The Churn: MALDEF weighs in

Updated 1:15 p.m. – Lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund pitched their case to reporters Friday morning, just days ahead of Monday’s opening of trial in the Lobato v. State school finance lawsuit.

The event came less than 24 hours after Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers called a snap news conference to explain why they think a plaintiffs’ victory would be costly for the state.

The main group of plaintiffs will round up pretrial events with a news conference at 11 a.m. Sunday on the Capitol’s west steps.

David Hinojosa, MALDEF southwest regional counsel, said “There is a crisis in the public schools of Colorado” because of increasing demands for improvement while funding lags.

Funding inequities are particularly harmful for poor and minority students and for English language learners, Hinojosa said. The MALDEF lawyers are representing eight families from four low-income districts, Greeley, Mapleton, Rocky Ford and Sheridan. MALDEF entered the case in 2010, five years after the original Lobato suit was filed by the non-profit Children’s Voices on behalf of a larger group of parents and several school districts.

Also Friday, Suthers and Kathleen Gebhardt, head of Children’s Voices, spoke to a Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Group about the case.

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers Thursday took the public relations initiative on the Lobato school-finance lawsuit.

Losing the suit could wreck the state budget, and school funding decisions are the responsibility of the legislature and the voters, they told reporters during a hastily called Capitol briefing.

“If we lost this decision the consequences would be devastating,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s up to the people and the legislature to decide what to do about school funding,” not the courts, Suthers said.

Supporters of the suit late Wednesday announced an 11 a.m. Sunday news conference on the Capitol’s west steps. The five-week trial opens Monday before Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport. Plaintiffs in the case, a group of parents and school districts, are asking she find that the state’s current school finance system violates the state constitution and order the state to devise a new system.

Attorney General John Suthers and Gov. John Hickenlooper
Attorney General John Suthers and Gov. John Hickenlooper

Hickenlooper and Suthers claimed that victory for the plaintiffs could cost the state $2 to $4 billion more than it currently spends each year on schools, decimating revenues available for other state programs.

Speaking of school finance, proponents of a proposed ballot measure to raise taxes for schools announced Thursday they believe they have gathered sufficient signatures to put the measure on the November statewide ballot.

“Supporters will submit substantially more than 86,105 signatures on Monday,” according to a news release from Support Our Schools for a Bright Colorado. Monday is the deadline to submit signed petitions to the secretary of state, and 86,105 is the number of legally valid signatures required.

If approved by voters, the measure would increase state income and sales taxes slightly for five years, with the additional revenue earmarked for schools and state colleges. (See this EdNews story for background.)

The campaign will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. Monday in Civic Center before delivering petitions to the secretary of state.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.