Capitol Roundup

The four other (non-testing) education bills that are on the move at the Capitol this week

While the focus so far this week at the Capitol has been on the budget and on testing, other education bills of interest are on the move. Here are the details.

Chartering authority bill heads to House

The Senate Tuesday gave 21-14 final approval to Senate Bill 15-216, which would affect the exclusive chartering authority of districts that are on the state’s accountability watch list for more than three years.

The bill would require that such districts lose that authority if they are in year three of priority improvement or turnaround and do not have an agreement with the State Charter School Institute governing placement of institute charters in the district.

The goal of the bill, according to prime sponsor Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, is to give students in struggling districts more choices of high-quality schools. Under current law, the state can intervene in districts that have had low ratings for five consecutive years. Hill argues that students should have more choices after three years. (Get more information in this legislative staff summary.)

School finance study passed by House Education

A bipartisan bill that would create a legislative school finance oversight committee passed the House Education Committee in a 9-2 vote Monday.


House Bill 15-1334 would set up a 10-member panel to study Colorado’s K-12 funding system and recommend changes to both state law and the constitution.

The group would be advised by a nine-member technical advisory committee of district administrators and school finance experts.

The two groups would work together this year and next and would make specific recommendations on both statutory and constitutional changes to the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions.

“It’s not a question in anybody’s mind that we have to do this. The question is doing it right,” said prime sponsor Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.

The other prime sponsor, Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, said the current 20-year-old system is outdated, and “the original intent of equity has been skewed. … Our primary responsibility should be ensuring every child has equal access and opportunity.”

During the last decade there have been two state studies and one outside review of the school finance system. The outside study helped lead to approval of a comprehensive school-funding rewrite by the 2013 legislature. But that plan never went into effect because voters rejected the $1 billion tax increase needed to pay for the new system.

The bill has a $520,000 price tag over two years. Its next stop is the House Appropriations Committee.

Student learning objectives bill gets first committee approval

The House Education Committee on Monday also voted 6-5 in favor of House Bill 15-1324, a measure intended to encourage schools to use “student learning objectives.”

Student learning objectives are customized learning goals for classrooms and individual students that are used to track academic progress.

The bill is strongly backed by the Colorado Education Association, which wants to expand use of such learning objectives in teacher evaluations.

Specifically, the bill would create a $1 million grant program for districts that want to work on developing such programs. Some Colorado districts already are experimenting with the concept. The bill will be considered next by House Appropriations.

School discipline bill moves to Senate floor

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 15-1240, which would encourage school districts to reach formal agreements with local law enforcement on how to handle student-police contacts. The goal is reduce the number of school problems that get referred to police.

The measure is an effort by sponsors Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, to divert more disciplinary matters to school administrators and thereby keep more students in school.

Balmer told the committee that one arrest doubles a student’s odds of dropping out of school and that “the impact of being ticketed or arrested can follow a student for the rest of their lives.”

The vote was 3-2.

after parkland

Tennessee governor proposes $30 million for student safety plan

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Gov. Bill Haslam speaks with reporters Tuesday about his budget amendment, which includes $30 million for a school safety plan.

Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday proposed spending an extra $30 million to improve student safety in Tennessee, joining the growing list of governors pushing similar actions after last month’s shooting rampage at a Florida high school.

But unlike other states focusing exclusively on safety inside of schools, Haslam wants some money to keep students safe on school buses too — a nod to several fatal accidents in recent years, including a 2016 crash that killed six elementary school students in Chattanooga.

“Our children deserve to learn in a safe and secure environment,” Haslam said in presenting his safety proposal in an amendment to his proposed budget.

The Republican governor only had about $84 million in mostly one-time funding to work with for extra needs this spring, and school safety received top priority. Haslam proposed $27 million for safety in schools and $3 million to help districts purchase new buses equipped with seat belts.

But exactly how the school safety money will be spent depends on recommendations from Haslam’s task force on the issue, which is expected to wind up its work on Thursday after three weeks of meetings. Possibilities include more law enforcement officers and mental health services in schools, as well as extra technology to secure school campuses better.

“We don’t have an exact description of how those dollars are going to be used. We just know it’s going to be a priority,” Haslam told reporters.

The governor acknowledged that $30 million is a modest investment given the scope of the need, and said he is open to a special legislative session on school safety. “I think it’s a critical enough issue,” he said, adding that he did not expect that to happen. (State lawmakers cannot begin campaigning for re-election this fall until completing their legislative work.)

Education spending already is increased in Haslam’s $37.5 billion spending plan unveiled in January, allocating an extra $212 million for K-12 schools and including $55 million for teacher pay raises. But Haslam promised to revisit the numbers — and specifically the issue of school safety — after a shooter killed 14 students and three faculty members on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida, triggering protests from students across America and calls for heightened security and stricter gun laws.

Haslam had been expected to roll out a school safety plan this spring, but his inclusion of bus safety was a surprise to many. Following fatal crashes in Hamilton and Knox counties in recent years, proposals to retrofit school buses with seat belts have repeatedly collapsed in the legislature under the weight the financial cost.

The new $3 million investment would help districts begin buying new buses with seat belts but would not address existing fleets.

“Is it the final solution on school bus seat belts? No, but it does [make a start],” Haslam said.

The governor presented his school spending plan to lawmakers on the same day that one House committee was scheduled to consider whether to give districts the option of arming some trained teachers with handguns. That bill, sponsored by Rep. David Byrd of Waynesboro, easily cleared its first legislative hurdle on Feb. 28 and has since amassed close to 50 co-sponsors in the House.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

Town Hall

Hopson promises more flexibility as Memphis school leaders clear the air with teachers on new curriculum

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson answers questions from Memphis teachers at a town hall hosted by United Education Association of Shelby County on Monday.

The Shelby County Schools superintendent told passionate teachers at a union town hall Monday that they can expect more flexibility in how they teach the district’s newest curriculums.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the teachers who score highest on their evaluations should not feel like they need to read from a script to meet district requirements, although he didn’t have an immediate answer to how that would work.

Teacher frustrations were reaching a boiling point on district curriculums introduced this school year. Although the state requirements have changed several times over the last eight years, this change was particularly bothersome to teachers because they feel they are teaching to a “script.”

“Teachers have to be given the autonomy,” Hopson said. Although he cited the need for the district to have some control as teachers are learning, “at the end of the day, if you’re a level 4 or level 5 teacher, and you know your students, there needs to be some flexibility.”

Vocal teachers at the meeting cited check-ins from central office staff as evidence of the overreach.

“I keep hearing people say it’s supplemental but we have people coming into my room making sure we’re following it to a T,” said Amy Dixon a teacher at Snowden School. “We’re expected to follow it …like a script.”

The 90-minute meeting sponsored by the United Education Association of Shelby County drew a crowd of about 100 people to talk about curriculum and what Hopson called “a culture of fear” throughout the district of making a mistake.

Hopson said his team is still working on how to strike the right balance between creativity and continuity across nearly 150 district-run schools because so many students move during the school year.

He reassured despondent teachers he would come up with a plan to meet the needs of teachers and keep curriculums consistent. He said some continuity is needed across schools because many students move a lot during the school year.

“We know we got to make sure that I’m coming from Binghampton and going over to Whitehaven it’s got to be at least somewhat aligned,” he said. “I wish we were a stable, middle-class, not the poorest city in the country, then we wouldn’t have a lot of these issues.”

Ever since Tennessee’s largest district began phasing in parts of an English curriculum called Expeditionary Learning, teachers have complained of being micromanaged, instead of being able to tailor content for their students. The same goes for the new math curriculum Eureka Math.

The district’s changes are meant to line it up with the state. Tennessee’s new language arts and math standards replaced the Common Core curriculum, but in fact, did not deviate much when the final version was released last fall. This is the third change in eight years to state education requirements.

Still, Shelby County Schools cannot fully switch to the new curriculums until they are approved by the Tennessee State Board of Education. District leaders hope both curriculums, which received high marks from a national group that measures curriculum alignment to Common Core, will be added when textbooks are vetted for the 2019-20 school year.

Some urged educators to not think of the new curriculums as “scripts,” and admitted to poorly communicating the changes to teachers.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Pam Harris-Giles

“It’s not an expectation that we stand in front of our children and read off a piece of paper,” said Pam Harris-Giles, one of the district’s instructional support directors, who helps coordinate curriculum training and professional development.

Fredricka Vaughn, a teacher at Kirby High School, said that won’t be easy without clear communication of what flexibility will look like for high-performing teachers.

“If you don’t want us to use the word script, then bring back the autonomy,” she said.

Hopson stressed that the state’s largest school district could be a model for public education if everyone can work together to make the new curriculums work.

“It’s going to take work, hard work, everyone aligned from the top, everyone rowing in the same direction.”