From the Statehouse

Carroll proposes charter standards study

House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, Friday introduced a revised charter school regulation bill, proposing the issues of charter school and authorizer standards be studied by an appointed commission for nearly a year and then decided by the State Board of Education.

The quality of charter school management and the rigor of charter authorization have been the subject of debate since the problems of the Pueblo-based Cesar Chavez Charter Network came to a head last year. (See Education News Colorado coverage of the controversy.)

Improvements in standards are a priority for the Colorado League of Charter Schools, the state Charter School Institute and such national groups as the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

Carroll, a long-time charter supporter, introduced three bills on the issue earlier this session. House Bill 10-1343 proposes charter quality standards, House Bill 10-1344 sets out quality standards for authorizers and House Bill 10-1345 would grant a school board and the institute “the ability to request from the commissioner of education the power for an external entity to have control over a charter school that is considered to be in an emergency situation.”

But weeks of talks among various interest groups reportedly have failed to bring agreement on the detailed language in the first two bills and the new measure, House Bill 10-1412, is apparently the compromise that Carroll is proposing to replace them.

The bill creates a 13-member commission that will be appointed by Oct. 31 and have until Aug. 1, 2011, to make recommendations to the State Board of Education for school and authorizer standards. The bill also gives the board power to issue regulations in those two areas. The measure directs the commission to divide into two subcommittees, one to study school standards and one to focus on authorizer issues.

As is usual in situations where there are several contending interests, the bill lays out the appointment process for the board and the qualifications of its members in minute detail.

The speaker of the House will appoint a charter leader, a charter founder or board member, a charter administrator with finance expertise and a charter parent. (Although he’s term-limited, Carroll will remain speaker through the Oct. 1 appointment deadline.)

The president of the Senate will appoint a school board member from a district with exclusive chartering authority, a school district administrator with charter experience, a charter teacher and a member of a national organization with expertise in charter authorizing standards.

The minority leader of the House will appoint a public school parent who serves on a district accountability committee, and the minority leader of the Senate will appoint a board member from a district that shares chartering authority with CSI.

The governor will appoint a member of the CSI board and a school district administrator with authorizing experience, and the state board will appoint somebody to represent the Department of Education.

And just to make things trickier, the bill says, “the composition of the committee shall reflect, to the extent practicable, Colorado’s ethnic, racial, and geographic diversity.”

No hearing date has been set for the bill but the House Education Committee does have a light agenda on Thursday.

Roundup

Fridays at the Capitol usually are a little looser than other days of the week, and this Friday was lively with observance of “College Day,” when lawmakers wear their school sweatshirts and rib each other about the qualities of their respective colleges. (The day is part of the CollegeInColorado promotion designed to get more high school students interests in college.)

But some work did get done, particularly in the House.

Arts in schools bill

The House voted 42-21 to reject Senate amendments to House Bill 10-1273, Rep. Mike Merrifield’s arts in the schools measure. The Senate had amended the bill to make it more of a “recommendation” bill. The measure will go to conference committee (get background here).

School data reporting bill

An otherwise unremarkable measure, House Bill 10-1171, has generated a little conflict in the last few weeks and a conference committee Friday added another twist to the story.

The bill would eliminate a handful of reports that school districts have to make to the Department of Education. The wrangling involves the Colorado Education Association and a report titled CDE-18. That’s a six-page summary of their budgets that districts and other education agencies have to submit to CDE once a year.

School districts find the report a hassle to compile and CDE officials have repeatedly said nobody asks for the data except CEA.

The bill would have eliminated CDE-18 but Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, recently won passage of a Senate floor amendment to restore it.

The conference committee vote 5-1 to propose a version of the bill with the CDE-18 requirement removed. Hudak was the only no vote.

2010-11 budget goes to the governor

The House and Senate on Friday both agreed to conference committee amendments to House Bill 10-1376, the 2010-11 state budget, and re-passed the bill. The Senate vote was 23-12, and the House approved it 38-24.

On another budget matter, the House voted 55-8 to go to conference committee on House Bill 10-1383, which would transfer about $45 million out of a CollegeInvest scholarship program to state need-based scholarships and to the state general fund.

Why legislators dread Friday mornings

With the budget out of way, it’s time for the House and Senate appropriations committees to tackle the long list of spending bills that have been stacking up on their calendars. Some bills don’t make it out of the 7:30 a.m. Friday sessions.

Hudak went 1-1 in Senate Appropriations Friday. She asked that the committee kill her Senate Bill 10-005, intended to ensure high-quality services for poor children who move from preschool to kindergarten. Neither of the sources of federal money she’d hoped for panned out. The committee obliged her.

The committee did vote 6-4 to pass her Senate Bill 10-054, which as amended would require four hours a week of education be provided to juveniles locked up in county jails. This one faces an uncertain future, though.

Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, also got lucky with her Senate Bill 10-039, which passed 7-3. It would create a $1 million program for job retraining scholarships. The money would come from the money that’s being taken from CollegeInvest (see HB 10-1383 above).

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

legal opinion

Tennessee’s attorney general sides with charter schools in battle over student information

PHOTO: TN.gov
Herbert H. Slatery III was appointed Tennessee attorney general in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom he previously served as general counsel.

Tennessee’s attorney general says requests for student contact information from state-run charter school operators don’t violate a federal student privacy law, but rather are “entirely consistent with it.”

The opinion from Herbert Slatery III, issued late on Wednesday in response to a request by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, was a win for charter schools in their battle with the state’s two largest districts.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

McQueen quickly responded by ordering school leaders in Memphis and Nashville to comply. In letters dispatched to Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Director Shawn Joseph of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, McQueen gave the districts a deadline, adding that they will face consequences if they refuse.

“If you do not provide this information by Sept. 25, 2017, to the (Achievement School District) and any other charter school or charter authorizer who has an outstanding request, we will be forced to consider actions to enforce the law,” she wrote.

Neither superintendent responded immediately to requests for comment, but school board leaders in both districts said Thursday that their attorneys were reviewing the matter.

Chris Caldwell, chairman for Shelby County’s board, said he’s also concerned “whether the timeframe stated gives us enough time to make sure families are aware of what is happening.”

Wednesday’s flurry of events heats up the battle that started in July when charter operators Green Dot and LEAD requested student contact information under the state’s new charter law, which gives districts 30 days to comply with such requests. School boards in both Memphis and Nashville refused, arguing they had the right under the federal student privacy law to restrict who gets the information and for what reasons.

The attorney general said sharing such information would not violate federal law.

The requested information falls under “student directory information,” and can be published by school districts without a parent’s permission. For Shelby County Schools, this type of information includes names, addresses, emails and phone numbers.


To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer.


The opinion also backs up the new state law, which directs districts to share information that charter operators say they need to recruit students and market their programs in Tennessee’s expanding school-choice environment.

However, the opinion allowed for districts to have a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing such information. It was not clear from the opinion if the two school districts have exhausted that time.

A spokeswoman for Shelby County Schools said Tuesday the district had not yet distributed forms that would allow parents to opt out of having their students’ information shared, although the district’s parent-student handbook already includes instructions for doing so.

Below, you can read the attorney general’s opinion and McQueen’s letters to both superintendents:

Clarification, Sept. 14, 2017: This story has been updated to clarify the school boards’ arguments for not sharing the information.

First Person

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

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Grace Tatter covers a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in 2015.

For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.

Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.

1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.

I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.

2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.

I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.

3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.

During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.

4. Money matters.

Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.

5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.

6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.

If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.

Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.