Capitol News

Opinions on call for Huffman’s resignation split along predictable lines

Kevin Huffman was Tennessee's education commissioner from 2011 to 2014. He is now a consultant and writer living in Nashville.

A day after a group of Republican legislators in Tennessee released a letter calling for state education commissioner Kevin Huffman’s immediate resignation—and the Tennessee Department of Education’s quick rebuttal—both supporters and detractors of Huffman’s policies remain steadfast in their positions.

The politicians—13 representatives and two senators—allege that Huffman violated state law by not releasing scores from TCAP, the state’s standardized test, to all school districts, as required by state law. The department of education’s letter said such accusations were baseless.

Sen. Frank Niceley, a Republican from Strawberry Plains, said that he had not read the response from the department of education, but upon learning its contents, was not surprised. “Well, that’s about all they could say,” he said.

Niceley said he was in part influenced to sign the letter by rumors that Huffman, who moved to the state from Washington, D.C.,  plans to leave Tennessee soon of his own accord.

“Rumor has it he wants to go somewhere else anyway,” Niceley said. “Commissioner Huffman is more worried about his résumé than our children’s education.” Niceley was a co-sponsor of the bill that delayed the state’s implementation of PARCC, a Common-Core aligned standardized test.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s spokesperson David Smith said Huffman and Haslam, a Republican, were frustrated by the lack of communication from the representatives prior to the letter, according to the Commercial Appeal: “Our office reached out to several of these members earlier in the week to discuss their concerns, and it is disappointing they chose a political stunt instead of constructive dialogue.”

Rep. Mark White, a Republican from Memphis and the chair of the House Education Subcommittee, echoed Smith’s statements. Speaking from an education seminar in Louisville Kentucky, White said that he was disappointed in his colleagues’ letter. 

“We need to do everything we can to work together to figure this out,” he said. “It doesn’t do anything to splinter like this.”

A spokesperson from the department of education said the department had no further comments on the letter.





Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”