Thursday Churn: Tuition issue heats up

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

Attorney General John Suthers Wednesday said he’s looking into Metro State’s recent vote to create a special tuition rate for undocumented students, something that’s been criticized by Republican lawmakers.

“We’re very vigorously researching this issue,” he told The Associated Press, saying many state colleges are interested in the issue. But he wouldn’t say who inquired or if his research would be made public. (See AP story.)

That announcement came the same day that 10 conservative Republican lawmakers wrote a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper, asking that he “instruct” Metro to put the new tuition rate on hold and warning that legislation was being prepared for the 2013 session “to overturn the Metro State decision.”

A spokesman for Hickenlooper said the administration would have no comment until after the AG’s review is finished.

The issue could heat up further next week during a Wednesday afternoon meeting between the legislative Joint Budget Committee and Metro officials. JBC chair Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, is among the critics of Metro’s move. The six-member committee should be an interesting forum, given that it’s equally split between Republicans and Democrats. And Metro is in the district of member Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, a staunch defender of the new tuition rate.

The State Board of Education Wednesday approved innovation status for six schools in the Falcon district near Colorado Springs. The innovation schools law passed in 2008 allows schools, groups of schools and districts to petition for innovation status to gain waivers from a wide variety of state laws, regulations and union contracts.

Education reformers hoped the law would allow experimentation and variety that would help improve student achievement but have been disappointed that use of the law has been confined almost entirely to schools in Denver. Wasson High School in Colorado Springs District 11 has achieved innovation status, as has the tiny Kit Carson district on the eastern plains.

But the Falcon applications are for limited purposes. In the case of five schools, it involves only flexibility is schedules, and in the case of one middle school the innovation request involves curriculum flexibility.

Falcon is in the middle of an organizational and academic shift that involves giving four “zones” within the district greater freedom in decision-making and reducing the power of the central administration.

The board also approved a request from the Littleton schools for a waiver from the mutual consent for placement provisions of the educator effectiveness law. Some board members questioned whether that would be a problem in a couple of years when the law goes into effect fully. Littleton administrators testified that they need the flexibility of their own placement policy in a time of declining enrollment.

What’s on tap:


The Denver board will hold a special public comment meeting at 5 p.m. at district headquarters.

The Jefferson County board has a special meeting scheduled. Time not yet announced.

Good reads from elsewhere:

Arnold stumbles again: Matt Arnold, Republican candidate for an at-large CU Regents seat, has suffered another campaign embarrassment in his primary race against Brian Davidson. Arnold, angry that Davidson backers were encouraging Arnold supporters to desert him, posted the home addresses of some Davidson supporters on his website. The addresses were taken down after Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson called Arnold about harassment of Davidson backers. Arnold previously had to defend himself against complaints his misstated his academic record. The Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels has the details.

Mixed picture for choice laws: School choice was expanded by some state legislatures this year, but the picture was different in other states, reports.

The EdNews’ Churn is a roundup of briefs, notes and meetings in the world of Colorado education, published during the summer as news warrants. To submit an item for consideration in this listing, please email us at [email protected]

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede