that focuses on education issues and generally supports the education changes that would be partly funded by Amendment 66.

While numerous individual executives have endorsed Amendment 66, business groups generally has remained neutral, notably the Denver Metro Chamber. A few, such as the South Metro chamber, are opposed. (See this list of individual and other endorsements on the website of Colorado Commits to Kids, the main support group.)

Business hesitancy around Amendment 66 is primarily generated by the fact that the measure would modify Colorado’s current flat income tax rate with a two-step system. The amendment would raise the individual income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent on incomes up to $75,000, and income above $75,000 would be taxed at 5.9 percent. Small business owners who file taxes as individuals would pay the new rates, something that also concerns some business groups.

Read the letter here.

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.