Who Is In Charge

New bills: Literacy, gaming and more

House members return to work Wednesday facing more than 50 new bills in their file folders, including some key and interesting education measures.

IllustrationThe expected third-grade literacy measure was introduced as House Bill 12-1238. This year’s attempt to expand electronic gambling for help fund higher education came in as House Bill 12-1280.

Many lawmakers took most of the day off Tuesday to return to their districts for precinct caucuses, so the avalanche of new bills moved across the House front desk largely unnoticed by members.

The literacy bill, in the works for months, is expected to be the focus of one of the key education policy debates of 2012. An alliance of education reform and business groups are pushing the measure, and early literacy also is a priority for the Hickenlooper administration.

The proposal already has been the focus of extensive negotiations, partly because early versions proposed mandatory retention for third graders who didn’t meet specified test scores. That prompted lots of push back from wide segments of the education community.

The bill as introduced would rewrite the existing Colorado Basic Literacy Act and, starting in 2013-14, would create a detailed system for testing third-graders and determining their reading skills. Students who fell below a certain level would be recommended for retention, subject to discussions among parents, teachers and administrators. Superintendents would have the final say.

The measure would take money from the existing Read-to-Achieve program (and abolish that effort) to create a grant fund the Department of Education would use to help school districts pay for programs to help struggling students.

Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs
Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs
The 44-page bill has some powerhouse bipartisan sponsors, including Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and chair of the House Education Committee and Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and the author of 2010’s landmark teacher evaluation bill.

Bills have yet to be introduced on such key issues as regulation of online schools, school finance reform, revenue adjustments for the BEST program and modernizing regulation of for-profit colleges.

House Bill 12-1280 is sure to revive old debates about expansion of gambling and the needs of the higher education system. The bill has bipartisan sponsorship in both houses and proposes a complicated formula for distributing revenue from video gaming terminals to a college scholarship fund and a variety of other programs. The bill also includes geographic limits on where the new games could be offered.

The distribution formula and the limits appear to be efforts to defuse interest-group opposition that doomed similar efforts in past sessions.

Two other new education bills raise interesting ideas but may have a hard time advancing.

House Bill 12-1252 would require state colleges and universities to post various kinds of financial information online, much as other state agencies are required to do. In recent years higher education institutions, pointing out continually decreasing state support, have won large amounts of financial autonomy from the state and may well be resistant to a new mandate. The bill is sponsored by Rep. BJ Nikkel, R-Loveland, and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, both of who are lame ducks.

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, along with Massey and Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, is sponsoring House Bill 12-1261, which would given certain teachers, based on their effectiveness ratings, preference in applying for jobs at high-needs schools. The measure also would establish a fund, seeded with gifts, grants and donations that would be used to help recruit and retain such teachers.

House Bill 12-1240 is a CDE cleanup bill that, among other things, would delay development of statewide graduation guidelines and development of specialized kinds of high school diplomas.

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


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

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

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”