Who Is In Charge

CSAP “rights” bill meets expected fate

Impassioned testimony and pre-hearing lobbying by the sponsor didn’t dissuade the House State Affairs Committee, which on Thursday killed House Bill 12-1049, the testing opt-out bill. Four committee Democrats supported the bill, but the five Republicans voted no.

Pencil on test paperState Affairs is traditionally the “kill” committee where majority leaders send a bill they oppose, so the bill’s fate probably was preordained.

“I know why the bill was sent to State Affairs. I think we all do,” said committee member Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, who gave an emotional plea for members to at least pass the bill to the House floor. A retired teacher, Todd also complained about the culture of testing and its effects on some students. “I’ve had children throw up on their tests.”

As originally proposed by Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, HB 12-1049 contained provisions forbidding schools from penalizing students for not taking statewide tests and prohibiting the Department of Education from lowering a school’s performance rating because of testing no-shows, as is done now.

Thursday, the committee approved a Solano amendment that created an explicit parent right to take kids out of state tests, now known as TCAPs. (It’s not uncommon for committees to approve amendments to doomed bills.)

Solano pitched the bill as parents’ rights measure in the spirit of U.S. Supreme Court rulings on that subject. A parade of witnesses, mostly mothers and a couple of teachers, provided emotional testimony about problems their children have suffered because they didn’t take state tests.

The lone opposition witness was Jo O’Brien, assistant education commissioner in charge of testing. The State Board of Education voted yesterday to oppose the bill, with Chair Bob Schaffer, D-4th District, the only dissenter.

Solano, a retired teacher who’s serving in her last session because of term limits, has made a legislative career of criticizing standardized testing, but she’s had little success in her crusade.

Her “big” testing bill this year – House Bill 12-1091 – would eliminate CSAP writing tests and one set of high school tests. She got a similar bill through the full House in 2010. But this year the bill has also been assigned to State Affairs.

Other dead bills

The Democratic-controlled Senate Finance Committee killed two Republican bills that proposed to change the operations of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, the pension provider for thousands of retired and active Colorado teachers and other civil servants.

Senate Bill 12-119 would have required the PERA board to adjust benefits in order to maintain the solvency of the system. Senate Bill 12-082 proposed to rise the retirement age for future PERA members to match those of the Social Security system.

Many legislative Republicans have a variety of ideological and financial beefs with the way PERA does business, and several other GOP bills on PERA are pending. None are expected to pass.

Atmosphere sunnier – if long-winded – in Senate Ed

The Senate Education Committee spent three hours Thursday afternoon on four bills, passing three of them on 7-0 votes.

The most interesting is Senate Bill 12-045, the “reverse transfer” bill. The measure would allow students who’ve earned community college credits (but not enough to earn an associate’s degree) and four-year college credits (but not enough to earn a bachelor’s degree) to retroactively combine those credits to qualify for an associate’s.

The bill is touted as a way to increase the number of Coloradans with post-secondary degrees. An extensive amendment approved by the committee Thursday made key changes in the bill. The new version would require students to initiate the process of combining credits. The original proposal required colleges to do the work, a system opposed by some institutions. The amended bill also allows individuals colleges to develop partnerships to achieve the same goal. (Metro State has been working on its own program with community colleges.)

The committee also approved Senate Bill 12-067, which requires all charter school boards to be incorporated as non-profits. The intent of the bill is to prevent for-profit charter school operators from contracting directly with school districts, or from setting up “captive” boards. Under the bill charters would have to be stand-alone non-profits to enter into charters with districts. Charter boards could contract with for-profits to run schools.

The wouldn’t change any existing charters in the state, and districts could continue to contract with for-profit operators to run what are called contract schools.

The bill comes out of recommendations by a study committee that recommended improvements in how charters operate and how districts authorize charters. Both the Colorado League of Charter Schools and the Colorado Association of School Boards support the bill.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs
Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs / File photo
The committee discussed, but didn’t vote on, Senate Bill 12-106, which proposes to allow accredited early colleges to grant associate’s degrees and would add early colleges to the list of institutions that have a guaranteed transfer of core course credits to community and four-year colleges.

Colorado has only five early college programs, which are kind of a hybrid high school and community college. Bill sponsor Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, is the administrator of Colorado Springs Early Colleges, a charter school overseen by the state Charter School Institute. King, who’s not running for reelection this year, is a tireless evangelist for the concept and says he wants to replicate it in Douglas County and Fort Collins.

He spoke passionately Thursday about his proposals, and lined up students from his school to testify in favor.

Geri Anderson, an executive of the community college system, praised King’s long record of work and commitment to students, but she opposed the bill. Matt Gianneschi, deputy director of the Department of Higher Education, said his agency has no position on the bill but noted that early colleges would have to undergo a long and expensive outside accreditation process in order to offer associate’s degrees.

The committee also spent more than an hour wandering in the semantic weeds of Senate Bill 12-036, a relatively minor measure that would beef up state law requiring parent consent for students to take certain kinds of surveys. The committee approved an amendment the clarify that parent consent isn’t required for taking academic tests.

For the record

The House gave unanimous final approval to House Bill 12-1201, which provides a midyear increase in school funding, and House Bill 12-1090, which requires that the Oct. 1 student enrollment count be moved if it conflicts with a religious holiday.

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.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.