Who Is In Charge

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.

New mayor

Illinois charter PAC ready to spend millions in Chicago elections

PHOTO: Creative Commons

A pro-charter Illinois PAC will expand its focus from statewide politics into Chicago’s upcoming mayoral and alderman elections, with a plan to infuse millions of dollars into contested races where education is at issue.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher for urban public education,” Andrew Broy, president of INCS Action, a political action committee that advocates for charter schools in Illinois, told Chalkbeat. “We expect to spend a seven-figure sum in each of these races.”

INCS Action is the political advocacy arm of the Illinois Network for Charters Schools, and in the past has advocated for lifting a cap on charters statewide and against a statewide charter moratorium.

The expansion of charter schools is a live-wire issue in Chicago, with some advocates arguing that the growth of charters, which are publicly funded but privately run, pushes out resources for neighborhood schools in low-income areas. Charter advocates, meanwhile, argue the charter school model offers a faster way to bring high-quality education to students in Chicago.

Chicago Public Schools has 121 charter schools, down 7 percent from two years ago when the teachers union negotiated a cap on charter enrollment.

The upcoming elections make up just one part of a the network’s larger legislative agenda, with three of its five legislative goals already in place, Broy said. They’ve established the state charter school commission, secured charter funding equity in Illinois, and created a 10-year renewal term for charter contracts, he said, adding, “we still need to secure state facility funding and lift the cap on charter schools nationwide.”

INCS Action has not yet named the candidates it will support, but said its criteria for endorsement include contested races featuring candidates with different positions on charter schools. “For aldermanic races, if we can impact 2,000 or 3,000 votes in a ward, that offers a lot of opportunity,” Broy said.

Aldermen can introduce city-level resolutions against charter openings or ban a charter’s expansion into their ward or, if they are supportive, offer tax-increment financing for charter school buildings or other investments.

The Chicago Teachers Union also runs a PAC, through which it has supported candidates at the state, mayoral and aldermanic levels. The union opposes charter expansion. 

Broy expects his group will support candidates by sending out mailers, canvassing and telephoning voters.

According to election finance data obtained by Illinois Sunshine, the INCS Action PAC has already contributed more than $65,000 to the campaigns of state-level candidates for congressional seats in Illinois since Sept. 11. The largest sums went to the campaigns of Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Burr Ridge, the House minority leader, and Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Alton.

In state-level races, INCS Action has been a heavy hitter since it started in 2013. This past spring, the organization said in a press release that 13 of the 15 primary candidates for Illinois’ state Senate and House of Representatives supported by the group won their primaries.

The next governor could play a big role in the future of charter schools in Illinois, and by extension in Chicago, but Broy says the committee has declined to endorse a candidate because of the amount of spending required to sway a candidate or the election. The committee gets more bang for its buck focusing on local races.

Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner and challenger J.B. Pritzker have staked out opposing positions on the charter debate, with Rauner a supporter of charter schools, while his opponent says he’d place a moratorium on opening new charters.

Meanwhile, Broy said his political action committee will soon begin throwing money into campaigns he believes they can win. “In some races, we see a pathway to victory with our support.”

 

Heated Debate

Candidates clash over innovation schools and high school closures in IPS Board campaigns

PHOTO: Stephanie Wang / Chalkbeat
Candidates for the District 3 and District 5 seats on the Indianapolis Public Schools Board debated at a forum hosted Tuesday night by Chalkbeat, the Indianapolis Recorder, WFYI, and the Central Library.

In the races for three seats on the Indianapolis Public Schools Board, candidates are sharply split over whether the district is moving in the right direction.

The divisions were clear during a forum Tuesday night hosted by Chalkbeat, the Indianapolis Recorder, WFYI, and the Indianapolis Public Library. Some of the most heated discussions came over the district’s recent decision to close high schools and move to an all-choice high school model, and candidates also clashed over the district’s innovation partnerships with outside operators to run schools — including some where students have struggled the most.

“It’s just disruptive when you just keep changing and changing and changing,” said ceramics studio owner and IPS parent Joanna Krumel, who goes by Jodi, a challenger in the at-large race. “Especially when the district was doing a good job with the programs that they had.”

Retired IPS teacher Susan Collins, who is also running for the at-large seat lamented the closure of high schools that had long legacies in their neighborhoods: “Why do we let our good programs die?” she said.

But at-large incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan defended the district’s decisions, pushing back on the perception that schools have taken a turn for the worse.

“I don’t think we were doing well. I don’t think all was all right with IPS. I think we were patient for too long with strategies that weren’t moving the needle for kids,” said Sullivan, a former Democratic state lawmaker.

Read more: Sort through each school board district race and see candidates’ answers to a Chalkbeat survey

Candidates also debated the district’s low test scores, financial transparency, community engagement, and equity of access to highly sought-after magnet programs.

Often, their disagreements illustrated long-standing rifts between advocates and critics of school choice.

The at-large challengers denounced the district’s partnerships with charter schools, influential charter supporters such as The Mind Trust, and the Indy Chamber on finances and its referendum efforts.

“There is too much incursion by business interests in the education of our children,” Collins said.

Krumel said she didn’t support working so closely with charter schools, either: “I don’t think that charter schools are here to stay. At least I hope they’re not.”

But Sullivan called those “adult battles” over politics that distract from addressing the needs of children.

“I’m just very sad that we still have the same kinds of conversations that take our eyes off the prize of being able to offer every single kid in the city of Indianapolis a great opportunity,” Sullivan said. “I would like to have more conversations about where we’re going, what’s possible — and not a return to something that I don’t think were ever really glory days, especially not for too many of our students of color and students in poverty.”

In the race for the open seat in District 3, which represents the north side, one candidate supported innovation schools while two others expressed concerns.

“I see innovation schools, frankly, as the next generation of the district willing to take risks, to do what it takes to serve our students,” said Evan Hawkins, executive director of facilities and procurement for Marian University and an IPS parent. “Innovations schools are not the panacea, but innovation represents one of those options that the district has … [to] ensure that our schools stay locally controlled.”

But Sherry Shelton said she wanted to support ideas proven to work, and she didn’t believe the innovation schools showed enough positive results.

“I don’t think we should take a chance with our students,” said Shelton, director of information services for Pike Township schools. “I think we should stop the innovation schools, re-evaluate the program, tweak it, and if it’s something that we’re going to move forward with, that we develop a successful process to open those, evaluate, and keep them up to a certain standard.”

Michele Lorbieski, a trial attorney with Frost Brown Todd and an IPS parent, said the innovation schools cause disruption, and said they haven’t shown as much improvement as is often touted.

“I think we need to pump the brakes on these innovation schools,” she said. “We’re doing a pilot to figure out if our high school students should take the IndyGo bus, but we didn’t even pilot the innovation schools. So let’s make sure they’re effective before we keep going down this path at this pace we’re going.”

In the race for District 5, which represents the northwest side of the city, candidate Taria Slack outlined the challenges of teacher turnover that she has seen in the innovation schools that her three children attend.

“I think we need to stop replicating this program until we have better research on what’s really going on,” said Slack, a federal worker. “We need to make sure that our kids are hitting every last one of these benchmarks.”

But incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, an IPS parent, said families and community members sometimes feel innovation schools are the best fit for their neighborhoods.

“Sometimes the innovation school option is the best option,” she said. “So I see charter schools and innovation schools as part of our educational landscape, part of our toolbox if you will, to look at what’s the best option for our children in a specific neighborhood.”

Watch the full forum: