Future of Schools

Dems retake state House control

Democrats gathered in downtown Denver celebrated victories, including takeover of the state House. Photo / Joe Mahoney

Updated 1 p.m. Nov. 7 – Jubilant Democrats late Tuesday claimed control of the Colorado House, a chamber they lost two years ago.

Democratic leaders, analyzing the returns late in the evening, said they definitely will take 34 seats and could have as many as 38. The party was expected to retain its control of the Senate, although the race between Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster and Republican Lang Sias remained tied Wednesday and may go to a recount.

“We have taken back the majority in the Colorado House of Representatives!” Rep. Mark Ferrandino of Denver, leader of the House caucus, told revelers at the Democratic Party’s election party in the Sheraton downtown.

Lawmakers next year will have to start dealing with the implications of Amendment 64, the proposal to legalize marijuana and direct some of the revenues from taxes on the drug to school construction. The proposal had 53 percent support with about 1.9 million votes tabulated late in the evening.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock celebrated Democratic victories. Photo / Joe Mahoney

In the House, Democrats needed to add only one seat to their current 32 to retake control of that chamber. Minority Republicans in the Senate had a somewhat tougher challenge and needed to add three seats to their current total of 15 to win the majority.

Eighty-five of the legislature’s 100 seats were on the ballot. Most were safe for one party or the other, so legislative control depended on what happened in 12 to 14 closely contested races.

Education debates are expected to have a different tone in 2013. A third or more of lawmakers will be new to the Capitol and will face a steep learning curve on such complex issues as school finance and teacher licensing, both expected to be on the 2013 agenda.

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined the Democrats’ celebration. Photo / Joe Mahoney

What lawmakers won’t face is the prospect of tough budget cuts, given improvements in state revenues.

With Democrats in control of both houses, it’s possible school finance reform might get a closer look than it has in past sessions, and legislation creating lower tuition rates for undocumented students is expected to pass.

Republican issues like school vouchers, parent triggers and changes in the Public Employees’ Retirement Association likely won’t get very far.

State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, who easily won re-election to his second term, said the most dramatic effect of the Democratic takeover of the House, and retention of the Senate, would likely affect education two ways.

Erin Larkin of Thornton cheered at the Democrats’ party. Photo / Joe Mahoney

First, he predicted a greater chance of passage for the ASSET bill, which has been slowly building support in recent years and which would provide lower tuition rates for undocumented students. Second, he expected an examination of how to “solve” school finance in Colorado.

Top education-related races

House District 29 (Westminster area) – Republican Rep. Robert Ramirez, a member of House Education, lost to Democrat Tracy Kraft-Tharp, a community activist.

House District 40 (Aurora) – Democrat John Buckner, a long-time Cherry Creek administrator and principal, defeated GOP Rep. Cindy Acree.

House District 61 (Summit County and central mountains) – Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner, a former Summit County schools superintendent, bested two challengers, Republican artist Debra Irvine and independent Kathleen Curry.

Senate District 19 (Westminster area) – Hudak remained in a neck-and-neck race with Sias. As of Wednesday afternoon, Hudak had a 332 vote lead, a difference of less than 1 percent with overseas and provisional ballots still to be counted. Hudak is vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, a long-time education activist and former member of the State Board of Education.

Senate District 22 (central Lakewood and Ken Caryl area) – Two House members, Democrat Andy Kerr and Republican Ken Summers, battled for this newly drawn Senate seat, with Kerr coming out on top. Kerr is a curriculum specialist and teacher. Summers has been an active participant in education debates of recent years but not an initiator of major legislation.

Other education-related races

House District 11 (Boulder) – Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer, who was appointed to the seat, beat Ellyn Hilliard, who has a background as a teacher and administrator at Waldorf schools.

House District 24 (Wheat Ridge area) – Democratic Rep. Sue Schafer defeated Republican E.V. Leyendecker. Schafer is a member of House Education and worked as a teacher and state Department of Education administrator.

House District 35 (western Adams County) – Democratic Rep. Cherylin Peniston, a former teacher and veteran House Education member, won another term over Republican Brian Vande Krol, a businessman.

House District 50 (Greeley area) – Democratic Rep. Dave Young, a former teacher, defeated Republican insurance agent Skip Carlson.

House District 56 (Adams County) – Republican Rep. Kevin Priola, a former House Education member, beat Democrat David Rose, a former teacher and principal.

House District 57 (northwestern Colorado) – Democrat Jo Ann Baxter, a former teacher, Moffat County school board member and a member for the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, lost to Republican Robert Rankin, an engineer and former corporate executive.

House District 60 (Fremont and Chaffee counties) – Republican Jim Wilson, a former teacher and superintendent for districts in Kansas and Colorado, defeated Democrat Pier Cohen, a contractor.

Senate District 28 (Aurora) – Democrat Nancy Todd, a member of House Education and a retired teacher, is moving to the Senate after defeating Republican John Lyons, a retired diesel mechanic who is studying to become a teacher.

Implications of Amendment 64

The constitutional amendment would allow individuals over the age of 21 to possess and use an ounce or less of marijuana and to grow and possess up to six marijuana plants. It also would create of system of licensed marijuana outlets, much like liquor stores, and require the legislature to create a regulatory system and enact an excise tax on marijuana sales.

The amendment affects education because it requires that the first $40 million of excise tax revenues every year be funneled to the state fund that helps support school construction projects.

However, because the state constitution requires voter approval of new taxes, the marijuana excise tax would have to go to the voters at a later election.

Despite the prospect of more money for schools, the education establishment was leery of Amendment 64. Several school boards passed resolutions opposing the amendment while others declined to consider the issue. Both the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of Schools Boards opposed the measure. (See this story for details.)

Many educators have cited concerns legalizing marijuana for adults would make it easier for teens to obtain the drug, increasing youth marijuana use. (See this EdNews package on medical marijuana and schools.)

baby steps

Efforts to integrate schools in one corner of New York City show promising signs, according to new data

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
P.S. 15 Roberto Clemente is one of the District 1 schools that met enrollment targets under a new diversity plan.

A school integration plan launched in Manhattan’s District 1 showed early signs of progress, according to data released Thursday by the education department.

Seven of the district’s 16 elementary schools met their targets for offering a more diverse group of students admission. If families accept those offers, it would mean three more of the district’s schools fall within the city’s goals than before the plan was implemented.

More progress was made when it comes to offering admission to a similar share of students with disabilities across all schools. All but one school — East Village Community School — met their goals.

The goal is for all elementary schools to enroll a share of needy students — those who are homeless, living in poverty, or still learning English — that is close to District 1’s average of 67 percent. Before the integration plan was implemented, only four elementary schools in the district fell within that range.

The district also wants schools to admit a similar proportion of students who have special needs: between 9 and 29 percent.

But large disparities remain among schools. At the Neighborhood School, only 38 percent of offers went to needy students, compared with 81 percent of offers at Franklin D. Roosevelt. East Village Community school only offered 7 percent of seats to students with disabilities. At the STAR Academy, it was 25 percent.

“There was no belief that, in one year, this was going to transform everything,” said Matt Gonzales, who supports school integration work through the nonprofit New York Appleseed. “So it sounds like there’s been some shifts and that’s a really positive development.”

District 1 is the first place where the city is trying to integrate elementary schools across an entire district. The stakes for the trial are high: Encompassing the Lower East Side, East Village and a sliver of Chinatown, the district is widely seen as a potential model for other integration plans that are in the planning stages.

The numbers released Thursday only reflect admissions offers made. Parents still have to accept them. But they could also decide to send their children elsewhere, meaning the student enrollment could ultimately be different.

“If this was enrollment, I would be high-fiving everyone,” said Naomi Peña, the president of the local Community Education Council who has been an outspoken advocate for the district’s integration plans. “I think the real meat and potatoes is the actual registration.”

Districts across the city, including District 15 in Brooklyn, are developing their own proposals to spur more school diversity. So far, District 1 — a small, diverse neighborhood where all of the elementary schools are unzoned — is the only place where the city has moved forward after years of advocacy from parents.

Under the new admissions model, needy students receive priority for a portion of seats in the incoming kindergarten and pre-K classes at every school. It is coupled with an on-the-ground effort to make schools more welcoming to families of all backgrounds, and encourage parents to consider schools they may have shunned in the past. That work has been seen as crucial to making the plan work, since parents still have to choose where to send their children.

Another test of the model will come later this spring, when offers for pre-Kindergarten admissions go out.

The education department says progress is being made in other elementary schools across the city that have pursued their own integration efforts through the Diversity in Admissions program. Most of the dozen schools in that program met their targets for the upcoming year, according to data released by the education department.

Similar to the efforts in District 1, schools that opt-into the program reserve a portion of their open seats for needy students. Except the Diversity in Admissions program is school-by-school, instead of district-wide, and participating schools set their own enrollment goals. Some aim to admit more students who are in the child welfare system or have incarcerated parents, with targets ranging from 20 percent of students, to 75 percent.

I am excited to build on the progress we’ve made,” the outgoing schools Chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said in a statement.


Impressed by Memphis students planning April walkout, Hopson gives his blessing

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson meets with student leaders from Shelby County Schools and other Memphis-area schools to discuss their planned walkout on April 20 to protest gun violence in the wake of this year's shooting rampage at a Florida high school.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Thursday that students who walk out of Memphis schools next month to protest gun violence will not be punished.

He also invited student organizers of the April 20 demonstration to speak April 24 to the Board of Education for Shelby County Schools “so our community can hear from these wonderful, thoughtful students.”

Hopson met Wednesday with about a dozen student leaders from district high schools, including White Station, Ridgeway, Central, and Whitehaven and Freedom Preparatory Academy.

“Based on this incredible presentation, I have agreed to be supportive of the walkout, as long as it’s done in an orderly fashion and as long as we work some of the details out,” Hopson said after the meeting.

“No students will be suspended or expelled for taking part in this event. No teachers will be disciplined for being supportive of these students,” he said.

At least six Memphis-area high schools are planning student walkouts on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that killed 13 students and wounded 20 others in Littleton, Colorado.

Shelby County students did not participate in the March 14 nationwide walkout because Shelby County Schools and other local districts were on spring break. That walkout, which was held on the one-month anniversary of a shooting in Parkland, Florida, pushed for stricter gun laws and memorialized the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The April 20 walkout is part of a related nationwide “day of action” that encourages school events focused on pushing policy changes to reduce gun violence.

Hopson’s declarations put to rest concerns that students might be punished for trying to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech while the district also seeks to ensure school safety. Earlier this month, school districts in Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, and New Jersey threatened students with unexcused absences, detention, and disciplinary action if they participated in the March 14 walkout.

Most of the student organizers in Memphis are involved in BRIDGES, a program that brings students together across racial and socio-economic divides to discuss civic issues.

Hopson called their walkout plan “one of the most amazing presentations I’ve ever seen.”

Many Memphis-area students also plan to participate Saturday in the related nationwide “March for Our Lives.” More details on the local march are available here.