Statehouse roundup

House committee endorses “pay for success” bill

The House Finance Committee Tuesday voted 13-0 to advance a bill that would allow the state to craft “pay for success” plans.

House Bill 15-1317 would enable the state to launch such pay for success programs through which private investors or philanthropists would fund social services programs. Funders would be repaid if those programs produced savings in other government services but would have to absorb their costs if programs didn’t produce results.

A oft-cited example of such programs is private funding for quality early-childhood education. The hoped-for savings would come in remedial and special education costs after those children enter school.

“We need to be careful with taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver and one of the bipartisan measure’s prime sponsors. “It shifts the risk from the taxpayers to those individual investors.”

Testimony at the hearing featured endorsements from witnesses representing groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Gary Community Investments, Colorado Concern, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Colorado Fiscal Institute.

A similar measure died in the closing days of the 2014 legislative session, but sponsors feel they have a better chance this year. See this article for more background on the bill.

Senate strips main element from truancy bill

Sen. Chris Holbert’s imaginative plan to end jailing of truant students who defy court orders to stay in school ran aground on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.

As introduced by the Parker Republican and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, Senate Bill 15-184 would have shifted truancy cases from district courts to the Office of Administrative Courts, whose judges don’t have the power to jail people.

2015-Education-Bill-Tracker-plain

Administrative judges typically handle licensing, workers’ comp and teacher firing cases, among other matters. (Get more background on the original bill here.)

School districts now can take truant students to court, and a student can be sent to juvenile detention for contempt if he or she refuses to return to school.

Holbert and Fields want to end such jailing.

“This bill is a step right now to say that zero kids will go to jail because of truancy,” Holbert said on the floor Tuesday.

The idea of using administrative judges first ran into polite opposition at a mid-March hearing of the Senate Education Committee. Justice Brian Boatright of the Colorado Supreme Court and other judges testified about innovative steps already being taken by many courts to deal with truancy.

Some committee members wanted to replace Holbert’s idea with an amendment basically calling on the courts to review truancy policies and continue working on new methods to deal with the problem.

Holbert was able to hold off changes in the education panel and in another committee. But on Tuesday a big coalition of Republicans and Democrats passed a floor amendment to keep truancy cases in the regular courts.

The sponsor wasn’t fazed. Holbert noted that he’d earlier promised, “If I didn’t have the votes I would stand by the will of the body.”

He said he hopes the amended bill goes to the governor’s desk but vowed, “If that number [of jailed students] doesn’t go down to zero I’ll be back with Senate Bill 16-something. Ending the practice of sending kids to jail for truancy is the right cause.”

Sponsor scrambles to save Indian mascots bill

Final floor votes on bills are usually routine, given that members have expended all their rhetoric during preliminary consideration and that sponsors presumably have lined up their votes.

Lamar High School Savages logo
Lamar High School Savages logo

But things didn’t go according to the script on Tuesday when the House prepared to vote on House Bill 15-1165, the Indian mascots bill. (Learn more about the bill and Monday’s preliminary debate here.)

During Monday’s debate bill opponents criticized the bill’s proposed heavy fines for schools that refuse to change offensive Indian mascot names.

On Tuesday prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, offered an olive branch on that issue, saying, “I’m happy to talk with our Senate sponsor about pulling back on that fine.”

But Salazar faced a new problem after Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, came to the microphone to say he couldn’t support the bill and that decisions to change mascot names should be made locally. Vigil’s district includes the La Veta Redskins and the Sanford Indians.

With Vigil a no and a second Democrat excused, Salazar didn’t have the 33 Democratic votes he needed to pass the bill, so a final vote was delayed until Wednesday.

Bill to improve awareness about child sexual assault advances

The Senate Monday gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 15-020, which would require the state’s School Safety Resource Center to provide materials and training for schools on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and assault. It also encourages districts and schools to adopt abuse and assault prevention plans.

Sen. Linda Newell has shepherded the bill through three Senate committees since late January. The Littleton Democrat is an advocate on mental health and abuse issues and argues the bill is needed to give school staff greater awareness of child sexual abuse and enable them to better help victims.

The bill is a Colorado version of what’s called Erin’s Law, named after an Illinois woman who has made it her mission to get states to pass such laws.

funding dance

Indiana to tap reserves to free up $140M for teacher pay, Holcomb promises

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Governor-Elect Eric Holcomb speaks to Republican supporters at an Election night event.

