Who Is In Charge

Ed groups bat .785 on endorsements

The five education groups that endorsed or contributed to legislative candidates in the general election picked the winners at an overall rate of 78.5 percent.

Five organizations – the Colorado Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-Colorado, the Colorado Association of School Executives, Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform – backed legislative candidates. (The school executives only endorsed; political committees affiliated with the other groups gave financial contributions. Stand didn’t give money to every candidate it endorsed.)

Here’s the scorecard by organization:

  • CEA – Contributed to 41 candidates; 31 of those won. 75.6 percent.
  • AFT – Contributed to 42 candidates; 31 of those won. 73.8 percent.
  • CASE – Endorsed 32 candidates; 27 of those won. 84.3 percent.
  • Stand – Endorsed or contributed to 18 candidates; 15 of those won. 83.3 percent.
  • DFER – Contributed to only two Democratic Senate candidates; both won. 100 percent.
See bottom of story for charts showing endorsements and results by candidate.

It’s risky, of course, to draw conclusions about the impact of one group’s endorsement or contributions in a single district. Legislative races, particularly hotly contested ones, draw endorsements, contributions and volunteers from a wide variety of interest groups, not just ones interested in education.

And, endorsements and contributions also can be made for reasons other than trying to influence the vote. The five groups combined made 135 endorsements or contributions to 68 candidates in 63 Senate and House races. Of those candidates, about 30 were incumbents and some challengers who were expected to win easily. Three incumbents who ran unopposed even earned endorsements.

Of the contributions and endorsements by the five groups, 90 percent went to Democrats. CASE endorsed eight incumbent Republicans, all of whom were considered to be safe and all of whom in fact won.

Stand for Children endorsed five members of the GOP, two incumbents and three challengers. Two challengers were victorious and one lost; both incumbents won. Stand also endorsed Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison, a Democrat turned independent who ultimately lost to Democrat Roger Wilson after a lengthy review of Curry’s write-in votes.

The five groups were involved in a majority of the legislative races on the ballot – 47 of 65 House contests and 16 of 19 Senate races. (Because senators serve four-year terms, an additional 16 Senate seats weren’t up for election this year this year.)

John Morse
Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs

There was only one race where all five groups backed the same candidate – Democratic Senate Majority Leader John Morse in Colorado Springs’ Senate District 11. He won a narrow victory over Republican former Air Force officer Owen Hill after a high-spending race.

In Senate District 20, which stretches from Golden on the west to Edgewater on the east, all the education groups but CASE supported Democratic former state Rep. Cheri Jahn, who beat Republican small businessman John Odom.

Stand for Children and the two unions also supported victorious Democratic lawyer Pete Lee in House District 18, the Colorado Springs seat formerly held by Democrat Mike Merrifield, chair of the House Education Committee.

Here’s a look at some other key races where education groups endorsed or contributed:

In House District 3, which includes south Denver and part of Arapahoe County, incumbent Democrat Daniel Kagan, who voted against Senate Bill 10-191, defeated Republican Christine Mastin. CEA and CASE supported Kagan, while Stand backed Mastin.

Democratic retired teacher Laura Huerta lost to Republican incumbent Kevin Priola, a member of the House Education Committee, in Adams County’s House District 30. Both unions contributed to Huerta, while CASE and Stand for Children endorsed Priola, who voted for Senate Bill 10-191.

Keith Swerdfeger
Keith Swerdfeger

Retired Pueblo Education Association President Carole Partin lost the House District 47 seat in Pueblo County to Republican construction executive Keith Swerdfeger. The seat had been held by a Democrat. The two unions backed Partin, while Stand supported Swerdfeger. The two candidates together raised about $200,000, with more than $126,000 of that raised by Swerdfeger, who lost a bid for the seat two years ago.

Stand’s $4,000 contribution to Swerdfeger was one of the largest he received. In addition to money from the CEA political group the Public Education Committee, Partin also received contributions from CEA affiliates in Denver, Pueblo and Jefferson County.

Partin and Huerta were the only two Democratic newcomer candidates with extensive teaching backgrounds.

In another race that pitted education groups against each other, outgoing state Rep. Ellen Roberts, a Durango lawyer, defeated appointed Democratic incumbent Bruce Whitehead of Hesperus, a water engineer Senate District 6. The GOP has a modest registration edge, and Roberts has been in office longer than Whitehead. Both AFT and CEA contributed to Whitehead and CASE endorsed him, while Stand for Children endorsed Roberts. Whitehead voted against SB 10-191; Roberts for it.

In House District 56, centered on Summit County, Democratic Rep. Christine Scanlan was re-elected. The prime Democratic House sponsor of SB 10-191, she was backed by the AFT, Case and Stand. (Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and the primary author of SB 10-191, won an easy victory over a nominal opponent in his Denver district. He was endorsed by CASE and Stand.)

Rep. Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada

In Jefferson County’s House District 29, incumbent Democrat Debbie Benefield lost narrowly to Republican Robert Ramirez in a race that was called only last week after provisional ballots had been counted. Benefield, a longtime parent and district activist, was a member of the House Education Committee and was backed by CEA, AFT and CASE.

In addition to Benefield and Whitehead, incumbents who voted against SB 10-191 and who lost included Democratic Reps. Dennis Apuan of Colorado Springs, Sara Gagliardi of Arvada and Dianne Primavera of Broomfield.

Two supporters of SB 10-191 lost their races, Curry and Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton. (Rice’s lead role in a bill that raised auto registration fees was seen as a factor in his defeat.)

Of Democratic incumbents backed by both teachers’ unions, 16 won and four lost.

Eleven non-incumbent Democrats were supported by both CEA and AFT; seven won and four lost.

Seven incumbents who were backed only by CEA won re-election, and one lost. Both of the Democratic newcomers supported only by CEA lost.

Four other education groups that are active in legislative lobbying and in some ballot measure campaigns do not endorse candidates. They are the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado PTA, the Colorado League of Charter Schools and Great Education Colorado.

Final 2010 campaign contribution and spending reports are due to the secretary of state by Dec. 2.

Support and results by House, Senate district

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Information about endorsements and contributions was compiled from campaign spending reports filed with the secretary of state and from information provided by some of the groups. Search financial reports on the state website.

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pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below: