Statehouse roundup

Rural AP incentives, school supply sales tax holiday among new bills

Proposals intended to make it easier for rural districts to offer Advanced Placement classes and cheaper for parents to buy school supplies were among 10 education-related bills introduced in the Colorado legislature over the last two days.

The Advanced Placement bill, sponsored by Salida Republican Rep. Jim Wilson, would create a pilot incentives program that would provide money to small rural districts based on the number of students who pass AP classes and take the related tests. Wilson, a former rural superintendent, is the sole sponsor of House Bill 14-1118. He unsuccessfully proposed a similar bill last year.

The tax holiday measure, House Bill 14-1094, would create a three-day August sales tax holiday for school-related purchases such as clothing, school supplies and some sports equipment. It has bipartisan sponsorship.

A third proposal, Senate Bill 14-086, would create a revolving loan fund that new charter schools could tap for facilities expenses. It has bipartisan sponsorship – Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango and Democratic Rep. Paul Rosenthal of Denver.

Two bills would affect school board operations. House Bill 14-1110 would place new record-keeping requirements on board executive sessions, and House Bill 14-1116 would allow compensation of board presidents and vice presidents, if local boards chose to do so.

Here’s the rundown of some other new bills:

  • House Bill 14-1102 – The measure would require school districts to provided gifted education programs “to the extent possible” within available resources and also require districts to designate gifted program administrators, data reporting on gifted students and universal screening of students to determine if they are gifted. It prime sponsor is Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, a longtime gifted-and-talented advocate who’s serving her last term in the legislature.
  • House Bill 14-1124 – Under this bill, college students who are members of American Indian tribes “with historic ties to Colorado” would be eligible for resident tuition rates.
  • House Bill 14-1120 – This measure, sponsored by Republicans Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker and Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray, takes a shot at last session’s Senate Bill 13-213, the school finance overhaul. That law is on the shelf because voters rejected Amendment 66, which was needed to pay for it. Current law gives supporters until 2017 to try again for a tax hike and put SB 13-213 on the books. This bill would set the deadline this year.

The latest set of bills makes 22 education-related measures introduced so far this session. Most have been assigned to the House and Senate education committees for consideration.

But two Republican measures — one to allow tax credits for private school tuition and the other to change retirement eligibility for future Public Employees’ Retirement Association members (including teachers) — have been sent to Senate State Affairs, the so-called “kill committee.”

So far five education bills propose using money from the State Education Fund, foreshadowing upcoming fights over that account. With about $1 billion available in the fund, it’s expected to be the focus of a three-way tussle between lawmakers who want to tap it for new programs, others who want to increase basic district support and a third group that wants to conserve the fund so there’s money for future budget years.

Catch up on the details on the new bills and other education measures in the Education Bill Tracker.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”