Statehouse roundup

Testing study, data privacy bills move ahead

The Colorado House Thursday granted preliminary approval of bills to launch a study of the state testing system and to set student data privacy requirements for the Department of Education.

Both measures are somewhat mild responses to education issues that have become contentious in the last year.

The bills passed on voice votes, with no audible noes, and with remarkably little discussion. There was no debate on the testing bill, and there were just a few supportive remarks from a few members on the data privacy bill.

The testing study, House Bill 14-1201, started its legislative life as a sweeping proposal to allow individual school districts to opt out of state achievement tests. Political realities quickly turned the bill into a proposal for a study. And House Bill 14-1294, the data bill, codifies procedures that CDE officials say they follow already.

There was no debate on the testing bill, nor any rhetoric about testing in general.

“It’s something we’ve needed to do for a long time,” said Sponsor Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction. “I believe this bill is going to be very helpful.”

The $142,750 testing study bill would create a 15-member Standards and Assessments Task Force to review how the state student assessment system is administered, how data are used and the impact of state tests on local testing, instructional time and administrative workload. The panel also is supposed to review the feasibility of waivers from testing.

The two party leaders in each house of the legislature and the chair of SBE will appoint the members. The panel’s report and legislative recommendations are due Jan. 31, 2015, and minority reports are allowed. The bill’s appropriation is to fund CDE to study testing costs, potential effects of changes on the accountability system and do legal analyses. The department is already conducting its own review of testing, which is supposed to be used by the task force.

Another testing measure, Senate Bill 14-136, proposed a one-year delay in implementation of new academic standards and of PARCC tests. It was killed by the Senate Education Committee (see story). The House had a lively debate last month on an unsuccessful amendment to remove funding for PARCC tests from the 2014-15 state budget (see story).

On Wednesday the four Republicans on the State Board of Education outvoted the panel’s three Democrats to pass a resolution urging the legislature to withdraw Colorado from participation in PARCC (see story). The resolution isn’t expected to have any traction in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

The sponsor of the privacy bill, Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, said, “This is a very difficult topic, and I think we’ve just begun to talk about it. … This is something that has worried parents. … This is a start at the state level.”

HB 14-1294 requires CDE to prepare a publicly available “data inventory,” to comply with all relevant federal and other privacy laws, to set formal requirements for use of data by outside vendors such as testing companies and to formalize its process for considering outside requests for student data. The bill also requires districts to create a “data security template” for districts to use, including information about data security for online education, security practices for other software and apps and guidance for districts about publishing lists of outside vendors.

Provisions added to the bill by House Education would require CDE to publicly disclose the names of outside agencies and companies with which it shares data, to develop specific criteria for how and when data is destroyed, to limit contractor disclosure of data and ban contractor use for commercial purposes. Language added to the bill also bans CDE from selling student data for commercial use. (The department says it doesn’t sell data now.)

The bill does not address two things privacy activists have pushed for, data security mandates on local districts and parental opt out of data collection and disclosure. Lawmakers have been reluctant to impose new requirements on districts during a session when tensions have been high over school funding and state mandates on districts.

The House Thursday evening also gave preliminary approval to two other education bills:

Advanced Placement incentives – House Bill 14-1118 would spend $757,974 to create a four-year pilot program under which rural school districts could receive $500 for each student who completes an AP class and takes the exam. Teachers and mentors could get $50 per such student.

CDE estimates that only 2-7 percent of rural students take AP classes and that bill could affect about 1,400 of the more than 28,000 rural high school students. The bill has been something of a crusade for Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, a retired rural superintendent. He significantly reduced the original amount of money he wanted in order to gain support for the measure.

Wilson said on the floor Thursday that 101 of Colorado’s 178 school districts don’t offer AP classes.

Minority teachers – House Bill 14-1175 would give CDE $50,000 to hire a consultant to study and develop strategies to increase and improve the recruitment, preparation, development and retention of minority teachers. The study’s findings are supposed to be reported by Dec. 1.

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, successfully had the bill amended to name it “Aliyah’s Law,” after student Aliyah Cook, whose letter about the absence of black teachers in her school helped prompt Fields to introduce the bill (see story).

Community college salary bill meets its doom

The odds were stacked against Rep. Randy Fischer for the start, given that his House Bill 14-1154, by some estimates, would have cost more than $100 million.

The bill would have required the state’s community colleges to set a standard pay schedule for both full-time and adjunct faculty. Adjuncts now typically make less than other faculty even when they teach similar class loads.

The Fort Collins Democrat has long been an advocate for adjunct faculty but has had mixed success in his efforts. He proposed to trim his bill’s cost to about $55 million and require the community college system to figure out to equalize salaries out of its existing budget and financial reserves.

Critics of that idea said it could force the colleges to increase tuition by 24 percent. The House Appropriations Committee Thursday sided with the system, and a motion to send the bill to the floor died on a 4-9 vote. The panel then postponed the measure indefinitely.

There was some tension during the half-hour discussion. Fischer complained the predicted 24 percent tuition hike “was misinformation from the lobby.”

Rep. Jenise May, D-Aurora, took exception, saying, “I don’t listen to the lobby – never have. I take offense at that comment.”

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and other information.

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.