Who Is In Charge

Literacy, ASSET vie for attention

Revisions to the early childhood literacy bill, expected to be offered in committee Wednesday, would give more flexibility to school districts in carrying out the program, and the amendments also include $16 million in funding.

Legislature 2012 logoThe hearing on House Bill 12-1238 is in the Senate Affairs Committee at 1:30 p.m. – the same time at which the House Finance Committee convenes to take up Senate Bill 12-015, the undocumented students tuition bill.

The overlapping hearings come as the pace of events is getting faster at the Capitol, given that lawmakers face a May 9 deadline to adjourn for the year.

Other big bills are also stacked up, including House Bill 12-1345, the 2012-13 school finance act. It passed the House Tuesday on a 63-1 final vote and now must make its way through the Senate.

Crucial hearing for literacy bill

The Colorado Early Literacy Act, House Bill 12-1238, has drawn a lot of attention since the idea surfaced last year, pushed by business and education reform groups and modeled on a Florida law.

The main lightning rod was a proposal to require holding back third graders who are significantly below grade level in reading. Faced with widespread criticism, mandatory retention never made it into the bill. But the bill has been subject to intense scrutiny by – and jockeying among – education interest groups since it was introduced Feb. 7.

The House Education Committee spent seven hours on the bill, and House floor debate lasted two hours.

As passed by the full House on March 21, the bill’s original “preference” for retention of struggling third graders was softened. (See this story for details on the bill’s provisions as it left the House.)

The measure faced an uncertain future in the Senate, given a skeptical Democratic leadership and lobbying from school district interests who saw the bill as too restrictive and underfunded. The bill was assigned not to the Senate Education Committee but to State Affairs, sometimes used as a “kill committee.”

But key Democratic senators – sponsor Mike Johnston of Denver, State Affairs chair Rollie Heath of Boulder, vice chair Bob Bacon of Fort Collins and other senators – have been working on amendments. House sponsor Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and staff from the governor’s office also were in on the talks.

Proposed amendments were circulated to lobbyists and interest group leaders at midday Tuesday. Key features of the proposed changes include:

• A focus on students with a “significant reading deficiency” (to be defined by the State Board of Education). The House version of the bill also covers students with “reading deficiencies,” defined as those reading below grade level but above the level of significant deficiency.

• Use of interest revenue from the state school lands permanent fund to provide about $16 million in per-pupil funding (about $700 per student) to districts working with students who have significant reading deficiencies. The House version of the bill included about $5 million in funding. Proposed changes in the bill’s legislative declaration specifically note the need for financial resources.

As in the House bill, additional funds, about $4 million, would be available for a grant program for districts who need help implementing the program.

• Easing of some of the more detailed requirements for parent consultation and notification contained in the House version.

• While the proposed amendments still have specific references to retention as an option for struggling readers, the language is somewhat softened compared to the House version. Superintendent review of retention decisions for third graders remains in the bill.

• Addition of specific interventions, such as enrollment in full-day kindergarten, summer school and tutoring, for K-3 students with reading problems.

The State Affairs hearing on the bill will be in the Old Supreme Court Chambers on the second floor of the Capitol.

At the same time the House Finance Committee will hear the ASSET tuition bill in room LSB-A of the Legislative Services Building, across the street from the Capitol at 200 E. 14th Ave. The measure passed out of the House Education Committee Monday night on a 7-6 vote (see story).

The measure, freighted as it is with arguments over illegal immigration, faces tough prospects in the Republican-controlled House. Some observers believe House Finance is where it will die this year.

Testing costs last stumbling block to budget deal?

The Joint Budget Committee Tuesday started – but didn’t finish – trying to reconcile House and Senate amendments to House Bill 12-1335, the 2012-13 state budget.

The main stumbling point appears to be restoration of $5.7 million that the JBC originally included in the budget for development of new state science and social studies tests. The Senate stripped that money and put it in the budget for state economic development efforts.

Committee members seem inclined to restore the testing funding but couldn’t agree Tuesday on other sources for the economic development budget. The six-member panel had to break off discussions because Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, had to leave at 4 p.m., reportedly for President Obama’s speech in Boulder. Chair Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, was not happy.

Houses send each other fresh bills

Both houses voted final passage for several bills Tuesday, including:

House

  • House Bill 12-1345 – School finance act (63-1)
  • House Bill 12-1306 – Reimbursement of school districts for mid-year enrollment increases (43-21)
  • House Bill 12-1069 – Creation of a three-day sales tax holiday in August for school supplies and clothing (44-20)
  • House Bill 12-1331 – Western State name change to Western State Colorado University (60-4)

Senate

  • Senate Bill 12-047 – Requiring skills tests, such as Accuplacer, for all students at least once during high school (34-0)
  • Senate Bill 12-164 – Regulation of for-profit colleges that award bachelors and graduate degrees and establishing consumer protections for students (25-8)

Lawmakers can’t help themselves

Sure, the session enters its 106th of 120 days Wednesday, and things are already getting a little nutty. But that doesn’t prevent lawmakers from introducing new measures. New this week are resolutions for proposed constitutional amendments on initiative petitions, use of lottery revenues for education and PERA transparency, plus a bill to allow resident tuition rates for some military dependents.

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

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.