Who Is In Charge

Final Senate vote endorses SB 10-191

Updated 10 p.m. May 12 – The Senate voted 27-8 Wednesday afternoon to re-pass Senate Bill 10-191, the educator effectiveness bill, after accepting House amendments.

A few hours earlier, the House voted 36-29 for the measure.

SB 10-191 cosponsors Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, (left) and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centenntial, talked about the importance of the bill before the final Senate vote May 12, 2010.

In the Senate, 13 of the body’s 21 Democrats voted yes. The original April 29 Senate vote was 21-14. Eight Democrats and the House’s one independent joined 27 Republicans in supporting the measure in that chamber. (List of Democrats who voted yes.)

Another education measure, House Concurrent Resolution 10-1002, failed on the House floor Wednesday. It’s the proposed constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to raise taxes for education without voter approval. It needed 44 votes, but the roll call was 35-30. A companion measure, SCR 10-002, also died when the legislature adjourned Wednesday.

Final passage of SB 10-191  makes 2010 the third year in which the legislature has passed major education legislation.

In 2008, lawmakers passed the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, which set out a multi-year program of changing the state and local content standards, tests, high school graduation requirements and college entrance standards.

Last year, the legislature approved the educator identifier bill and a measure that revamps the state system for accrediting districts and schools and for improving the most struggling schools.

All those reforms, especially CAP4K and SB 10-191, have long implementation times and uncertainties about how much they ultimately will cost to implement.

Senate supporters praise bill

Senators spoke for about 45 minutes on SB 10-191 before taking their final vote.

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, the driving force behind the measure, evoked the Tuskegee Airmen’s service in World War II as an event that changed views of race and said, “That’s the moment where we stand now in education.” Saying children must no longer be judged by the disadvantages they bring to school, “What matters to us is that every child gets across the finish line.

“We will absolutely measure our success by how many of those children get across the finish line. … We as adults will hold ourselves accountable.”

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial and Johnston’s Senate co-sponsor, said, “This bill is a game changer.”

Here’s a sampling of comment from other supporters:

  • “This is truly an historic moment [but] the obligation for us is now to come through with the funding mechanisms that are needed.” – Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver
  • “As the bill has gone through it has improved significantly.” – Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, a former teacher who swung from opposition to support.
  • “I think it is moving in the right direction.” – Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins and Senate Education Committee chair who previously opposed the bill. He also warned of funding challenges and called for greater parent and student accountability.
  • “This has been a truly agonizing process.” – Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, a major force behind Senate amendments who vehemently said the state and its citizens now must step up to adequately fund schools.

The lone voice of opposition was Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, who has doggedly led the fight against the bill in the Senate.

“In my opinion, the amendments made in the House don’t fix the fundamental problems” in the bill, including cost and expanded testing. She called changes to the bill “lipstick on a pig.”

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, didn’t speak during previous debates, but he struck a nuanced note Wednesday. “The change in this bill is not as dramatic as it proponents hope nor as cataclysmic as its opponents fear. It is a moderate bill.”

The debate in the House

There was no debate on the House floor Wednesday on the educator effectiveness bill, but there was plenty of it Tuesday evening when it passed its big test on a preliminary vote.

Representatives huddled May 11, 2010, during a break in formal debate on SB 10-191.

That standing vote on SB 10-191 came at about 11:15 p.m., after hours of emotional debate and just 45 minutes before a midnight deadline for the decision.

Johnston, said, “I’m very pleased. … All of the core components of the bill are intact. I think Colorado took a courageous step in the right direction.” Johnston watched the latter part of the debate from the House gallery.

Bev Ingle, president of the Colorado Education Association, was somber after the vote, saying her group would have to evaluate the amendments before deciding its position on the bill. CEA has been the leading opponent of the measure. Ingle did say she was disappointed with the way the push for the bill was handled. “It didn’t have to be a power play.”

In a nuanced statement issued by CEA Wednesday, Ingle sounded resigned, writing, “This bill has been much improved” and going on to recount the union’s opposition to the bill and the reasons why.