Indiana plans to free up $140 million over two years for schools with the goal of increasing teacher pay, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb pledged Tuesday night in his State of the State address.

The state will tap into its $2 billion in reserves to pay down a pension liability for schools, Holcomb said, reducing schools’ expenses so more money could go to educators.

“Just like paying off your mortgage frees up money in your personal budget, this state investment will save all local schools $140 million over the biennium with continued savings thereafter,” Holcomb said.

He said he hoped schools would use the savings to increase teacher salaries. Lawmakers said after the speech that they would look for ways to make sure local districts direct more dollars to teachers.

The freed-up funding would equate to relatively small raises for Indiana’s roughly 70,000 public school teachers. In a bill seeking designated funds for teacher pay, Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, estimated it would cost $315 million to raise educators’ salaries by 5 percent over two years.

The move to find the money to increase teacher pay comes after education leaders raised concerns over not having earmarked dollars. Holcomb previously suggested that schools use their overall funding, proposed to increase by 2 percent each year, for teachers’ salaries. Other Republican lawmakers have also proposed increasing teacher pay by reducing school budgets in other areas.

Still, the $140 million would come from reduced expenses, not a new influx of state dollars. Lawmakers would still have to approve the move.

“Personally, I think it’s a wise use of surplus,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

Against a backdrop of an ongoing teacher strike in Los Angeles and large-scale teacher demonstrations in places such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona, Indiana has made addressing teacher pay a top priority in this year’s legislative session. Indiana ranks 18th highest in the nation for teachers salaries adjusted for cost of living, according to an analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics and Council of Community and Economic Research — leading some to fear teachers will flee to higher-paying states.

But while the issue has easily won bipartisan support and united unlikely allies, it has proved more difficult to find a solution — namely, the money — that satisfies educators and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“It’s too early to pick a number,” Bosma said, though both Republican and Democratic leaders agreed after the speech that the $140 million — while a “creative” approach — wasn’t enough.

“We can do that this year,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. “We can find a way to give an increase in teacher pay this year. We don’t have to kick the can down the road. We don’t have to say, oh, let’s turn it back over to the local school districts and let them find the money.”

But a meaningful solution could take time: Holcomb also announced Tuesday night the formation of a commission to study teacher compensation and search for ways to improve salaries, with the goal of proposing action in 2021. Business leader Michael L. Smith, an investment fund co-founder and retired Anthem executive, will lead the commission.

“Teachers deserve compensation that reflects one of the most honorable, critical and challenging occupations in the state,” tweeted Lawrence Township teacher Tamara Markey, Indiana’s Teacher of the Year, who was among community leaders invited by House Republicans to provide social media commentary on the speech.

Holcomb’s State of the State speech also emphasized workforce development, including preparing high school students for careers. He introduced Mary Roberson, superintendent of Perry Central Community Schools, to tout the district’s partnerships with local manufacturers to give students hands-on training.

“A strong economy depends on a world-class workforce,” Holcomb said. “That workforce depends on a great education. A great education depends on great teachers.”

protest prep

Los Angeles teachers went on strike Monday. Here’s what you need to know.

Teachers, retired teachers and parents show their support for UTLA in front of Venice High School in Venice, Calif., on Jan. 10, 2019. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The nation’s second-largest school district will be upended Monday as Los Angeles teachers are set to go on strike.

Teachers and their union say they are fighting for higher pay, lower class sizes, and more support for district schools. The district says it agrees with many of the union’s demands, but can’t pay for them given its fiscal realities.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles rejected a final offer from the district Friday afternoon, which included steeper class size reductions and more nurses and counselors for schools. There was no bargaining over the weekend.

What will happen at Los Angeles schools on Monday?

Schools will remain open — with other staff, emergency substitutes, and parent volunteers supervising kids. Teachers will be outside picketing. Inside, the L.A. Times reports that “schools have been preparing to keep students together in large spaces and use online education when they can.”

Is this a continuation of the #RedForEd wave of teacher protest?

Yes and no. Schools staying open marks one crucial difference from what happened when teachers went on strike in West Virginia last year, closing schools for nearly two weeks. That was the start of a wave of teacher activism focused on school funding and teacher pay, reaching Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona.

The L.A. Times has a helpful look at why this strike is both similar to and different from the ones across the country last year. Unlike in those red states, it notes, California teachers can’t be portrayed as “victims of Republican machinations” because the state government is reliably Democratic:

An us-versus-them construct, however, does not translate readily to California, where unions are among the state’s most powerful special interests.

And L.A. teachers must face off against a district whose leaders echo their union’s demand for increased state and federal funding for schools.

The union leader also is trying to put forward a complex argument on funding. While [UTLA president Alex] Caputo-Pearl argues that the state needs to do much more, he also says that L.A. Unified is hoarding a fortune — and that district leadership is choosing to starve its schools.

What are the union and the district really fighting about?

The L.A. Times broke down the essential disagreement over funding in a separate story this weekend. In short: Although the district currently has a substantial surplus, the district’s analyses, as well as one from L.A. County, suggest it will soon turn into a deficit. The union claims the district is “hoarding” money, while the district says it’s simply being prudent. At the same time, a proposed budget from the state’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, could bring an infusion of new resources. Reporter Howard Blume ends it here:

Beutner says the union’s demands would cost $3 billion. That’s debatable, partly because the union has not responded to the district with specifics on how much smaller it is asking for classes to be. The union’s position, so far, is to demand the elimination of a contract clause that gives the district broad authority over class sizes. …

Everyone wants smaller class sizes — teachers, parents, students. But meaningful class-size reduction is one of the most expensive reforms in education.

What about charter schools?

Unlike in most places that saw teacher strikes last year, Los Angeles is set to see charter schools play a big role in striking teachers’ rhetoric.

The union has gone on the attack against charters, which serve about one in five Los Angeles public school students and are mostly non-unionized. UTLA recently called for stopping any new charters from opening, pinning the district’s financial struggles on their growth.

The union also believes that the district wants to implement a “portfolio model” of managing schools, a controversial idea that often brings about charter school growth and holds district and charter schools accountable for their results in similar ways. (The district says it has no such plans.)

These union–charter battles have deeply shaped the district’s politics. The last set of school board elections were the most expensive in American history, with charter supporters spending nearly $10 million and unions putting in over $5 million.

But the union’s contract demands only briefly touch on charters. Charters, though, are the focus of many district educators’ anger over not having the resources they say they need and, in the unions’ telling, amount to privatization of public education.

Some of L.A.’s charter schools share buildings with district schools, making some confrontation possible on Monday.

The head of the state charter association wrote an open letter to Caputo-Pearl before the strike. “Please be kind to both our District and charter community,” wrote Myrna Castrejón on Friday. “Students, parents, and school staff aren’t crossing picket lines to make political statements.” (The union’s strike guidelines tells members not to “get involved in confrontations or debates,” threaten people who cross the picket line, or block entrances for kids. “It’s okay to make adults wait a little while to get in [to schools], though,” UTLA says.)

As to the substantive debate, each side can point to research backing up one of their key points. Academic analyses from other states, as well as a union-backed report from Los Angeles, show that districts really do lose resources as charters grow, at least in the short term. At the same time, studies show Los Angeles charter students do better on state tests than similar students in district schools.

What does this mean for teacher unions nationwide?

As the strike kicks off, other teachers unions will be paying attention — wearing red in solidarity or watching for cues as they inch toward strikes of their own. In Denver, for one, the teachers union is entering its last week of negotiations. And as CALmatters noted on Jan. 11:

Issues at the forefront of the LAUSD dispute, such as rising pension costs, declining enrollment and the charged debate over charter schools, are also brewing in other school districts across the state.

The looming strike in Los Angeles has made ripples in local unions across California. Teachers in the Oakland Unified School District, for example, are nearing a potential strike and plan to rally Saturday similar to a demonstration UTLA held in downtown Los Angeles in mid-December.

What will the political ramifications of the strike be?

That’s not at all clear, and likely depends on the length of the strike and the public response. But there is a special election around the corner to fill the seventh seat on the closely divided LAUSD board. Expect the strike and its fallout to play a big role in the race.

A few prominent elected officials have also weighed in supporting teachers, including U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and California Rep. Ro Khanna — though most national Democrats have been silent.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is mulling a run for president, has tried to broker an agreement between the two sides, to no avail. A strike would complicate a campaign kickoff.

“Launching a presidential bid while thousands of chanting, sign-toting teachers take to the streets would seem to be a non-starter,” the L.A. Times wrote. “A strike could force Garcetti to push back any presidential announcement, as better-known rivals enter the race, soak up media attention and begin fundraising.”