From the Statehouse

Petition approval gives clue to K-12 ballot measure

Backers of a proposed tax increase for K-12 schools haven’t formally announced which ballot measure they’ll push for the November election, but a recent filing with the state strongly hints at the likely finalist.

Stacks of cashThe format of petitions for what’s currently called Initiative 22 has been approved by the Department of State. Petition format approval is the last formal step before petitions for a ballot measure can be circulated.

Initiative 22 would raise state individual income tax rates to generate an additional $950.1 million a year to fund Senate Bill 13-213, the proposed overhaul of the state’s school funding system. The initiative proposes a two-step increase in rates.

The initiative also would repeal the annual K-12 increase formula contained in Amendment 23, passed by voters in 2000. Instead, a minimum of 43 percent of current tax collections would be devoted to K-12 support. The revenue raised by the new rates, called the “income tax increment,” would go into a special account to be used for “educational reforms and programmatic enhancements” above current levels of school funding.

The business-oriented civic group Colorado Forum originally filed 16 versions of tax increases. They varied in how much money would be raised, in tiers of tax increases and in whether they would change Amendment 23 and change another constitutional provision governing property taxes.

The group proposed multiple measures from which it could pick and choose based on the preferences of the various interest groups that Colorado Forum hopes to recruit to its coalition. There has been intense behind-the-scenes debate, particularly among business groups, about whether to propose a flat increase on all taxpayers or a tiered system under which higher-income residents would pay more.

Some business groups have been pushing for the flat tax while others say a tiered proposal is necessary to win support among lower-income voters.

Gail Klapper, director of Colorado Forum, told EdNews recently that a formal announcement about the chosen version could come early next week. She’d previously said that a two-tier version including changes to Amendment 23 seemed to be the plan most likely to be selected.

If a different version is ultimately chosen, Colorado Forum would have to get that petition format approved, a fairly quick process.

Colorado’s current income tax rate is 4.63 percent of federal taxable income for all individual taxpayers. Initiative 22 would impose an additional .37 percent on taxpayers earning up to $75,000 a year. Taxpayers who earn more than that would pay the additional .37 percent on the first $75,000 of income and an increase of 1.27 percent on the amount in excess of $75,000. This paragraph was expanded on June 14 to provide a full explanation of the impact on taxpayers earning more than $75,000.)

Initiative 22 does not include a proposed change in the Gallagher Amendment, which governs property taxes. Some other versions propose a change in Gallagher’s effect on residential taxes for schools in an attempt to stabilize local district revenues.

Supporters have until Aug. 5 to gain the 86,105 signatures needed. Many political experts feel at least 100,000 signatures should be gathered to provide a cushion for invalid signatures. Given the short amount of time available, the campaign is expected to use paid petition circulators.

If Initiative 22 makes the ballot it will be assigned a different number.

Incentives

Westminster district will give bonuses if state ratings rise, teachers wonder whether performance pay system is coming

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students work on an English assignment at M. Scott Carpenter Middle School in Westminster.

Teachers and employees in Westminster Public Schools will be able to earn a bonus if they help the struggling district improve its state ratings next year.

The district’s school board on Tuesday unanimously approved the $1.7 million plan for the one-year performance stipends, the district’s latest attempt to lift the quality of its schools.

School employees can earn $1,000 if their school meets a district-set score, or up to $2,000 if they reach a more ambitious goal the school sets. District employees, including the superintendent, can earn $1,000 if the district as a whole jumps up a rating next year.

“We recognize that everyone plays a critical role in increasing student achievement and we decided that if a particular school or the district as a whole can reach that next academic accreditation level, the employees directly responsible should be rewarded,” board president Dino Valente said in a statement.

The district is one of five that was flagged by the state for chronic low performance and was put on a state-ordered improvement plan this spring.

District officials have disputed state ratings, claiming the state’s system is not fairly assessing the performance of Westminster schools. Middle school teacher Melissa Duran, who also used to be president of the teacher’s union, drew a connection between that stance and the new stipends, saying any extra pay she gets would be based on one score.

“The district has gone to the state saying, ‘Why are you rating us on these tests, look at all the other things we’re doing’” Duran said. “Well, it’s the same thing for teachers. They’re still basing our effectiveness on a test score.”

Teachers interviewed Thursday said their first thoughts upon learning of the plan was that it sounded like the beginnings of performance pay.

“I already get the point that we are in need of having our test scores come up,” said math teacher Andy Hartman, who is also head of negotiations for the teacher’s union. “Putting this little carrot out there isn’t going to change anything. I personally do not like performance pay. It’s a very slippery slope.”

District leaders say they talked to all district principals after the announcement Wednesday, and heard positive feedback.

“A lot of the teachers think this is a good thing,” said Steve Saunders, the district’s spokesman.

National studies on the effectiveness of performance pay stipends and merit pay have shown mixed results. One recent study from Vanderbilt University concluded that they can be effective, but that the design of the systems makes a difference.

In Denver Public Schools, the district has a performance-pay system to give raises and bonuses to teachers in various situations. Studies of that model have found that some teachers don’t completely understand the system and that it’s not always tied to better student outcomes.

Westminster officials said they have never formally discussed performance pay, and said that these stipends are being funded for one year with an unanticipated IRS refund.

Westminster teachers said they have ideas for other strategies that could make a quick impact, such as higher pay for substitutes so teachers aren’t losing their planning periods filling in for each other when subs are difficult to find.

Waiting on a bonus that might come next year is not providing any new motivation, teachers said.

“It’s a slap in the face,” Duran said. “It’s not like we are not already working hard enough. Personally, I already give 110 percent. I’ve always given 110 percent.”

Last month, the school board also approved a new contract for teachers and staff. Under the new agreement, teachers and staff got a raise of at least 1 percent. They received a similar raise last year.

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.