She continued, “CEA will offer its assistance to the [Educator Effectiveness Council] and help it successfully complete its many charges. And we will also examine the bill and the various education processes it impacts. We will do everything we can to make this work for our teachers and our students.”

The bill passed on a standing House vote Tuesday.

More than a dozen amendments were proposed and debated, with most of the sponsors’ changes passed and opponents’ amendments defeated. Lengthy speeches and lots of questions from opponents propelled the debate for five and a half hours.

The key amendment proposed by sponsors raises the possibility of binding arbitration for teachers who lose tenure because of unsatisfactory evaluations but basically delays that decision until the 2013 legislative session.

A key defeat for opponents came just before 10 p.m. when the House turned back an amendment by Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, that basically would have gutted the bill. Six or seven Democrats and the House’s one independent stood with Republicans to defeat the amendment.

The House had a midnight deadline to pass the bill on preliminary consideration because legislative rules require a final vote be held no sooner than the next calendar day. And, Wednesday is the last day of the 2010 session.

The debate started at about 6:45 p.m. – following more than an hour and a half of Democratic members orating at length on House Concurrent Resolution 10-1002, the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to raise taxes for education spending without a citizen vote. Because such a resolution requires a two-thirds majority in each house to get on the ballot, it’s not expected to pass.

But supporters of HCR 10-1002 used it to highlight their concerns about the troubled state of education funding in Colorado. And the lengthy speeches were seen as a delaying tactic by opponents who at that point still considered trying to run out the clock. No Republicans spoke on HCR 10-1002. And, no GOP members except Rep. Carole Murray, D-Castle Rock and a co-prime sponsor, spoke on SB 10-191.

The split between Democrats on SB 10-191 was personified by Rep. Karen Middleton (left) and Rep. Nancy Todd. Both represent Aurora districts.

The debate was between Democrats.

The main opposition speakers were Democratic Reps. Merrifield, Nancy Todd of Aurora, Judy Solano of Brighton and Debbie Benefield of Arvada, the core of the traditionalist group on the House Education Committee. All but Benefield are retired teachers; she’s a longtime parent activist in Jefferson County.

They were assisted by Rep. Sarah Gagliardi, D-Arvada, a nurse who generally doesn’t have a high profile on education issues. Gagliardi seemed to have the assignment of asking sponsors to explain the meaning of proposed amendments in detail.

The speeches by Merrifield, Todd, Solano and Benefield alternated between emotional pleas and sharp attacks laced with sarcasm. They repeatedly quoted from letters and e-mails written by teachers opposed to the bill.

“This is not a teacher effectiveness bill. This is a measure-and-punish bill,” Merrifield said during his last of several turns at the podium.

Several other Democrats rose to speak against the bill at length.

But Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora and a former member of the State Board of Education, defended the bill and voted for it. At one point, she rose to chide Rep. Max Tyler, D-Golden, who used an ill-considered analogy about a baker and maggoty flour to talk about teachers who have to deal with difficult students.

A chastened Tyler apologized for his remarks and withdrew an amendment he’d proposed.

Rep. Beth McCann, a Democratic lawyer whose district covers a wide swath of northeast Denver, spoke the most eloquently in support of the bill.

She agreed with critics concerned about the potential costs of the bill and the financial pressures facing schools. “We have to get real in this state and support public education with our money.”

But, McCann said, the bill may provide needed impetus for improved educator effectiveness, and, “These kids can’t wait.”

Co-prime sponsor Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, and Murray kept their cool at the microphone under criticism of the bill, briefly explaining amendments and successfully urging defeat of hostile ones.

Negotiations went on for hours

Scanlan spent much of her afternoon out of the House chamber, working on amendments, conferring with House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver (and a bill supporter), and talking to lobbyists, Johnston and other legislative leaders.

