Who Is In Charge

Bill logjam breaks up a bit

Both houses worked through long calendars of backed-up floor work Friday, including 10 bills of interest to education.

Colorado CapitolMeasures that passed included the charter schools facilities bill, the “recess” measure, a bill increasing state stipends for some private college students and a bill proposing to change the membership of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association board.

The liveliest debate of the day came over Senate Bill 11-040, the concussion bill. House sponsors had to fight off an attempt to kill the bill by rural lawmakers, who argued its requirements would be too onerous on small-town sports leagues.

The bill requires youth sports coaches to take annual training in recognition of concussion symptoms and sets standards for removing athletes from play or practice and for letting them return. The measure covers competitive sports for children aged 11 to 18.

The House adopted an amendment that adds chiropractors with specialized training to the list of medical professionals that can authorize an athlete to return to play. An amendment opening it up to all chiropractors was killed. The chiropractor issue was raised earlier in committee but not proposed as an amendment. That idea was opposed by some groups backing the bill.

The measure got preliminary approval on a voice vote, and the House later defeated the attempt to kill it on a 20-41 vote.

House works into early afternoon

Here’s what else the House did:

Gave final 36-27 approval for House Bill 11-1055, which gives charter schools somewhat expanded powers to request use of vacant district buildings and appeal to the state if denied. While significantly watered down in committee, the bill drew a lot of opposition from Democrats and may have problems in the Senate. Democrats who voted yes were Reps. Ed Casso of Adams County, Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Cherilyn Peniston of Westminster.

Voted preliminary approval of House Bill 11-1168, which would double the amount of College Opportunity Fund stipends for low-income students at private colleges. This also prompted lively debate, in this case on higher education finances and giving public money to religious colleges. Colorado Christian University wants the bill; the University of Denver and Regis University are formally neutral. (They’re the only three schools covered by the bill.) Pell-eligible students at the three schools currently receive 50 percent of the stipend assigned to students at public colleges. If it passes the House the bill has little chance in the Senate because of the loss it would create for public colleges.

Public Employees' Retirement Association headquarters in Denver.

Approved preliminary passage of House Bill 11-1248, which would reduce elected employee and retiree representation on the Public Employees’ Retirement Association Board and add members appointed by the governor. There was lots of partisan debate over whether the bill would politicize the board or give it needed expertise, with a few Republicans giving broader warnings about the unsustainability of public employee pension plans. Again, look for problems in the Senate if it squeaks out of the House.

Gave preliminary OK to House Bill 11-1121, which changes state law on employment of felons by school districts. The bill contains some retroactive provisions, although much reduced from the original draft, and adds some drug offenses.

Voted preliminary approval of Senate Bill 11-012, the bill that would allow school districts to adopt their own policies on student self-administration of prescription drugs instead of using the detailed procedures now required in state law.

Senate has shorter day

The Senate took these actions:

Approved preliminary passage of House Bill 11-1069, which require minimum levels of physical activity per month in elementary schools. The bill contains a broad definition of physical activity and reportedly mirrors what most elementary schools already are doing.

Voted final approval of House Bill 11-1053, urging school districts to exhaust other alternatives before taking students and parents to court for truancy. This bill was watered down early and retains court action as an option for district.

Gave final approval to House Bill 11-1089, which gives charters schools expanded powers to apply for some state and federal grants without district approval. Amendments added a consultation process for districts and charters.

Endorsed preliminary approval of Senate Bill 11-069, which asks the charter schools standards commission to also study educational management organizations. The original version of the bill proposed a detailed regulatory scheme for such organizations, but that was amended out earlier.

The big bill on the Senate agenda, Senate Bill 11-126, was delayed until March 18. It’s the measure that would make undocumented students eligible for resident tuition rates at state colleges.

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


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.”