A mad dash

Lawmakers leave big decisions for last

Each legislative session has its own rhythm, but one thing is true every year – the heavy lifting gets done in the session’s second half. That’s certainly the case for education bills this year.

School finance, the 800-pound gorilla of 2014, and virtually every other education bill of any interest are still far from decided.

Monday will be the 69th of the 120 calendar days the state constitution allows for each year’s session. Because lawmakers rarely convene on Saturdays and Sundays, that leaves 38 weekdays to work before the legislature must adjourn by midnight on May 7.

More than 60 education bills have been introduced so far this year, about two thirds of them in the House. But only five bills of note have gone to the governor, and another 10 have been killed.

A lot of bills have been passed by one committee – usually House or Senate education – and now are parked in one of the appropriations committees. Such spending bills – and measures proposing spending in other areas of state government – will be prioritized and culled by legislative leaders after the March 18 revenue forecasts give lawmakers a better idea how much money they have to play with in the 2014-15 budget.

Based on what survives that thinning, it looks like the Senate Education Committee could be pretty busy in late March and into April, give the larger number of education bills coming from the House than moving in the other direction.

The legislature does have a detailed list of deadlines for when bills are supposed to finish various steps in the process, but those often are waived, and there are separate, later deadlines for bills in the appropriations committees.

And still more bills may be on the way. Measures expected – or rumored – may involve teacher evaluation, early childhood, online education, college scholarships and teacher licensing.

For those of you keeping score at home, here’s the status of key education bills, starting with school finance and key policy measures, then listed alphabetically by topic.

School finance

More than half a dozen bills deal with this issue, and they involve not just school funding but also related matters such as enrollment counts, charter school facilities, spending transparency and kindergarten funding. The big measures are House Bill 14-1292, the Student Success Act, and House Bill 14-1298, the annual school finance act. This is complicated stuff – see this story for details of the debate.

The Building Excellent Schools Today construction program also is part of the finance discussion. Bills giving lawmakers greater oversight part of the problem and changing the calculation of local district matches already have gone to the governor. But broader questions about use of BEST revenues are still in play.

Other big issues

Testing is a simmering issue this year. House Bill 14-1202, which started as a district opt-out bill, has been converted into a proposed testing study and is in the House Appropriations inbox.

Two bills address the “data gap” that will be created after the state moves to the new CMAS tests in the spring of 2015. House Bill 14-1182 would give districts and the Department of Education flexibility in district and school accreditation during the testing transition. The bill has passed the House and Senate Education. Another measure, yet to be introduced, would provides some flexibility next year in the teacher evaluation system.

House Bill 14-1268, a controversial proposal to change some of the mutual consent provisions of the evaluation law, is awaiting its first hearing in House Education.

On the higher education front, Senate Bill 14-001, the proposed tuition cap and college and university budget increase, is pending in Senate Appropriations. The measure has wide support and is expected to advance. And House Bill 14-1319, a potentially contentious measure to change the higher education funding formula, was introduced Thursday.

The following sections list bills by number, with brief descriptions and status information.

Boards & districts

  • House Bill 14-1118 – Creation of a $2 million fund for grants to rural districts that offer Advanced Placement classes. In Appropriations
  • House Bill 14-1204 – Exemption of some small certain from certain state paperwork requirements. In Appropriations

Charters

  • House Bill 14-1291 – Allows charters to hire armed security guards. In House Education
  • House Bill 14-1314 – Gives charters a greater role in district mill levy override proposals. In House Education

Early childhood

  • House Bill 14-1039 – Requires integration of early childhood data with state K-12 data. In House Education
  • House Bill 14-1076 – Proposes a $12.5 million incentive program for quality improvements in preschools. In Appropriations

Higher education

  • House Bill 14-1124 – Makes certain Native American students eligible for resident tuition rates. In Appropriations
  • House Bill 14-1154 – Equalizes pay rates for full-time and part-time community college faculty at a cost of $86.2 million. In Appropriations
  • Senate Bill 14-114 – Allows CSU Global Campus to enroll freshman and sophomore students. In Appropriations

Parents

  • House Bill 14-1094 – Creates an August sales tax holiday on purchases of school supplies. Appropriations
  • House Bill 14-1156 – Expands eligibility for free school lunches. In Appropriations
  • House Bill 14-1288 – Requires parents to receive health information before opting out of immunizations required for school enrollment. Awaiting House floor debate
  • House Bill 14-1301 – Increases funding for Safe Routes to School program. In House Transportation

Students

  • House Bill 14-1102 – Increases by up to $6 million funding for gifted and talented student programs. In Appropriations
  • House Bill 14-1131 – Makes cyber bullying a misdemeanor. Passed House
  • House Bill 14-1276 – Provides grants for training students in CPR. In Appropriations
  • Senate Bill 14-002 – Moves Safe2Tell anonymous tips program to the Department of Law. In Appropriations
  • Senate Bill 14-150 – Expands the Colorado Counselor Corps program and increases funding by $5 million. In Appropriations

Teachers

  • House Bill 14-1175 – Requires CDE to conduct a study of minority teacher development, recruitment and retention. In Appropriations
  • Senate Bill 14-124 – Creates a $2 million program to train leaders for turnaround schools. In Appropriations

Past the post

The only important policy bill signed into law so far is Senate Bill 14-004, which allows community colleges to offer four-year bachelor of applied sciences degrees in technical and vocational fields. A similar bill died amid acrimony in 2013, and SB 14-004 is a classic example how easily a bill can sail through the legislature if compromises are reached before the session starts.

Two bills making mid-year K-12 funding adjustments also have been signed. Those measures were needed to account for enrollment changes and other factors.

Already dead

One job lawmakers are prompt about performing every year is killing bills, including ideological measures proposed by members of the minority party. And sometimes legislators ask for their own bills to be killed after figuring out the measures didn’t have support.

Bills that would have created a timeout on implementation of new standards and tests, allowed school staff to carry guns on campus, established a tax credit for private school tuition and paid bonuses to highly effective teachers who worked in low-performing schools all have been “postponed indefinitely,” which means exactly what it sounds like.

House Bill 14-1110, which would have set recording requirements for school board executive sessions, was killed Wednesday at the Senate sponsor’s request.

Measures proposing compensation for school board members, scholarships for early childhood educator training and tweaks to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association also have died.

This story doesn’t reference several technical bills related to education. See the Education Bill Tracker for a full list of this year’s education bills, links to texts and the latest status. The Tracker also shows all the bills that have been killed, when that happened and which committee did the deed.

Who Is In Charge

CPS to enforce nine training sessions for local school council members

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Local school council members at a training session on Tuesday

In a classroom at Bogan High School Tuesday, trainer Jose Ortiz quizzed four local school council members on why they have to hold public meetings before approving their school improvement plan, a key document outlining school priorities and direction. The room fell silent.

“Because,” he answered himself, “the worst thing that the local school council could do is not consult the community.”

Ortiz’s training session illustrated the challenges that Chicago Public Schools faces in ensuring that all members of the powerful councils understand their roles and responsibilities.

The district requires those who help govern its 646 schools each attend around 18 hours of in-person training, or nine online modules. But not everyone complies: Ortiz said that last week, around 10 people attended each module he taught, and on Tuesday, only four people sat through his class. Most council members take the training online, but the effectiveness of those modules is questionable, council members said.

In a district whose school board is appointed by the mayor instead of elected by city residents, the councils, as Ortiz pointed out, serve as important channels enabling residents to drive the direction of their children’s education. Normally consisting of 12 members, including the principal, teachers, parents, and community members, the councils hire and evaluate the principal, approve the budget, and help craft two-year school improvement plans for their schools.

Chicago schools have another problem with the councils: 47 percent of schools have failed to field enough candidates to fill seats, which then allows sitting council members to fill the vacancies. That means less electoral control for residents. It’s unclear if the training requirement deters people from seeking council seats.

Nevertheless, district officials said that this year they will enforce the training requirement and will contact members who fail to finish it.

“We are going to start removing people this year, but it will be after contacting them by email, through phone and then giving them an opportunity before we schedule a hearing, and then we will consider removing them,” said Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the Office of Local School Council Relations.

As Ortiz continued with his training, he asked if members remember approving their school improvement plan in the past school year. The attendees looked at him with puzzled faces.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Andrea Sanchez, a council member at Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy. But, she added, “it’s just overwhelming because you’re looking at numbers and pages, especially when you’re not used to seeing it.” Sanchez has been a council member since December, but she had attended only one out of the nine mandatory training modules before Tuesday, because most of the two-hour sessions were held in various locations throughout the city far from her home.

According to the Illinois School Code, council members must finish all modules within six months of taking office, so newly elected members who take office on July 1 have until Dec. 31 to complete the modules. CPS has never removed a council member for not finishing the training, said Guillermo Montes de Oca. However, that’s changing.

This year, CPS has also been encouraging council members to finish the modules by July 31, he said, because “if you’re going to be seated, discussing the budget and everything, you need to be informed.”

Sanchez said she didn’t know know about the six-month deadline until Tuesday. She wishes the nine modules would be held all at once at her school. “The information in the modules should be given to us right away [upon joining the council],” she said.

Montes de Oca said that the Office of Local School Council Relations encourages council members to take the training online. Especially because the office only offers a few modules per month, to meet the July 31 deadline, council members would have to take most of their training online.

But the attendees Tuesday seemed to prefer the in-person trainings . Denishia Perkins, a council member at Shields Middle School for almost two years, said that she had taken all the training modules online, but they “didn’t do much for me.” The online training consists of clicking through slides of bullet-pointed information and then taking a short quiz at the end of each module.

“It’s so possible to get elected and not know about this stuff,” Perkins said. So she decided to attend the in-person training on Tuesday.

Sanchez said of Ortiz’s class, “It felt one-on-one, and he’s really explaining it to you.”

The trainings are not the only impediment to filling local school council seats.

A representative from the parent group Raise Your Hand told the Sun-Times that people may not want to run for a council position because “people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the local school council.” Currently, 50 percent of principals’ evaluations rely on CPS’ data and metrics, when previously the evaluations relied solely on the council members’ judgment.

Sanchez said that the work of councils are just not advertised enough, and many parents like  her already are involved with jobs or other organizations.

“I don’t think the parents know that we’re that important,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know either.”

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”