Cluster of lobbyists grouped and regrouped in the House lobby and along the second-floor brass rails, conferring on proposed amendments and talking on their cell phones. Department of Education officials and more lobbyists watched the debate from the gallery.

An emotional Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, repeated her fears about SB 10-191 at the end of the long May 11 debate.

An emotional Todd returned to the microphone alone after the voting was done and as the House was about to adjourn.

The bill is “not a message of hope and encouragement for teachers. … I am so sad at the divisiveness this bill has caused in our state and legislature. … I do want you to hear my heart, because my heart is speaking for 40,000 teachers in the state of Colorado,” she said.

Interestingly enough, little of the discussion focused on the long timelines and multiple decision points that were amended into the bill by the Senate.

The existing Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness will develop definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness and is assigned with developing many other details of evaluation systems, cost and educator improvement. After the council is done, the State Board of Education will issue regulations, which will be subject to review by the legislature.

There will be testing of evaluation systems after that, with the full program not going into effect statewide for five years.

The amendment offered by the sponsors and added on the floor Tuesday directs the council to develop proposals for use of binding arbitration in the cases of teachers who lose non-probationary status because of unsatisfactory evaluations. The council will make its recommendations directly to the legislature, not to the state board.

CEA lobbyists said that amendment was important to them, but the union remains opposed to the bill pending review. But the amendment is of concern to some school district interests.

However, the arbitration amendment was seen as the factor that ended the possibility of an attempted “filibuster” and allowed the debate and vote to go forward.

Measure sparked intense debate

The bill has generated an emotional, complex and sometimes over-simplified debate over how to measure teacher quality, whether standardized tests are an accurate measure, cuts in school funding, the wisdom of taking action this year, lack of parental involvement in schools, the political clout of the CEA and how teachers are treated in society.

Many opponents of the bill feel double-crossed by the measure because it would expand on and change the work of the council, a group created by executive order in January after agreement by a wide variety of education interests, including the CEA. The council was supposed to develop definitions of principal and teacher effectiveness and make recommendations to the legislature and State Board of Education by the fall of 2011.

The bill would give the council additional duties and put its functions into state law. A key feature of both the executive order and the bill is the requirement that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student academic growth over time. The bill also applies that standard to principals. And the bill specifies that growth will be measured by a variety of assessments, not just the annual CSAP.

The bill also requires mutual consent between a principal and a teacher for placement in a school, although a House committee amendment requires a principal consult with other teachers in a school. The bill also make satisfactory evaluations a factor in layoffs, and for the first time would require non-probationary teachers to return to probation after two unsatisfactory evaluations.

That, and cost, have been a major sticking point for CEA and led to amendments that would give teachers some appeal rights in cases of unsatisfactory evaluations.

While CEA and a large corps of Democratic legislators have led the charge against the bill, it’s been endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers-Colorado, the Colorado associations of school boards and school executives, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, the state board, education Commissioner Dwight Jones, Ritter and his three immediate predecessors and numerous business, education and community groups.

Some supporters hope passage of the bill will improve Colorado’s chance in the second-round Race to the Top competition, but the sponsors have been downplaying the importance of that.

Democrats who voted yes

Senate

Democrats who voted for the bill on final passage Wednesday were Bob Bacon of Fort Collins, Joyce Foster of Denver, Dan Gibbs of Silverthorne, Rollie Heath of Boulder, Mary Hodge of Brighton, Mike Johnston of Denver, Majority Leader John Morse of Colorado springs, Linda Newell of Denver, Chris Romer of Denver, President Brandon Shaffer of Boulder, Pat Steadman of Denver, Abel Tapia of Pueblo and Suzanne Williams of Aurora.

Bacon, Morse, Shaffer, Steadman, Tapia and Williams voted no when the Senate first passed the bill on April 29.

House

The Democratic representatives who voted yes were co-prime sponsor Christine Scanlan of Dillon, Karen Middleton of Aurora and Joe Rice of Littleton, plus Denver representatives Lois Court, Mark Ferrandino, Jeanne Labuda, Beth McCann and House Speaker Terrance Carroll. Independent Kathleen Curry of Gunnison, a former Democrat, also voted yes.

Ferrandino and Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, provided the votes needed to get the bill out of the House Appropriations Committee on a 7-6 vote last Friday. Riesberg voted no on the bill Wednesday.

Do your homework

New mayor

Illinois charter PAC ready to spend millions in Chicago elections

PHOTO: Creative Commons

A pro-charter Illinois PAC will expand its focus from statewide politics into Chicago’s upcoming mayoral and alderman elections, with a plan to infuse millions of dollars into contested races where education is at issue.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher for urban public education,” Andrew Broy, president of INCS Action, a political action committee that advocates for charter schools in Illinois, told Chalkbeat. “We expect to spend a seven-figure sum in each of these races.”

INCS Action is the political advocacy arm of the Illinois Network for Charters Schools, and in the past has advocated for lifting a cap on charters statewide and against a statewide charter moratorium.

The expansion of charter schools is a live-wire issue in Chicago, with some advocates arguing that the growth of charters, which are publicly funded but privately run, pushes out resources for neighborhood schools in low-income areas. Charter advocates, meanwhile, argue the charter school model offers a faster way to bring high-quality education to students in Chicago.

Chicago Public Schools has 121 charter schools, down 7 percent from two years ago when the teachers union negotiated a cap on charter enrollment.

The upcoming elections make up just one part of a the network’s larger legislative agenda, with three of its five legislative goals already in place, Broy said. They’ve established the state charter school commission, secured charter funding equity in Illinois, and created a 10-year renewal term for charter contracts, he said, adding, “we still need to secure state facility funding and lift the cap on charter schools nationwide.”

INCS Action has not yet named the candidates it will support, but said its criteria for endorsement include contested races featuring candidates with different positions on charter schools. “For aldermanic races, if we can impact 2,000 or 3,000 votes in a ward, that offers a lot of opportunity,” Broy said.

Aldermen can introduce city-level resolutions against charter openings or ban a charter’s expansion into their ward or, if they are supportive, offer tax-increment financing for charter school buildings or other investments.

The Chicago Teachers Union also runs a PAC, through which it has supported candidates at the state, mayoral and aldermanic levels. The union opposes charter expansion. 

Broy expects his group will support candidates by sending out mailers, canvassing and telephoning voters.

According to election finance data obtained by Illinois Sunshine, the INCS Action PAC has already contributed more than $65,000 to the campaigns of state-level candidates for congressional seats in Illinois since Sept. 11. The largest sums went to the campaigns of Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Burr Ridge, the House minority leader, and Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Alton.

In state-level races, INCS Action has been a heavy hitter since it started in 2013. This past spring, the organization said in a press release that 13 of the 15 primary candidates for Illinois’ state Senate and House of Representatives supported by the group won their primaries.

The next governor could play a big role in the future of charter schools in Illinois, and by extension in Chicago, but Broy says the committee has declined to endorse a candidate because of the amount of spending required to sway a candidate or the election. The committee gets more bang for its buck focusing on local races.

Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner and challenger J.B. Pritzker have staked out opposing positions on the charter debate, with Rauner a supporter of charter schools, while his opponent says he’d place a moratorium on opening new charters.

Meanwhile, Broy said his political action committee will soon begin throwing money into campaigns he believes they can win. “In some races, we see a pathway to victory with our support.”

 

Heated Debate

Candidates clash over innovation schools and high school closures in IPS Board campaigns

PHOTO: Stephanie Wang / Chalkbeat
Candidates for the District 3 and District 5 seats on the Indianapolis Public Schools Board debated at a forum hosted Tuesday night by Chalkbeat, the Indianapolis Recorder, WFYI, and the Central Library.

In the races for three seats on the Indianapolis Public Schools Board, candidates are sharply split over whether the district is moving in the right direction.

