Who Is In Charge

House Ed kills trigger bill

The proposed Colorado parent trigger bill was killed Monday on an 8-5 vote in the House Education Committee, with two Republicans joining all six committee Democrats in opposition.

House Bill 11-1270 would have allowed a majority of parents at a failing school to force closure or conversion to a charter or innovation school.

Chair Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and freshman Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, were the two Republican no votes. Vice Chair Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, was prime sponsor. Noting that Beezley also is a freshman, one lobbyist predicted afterwards that the bill will show up again in future legislative sessions.

Ramirez provided a little bit of suspense during the roll call vote on the bill, first passing and then pausing for a long time – scratching his brow and looking anxious – before asking Massey, “Mr. Chair, may we take a recess?”

Massey explained that the vote had to continue, and Ramirez voted no, ensuring the bill’s defeat because the tally to pass it was 5-7 at that point, with five Republicans voting yes and six Democrats and Ramirez voting no. Massey delivered the final no vote.

Ranking Democratic member Rep. Judy Solano then moved to postpone the bill indefinitely, and the six Democrats plus Ramirez and Massey made up the winning side of that 8-5 margin.

Beezley pitched the bill as a way to give parents a “seat at the reform table.”

Rep. Don Beezley and Jane Urschel
Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards (right) critiqued the parent trigger bill by Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, (left) during a committee hearing March 14, 2011.

Representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards, Colorado Association of School Executives and Colorado Education Association testified against the bill, and the only group in support was the Colorado Association of Charter Schools.

Van Schoales, director of Education Reform Now, said his group was neutral on the bill, but he raised a number of questions in his testimony.

Under the terms of the bill, more than 50 percent of families at a low-performing school could have petitioned a school board to close the school or convert it to a charter or innovation school. A school board could have accepted the petition, proposed another alternative or, in limited cases, rejected the petition. Parents could have appealed to the State Board of Education, which would have had the final say. A combined parent-district committee would have had oversight of a school conversion.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of CASB, characterized the bill as an infringement on the legal and constitutional responsibilities of school boards.

Schools subject to such petitions would have been those that have been required by the state to adopt a priority improvement plan for the second year in a row or that are required to adopt a turnaround plan. Those categories are part of the state’s new district and school accountability system, implemented for the first time last August.

Such schools typically have high poverty and high minority populations. No representatives of community groups that typically advocate for such schools, such as Padres y Jovenes Unidos, appeared at the committee hearing.

On the floors

The bills proposing minimum levels of physical activity in elementary schools and setting rules for handling young athletes with concussions received final floor approvals Monday, along with several other education-related measures.

House action

Colorado Capitol
Senate Bill 11-040 passed 35-27. The measure requires youth sports coaches to take annual training in recognition of concussion symptoms and sets standards for removing athletes from play or practice and for letting them return. It’s aimed primarily at middle school, club and recreation district sports as similar procedures already are in effect for high school sports.

Rural lawmakers mounted an unsuccessful last-ditch attack on the bill, arguing that it would create staffing and liability problems for small-town teams. The bill doesn’t have enforcement provisions.

The House on Friday adopted an amendment that adds specially trained chiropractors to the list of medical professionals that can authorize an athlete to return to play. An attempt to add all chiropractors was defeated.

House Bill 11-1168 passed 34-28. It would double the amount of College Opportunity Fund stipends for low-income students at private colleges. This bill is sensitive primarily because it could potentially reduce the amount of state funding going to public colleges, since the measure specifies that overall COF funding won’t increase. (Some Democrats also object to state money going to religious colleges.)

The opportunity fund is really just a budgetary device that helps exempt college spending from the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and the amount fluctuates every year. Low-income students at three private colleges currently receive half the stipend; the full stipend is credited against tuition for all students at public colleges. Colorado Christian University wants the bill; the University of Denver and Regis University are formally neutral. The bill has little chance in the Senate because of the loss it would create for public colleges, estimated at $6 per student.

House Bill 11-1121 passed 54-9. The bill changes state law on employment of felons by school districts. The bill contains some retroactive provisions, although much reduced from the original draft, and adds some drug offenses to the list of disqualifying crimes.

Senate Bill 11-012 passed 62-1. This is the bill that would allow school districts to adopt their own policies on student self-administration of prescription drugs instead of having to use all the detailed procedures now required in state law.

Final consideration of House Bill 11-1248, which would reduce elected employee and retiree representation on the Public Employees’ Retirement Association Board and add members appointed by the governor, was laid over until Tuesday.

The two Senate bills were amended in the House, so they must return to the Senate for consideration of amendments.

Senate action

House Bill 11-1069 passed 20-12. It would require 600 minutes of “physical activity” per month in elementary schools. The bill contains a broad definition of physical activity and reportedly mirrors what most elementary schools already are doing but is being pushed as at least a symbolic effort to combat childhood obesity. Several Republicans and Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge voted no. The bill goes back to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

Senate Bill 11-069 passed 26-6. It assigns the charter schools standards commission to study educational management organizations in addition to the work it’s already doing. The original version of the bill proposed a detailed regulatory scheme for such organizations and high fees on organizations to pay for reviews. Sponsor Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, quickly watered the bill down because of opposition. All the no votes were Republicans. The bill goes back to the House for review of amendments.

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

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
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:

Mergers and acquisitions

In a city where many charter schools operate alone, one charter network expands

Kindergarteners at Detroit's University Prep Academy charter school on the first day of school in 2017.

One of Detroit’s largest charter school networks is about to get even bigger.

The nonprofit organization that runs the seven-school University Prep network plans to take control of another two charter schools this summer — the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies elementary and the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies middle/high school.

The move would bring the organization’s student enrollment from 3,250 to nearly 4,500. It would also make the group, Detroit 90/90, the largest non-profit charter network in the city next year — a distinction that stands out in a city when most charter schools are either freestanding schools or part of two- or three-school networks.

Combined with the fact that the city’s 90 charter schools are overseen by a dozen different charter school authorizers, Detroit’s relative dearth of larger networks means that many different people run a school sector that makes up roughly half of Detroit’s schools. That makes it difficult for schools to collaborate on things like student transportation and special education.

Some charter advocates have suggested that if the city’s charter schools were more coordinated, they could better offer those services and others that large traditional school districts are more equipped to offer — and that many students need.

The decision to add the Henry Ford schools to the Detroit 90/90 network is intended to “create financial and operational efficiencies,” said Mark Ornstein, CEO of UPrep Schools, and Deborah Parizek, executive director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

Those efficiencies could come in the areas of data management, human resources, or accounting — all of which Detroit 90/90 says on its website that it can help charter schools manage.

Ornstein and Parizek emphasized that students and their families are unlikely to experience changes when the merger takes effect on July 1. For example, the Henry Ford schools would remain in their current home at the A. Alfred Taubman Center in New Center and maintain their arts focus.  

“Any changes made to staff, schedule, courses, activities and the like will be the same type a family might experience year-to-year with any school,” they said in a statement.