Statehouse roundup

“Diploma protection” bill jumps first hurdle

A long line of people signed up to testify at the House Education Committee Wednesday, but most didn't get to speak because a key bill was delayed,

The House Education Committee has approved a bill that would prohibit state colleges and universities from discriminating against applicants who earn high school diplomas from districts that have low ratings or aren’t accredited by the state.

The measure, House Bill 15-1326, is being pushed by lawmakers whose legislative districts include low-performing school districts that face state intervention, including loss of accreditation, in 2016. (Get background on the process in this story and in Chalkbeat’s accreditation timeline.)

This bill is one sign of the rising anxiety about the state’s five-year accountability clock. One of the proposed testing measures, House Bill 15-1323, would designate 2015-16 as “timeout” year for the clock.

Loss of district accreditation could affect college applicants’ “ability to apply for scholarships, get financial aid or even be admitted,” said prime sponsor Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. “To me this is an issue of fundamental fairness.”

Both Moreno and cosponsor Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, acknowledged that colleges don’t necessarily consider accreditation when reviewing applications. But Esgar said, “We’re putting this in as a safety net.”

Kiera Hatton, the mother of an 8th grader in the Pueblo 60 schools, supported the bill and said she’s moving her daughter to another district because of uncertainty about the district’s future accreditation. “We will have a lost generation of Pueblo kids, and we will have families leaving.”

Pueblo 60 is in Esgar’s district, and the Adams 14 district is in Moreno’s. Six other districts are in the same situation.

The bill applies only to state colleges and universities, not private colleges or out-of-state schools.

The bill passed to the House floor on a 9-2 vote.

House Ed runs out of time on other bills

The main act for Wednesday’s late-morning House Education session was supposed to be Senate Bill 15-173, the proposal to set security and privacy requirements for data vendors who work with school districts.

The bill left the Senate with some unresolved issues (see story), but the committee didn’t get to amendments or even finish public testimony. Because House floor work dragged on Wednesday, the committee didn’t get started until nearly 11:30 a.m. and had to vacate the hearing room by 1:30 p.m. for another committee.

Chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, delayed additional testimony until a special meeting sometime Friday. Buckner was startled when prime sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, announced, “I actually won’t be in the state on Friday afternoon.”

Buckner said that means action on the bill won’t come until next week. “That would have been really great information for me to have this morning,” Buckner said sternly to Pabon about his absence.

The committee also had to delay consideration of House Bill 15-1339, which makes important changes in district financial transparency reporting, and House Bill 15-1273, which seeks to improve compilation and reporting of dangerous incidents at schools.

For the record

It’s the time of year when multiple education bills are on the move – or being killed – daily, so here’s a quick rundown of what else happened Wednesday. Also check the Education Bill Tracker for updates on other bills of interest to you.

American Indian mascots – The House gave 33-32 approval to House Bill 15-1165, which would require state approval for school use of American Indian mascots and logos. This measure has little or no chance in the Republican-controlled Senate (get background here).

Truancy – Senate Bill 15-184, a watered-down version of a measure originally intended to end jailing of truant students, passed the Senate 31-4 (get background here).

Teacher evaluations – The Senate Education Committee voted 9-0 to kill Senate Bill 15-003, which would have eliminated the use of student academic growth in teacher evaluations. The bill was largely a symbolic statement by Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs – he joined the vote to kill the bill. More modest changes to teacher evaluation are contained in Senate Bill 15-257, of which Merrifield is a cosponsor.

names are in

Ten apply for vacant seat on the Memphis school board, but six live outside of seat’s district

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Former Shelby County Board of Education Chairwoman Teresa Jones confers with then Superintendent Dorsey Hopson during a 2015 school board meeting. Jones' seat is now up for an interim appointment.

Ten people have put their name in to become the next board member of Tennessee’s largest school district.

The appointee will fill the seat Teresa Jones vacated following her recent appointment as a municipal court judge, and would serve until the term expires in August 2020, not October as previously reported.

The interim member will join the school board at a crucial time, amid the search for a new superintendent to replace Dorsey Hopson, who left the district in December. Currently, Joris Ray is serving as interim superintendent.

Jones’ district 2 serves neighborhoods including North Memphis, Binghampton, and Berclair. Chalkbeat found that six applicants live outside of the district. Shelby County Commissioner Michael Whaley said this would likely prevent them from an appointment, but the commission is seeking clarity from the state and election commission.

Whaley also said the interim appointment was extended to August 2020 because Tennessee law doesn’t specify that special elections are necessary for the school board, so the interim will finish out Jones’ term.

The county commission is scheduled to name a successor on Monday Feb. 25, a day before the school board’s meeting that month. The commission is slated to interview candidates Wednesday at 10 a.m., but Whaley said more names could be added by commissioners prior to the vote on Monday We’ve linked to their full applications below.

Applicants are:

Althea Greene

  • She is a retired teacher from Memphis City Schools and childcare supervisor with Shelby County Schools. She is currently Pastor of Real Life Ministries.

Arvelia Chambers

  • She is a senior certified pharmacy technician with Walgreens. She said she’s a “passionate aunt” of three children in Shelby County Schools.
  • Her listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Aubrey Howard

  • He works as the executive director of governmental and legislative affairs in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office. He formerly worked for the City of Memphis, and said in his application that he previously ran for school board and lost.

Charles McKinney

  • He is the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College. He is on the board of Crosstown High Charter School, and is the father of two Shelby County Schools students.

David Brown

  • He is the executive director of digital ministry at Brown Missionary Baptist Church and graduated from  Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly east of District 2.

Erskine Gillespie

  • Gillespie previously ran for City Council district 7 but lost. He is an account manager at the Lifeblood Mid-South Regional Blood Bank. He said in his application that he was one of the first students to enter the optional schools program in the Memphis district.

Kenneth Whalum, Jr.

  • He is a pastor at The New Olivet Worship Center and previously served as a school board member for the former Memphis City Schools; he was first elected in 2006. He has vocally opposed the process behind the 2013 merger of the city school system with legacy Shelby County Schools.
  • Whalum ran against school board member Kevin Woods in 2012 and lost.
  • His listed address is near the University of Memphis, not in District 2.

Makeda Porter-Carr

  • She is a research administrator at St. Jude Research Hospital.
  • Her listed address is in southeast Memphis, not in District 2.

Michael Hoffmeyer Sr.

  • He is the director of the University of Memphis’ Crews Center for Entrepreneurship in which he works with college and high school students. He graduated from Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Tyree Daniels

  • He helped found Memphis College Prep charter school. He lost to Jones in a school board race in 2012. Daniels is now a part of Duncan-Williams Inc. — the firm handling public financing for the project Union Row.
  • His listed address is in east Memphis, not in District 2.

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.