The divisions were clear during a forum Tuesday night hosted by Chalkbeat, the Indianapolis Recorder, WFYI, and the Indianapolis Public Library. Some of the most heated discussions came over the district’s recent decision to close high schools and move to an all-choice high school model, and candidates also clashed over the district’s innovation partnerships with outside operators to run schools — including some where students have struggled the most.

“It’s just disruptive when you just keep changing and changing and changing,” said ceramics studio owner and IPS parent Joanna Krumel, who goes by Jodi, a challenger in the at-large race. “Especially when the district was doing a good job with the programs that they had.”

Retired IPS teacher Susan Collins, who is also running for the at-large seat lamented the closure of high schools that had long legacies in their neighborhoods: “Why do we let our good programs die?” she said.

But at-large incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan defended the district’s decisions, pushing back on the perception that schools have taken a turn for the worse.

“I don’t think we were doing well. I don’t think all was all right with IPS. I think we were patient for too long with strategies that weren’t moving the needle for kids,” said Sullivan, a former Democratic state lawmaker.

Read more: Sort through each school board district race and see candidates’ answers to a Chalkbeat survey

Candidates also debated the district’s low test scores, financial transparency, community engagement, and equity of access to highly sought-after magnet programs.

Often, their disagreements illustrated long-standing rifts between advocates and critics of school choice.

The at-large challengers denounced the district’s partnerships with charter schools, influential charter supporters such as The Mind Trust, and the Indy Chamber on finances and its referendum efforts.

“There is too much incursion by business interests in the education of our children,” Collins said.

Krumel said she didn’t support working so closely with charter schools, either: “I don’t think that charter schools are here to stay. At least I hope they’re not.”

But Sullivan called those “adult battles” over politics that distract from addressing the needs of children.

“I’m just very sad that we still have the same kinds of conversations that take our eyes off the prize of being able to offer every single kid in the city of Indianapolis a great opportunity,” Sullivan said. “I would like to have more conversations about where we’re going, what’s possible — and not a return to something that I don’t think were ever really glory days, especially not for too many of our students of color and students in poverty.”

In the race for the open seat in District 3, which represents the north side, one candidate supported innovation schools while two others expressed concerns.

“I see innovation schools, frankly, as the next generation of the district willing to take risks, to do what it takes to serve our students,” said Evan Hawkins, executive director of facilities and procurement for Marian University and an IPS parent. “Innovations schools are not the panacea, but innovation represents one of those options that the district has … [to] ensure that our schools stay locally controlled.”

But Sherry Shelton said she wanted to support ideas proven to work, and she didn’t believe the innovation schools showed enough positive results.

“I don’t think we should take a chance with our students,” said Shelton, director of information services for Pike Township schools. “I think we should stop the innovation schools, re-evaluate the program, tweak it, and if it’s something that we’re going to move forward with, that we develop a successful process to open those, evaluate, and keep them up to a certain standard.”

Michele Lorbieski, a trial attorney with Frost Brown Todd and an IPS parent, said the innovation schools cause disruption, and said they haven’t shown as much improvement as is often touted.

“I think we need to pump the brakes on these innovation schools,” she said. “We’re doing a pilot to figure out if our high school students should take the IndyGo bus, but we didn’t even pilot the innovation schools. So let’s make sure they’re effective before we keep going down this path at this pace we’re going.”

In the race for District 5, which represents the northwest side of the city, candidate Taria Slack outlined the challenges of teacher turnover that she has seen in the innovation schools that her three children attend.

“I think we need to stop replicating this program until we have better research on what’s really going on,” said Slack, a federal worker. “We need to make sure that our kids are hitting every last one of these benchmarks.”

But incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, an IPS parent, said families and community members sometimes feel innovation schools are the best fit for their neighborhoods.

“Sometimes the innovation school option is the best option,” she said. “So I see charter schools and innovation schools as part of our educational landscape, part of our toolbox if you will, to look at what’s the best option for our children in a specific neighborhood.”

Watch the full forum: