Who Is In Charge

Literacy bill advances on 10-3 vote

The House Education Committee Monday gave a full hearing – more than seven hours – to House Bill 12-1238, the proposal that would require improved literacy programs in the early elementary grades, create a preference for retention of third graders with weak reading skills and add early literacy results to the factors in the state’s accountability system for rating schools.

Gov. John Hickenlooper
Gov. John Hickenlooper testifies, flanked by sponsors Rep. Tom Massey (left) and Rep. Millie Hamner, center.

After dozens of witnesses and extensive committee discussion, the bill passed on a 10-3 bipartisan vote. The only no votes were Democrats Cherilyn Peniston of Westminster, Judy Solano of Brighton and Nancy Todd of Aurora, all veteran committee members and retired teachers.

The committee approved some amendments to the Colorado Early Literacy Act, but it was clear from both witness testimony and committee discussion that lots of people want more work done on the bill.

Prime sponsor Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, said, “We still have amendments we’re working on. … There’s still a lot to be done. This is a work in progress.”

The serious tone of the hearing and the level of detail and analysis provided by many witnesses were in contrast to the rushed atmosphere and uninformed discussion that sometimes mark committee hearings.

Nobody’s flatly against HB 12-1238; witness after witness agreed that early literacy is a moral imperative and essential to the subsequent academic success of students.

The bill is being pushed by a coalition of education reform groups and business groups, including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Succeeds, Colorado Concern, Stand for Children and the Colorado Children’s Campaign. The bill is being heavily promoted by lobbyists for those groups.

The Hickenlooper administration supports the bill, and the measure’s sponsors include a bipartisan mix of influential lawmakers in both houses.

Hickenlooper himself was the leadoff witness, telling his personal story of dyslexia and being held back in the seventh grade.

“I felt strongly that there shouldn’t be mandatory retention” in the bill, Hickenlooper said. But, he added, “There is no stronger indicator of how a kid is going to do in school” than being able to read by third grade.

But a long list of education interest groups, school districts, education, special education and literacy professionals have concerns with the bill and raised lots of polite concerns during the hours of testimony Monday.

The highest profile provision of the bill is its preference for holding back third graders who have the weakest reading skills, called “significant reading deficiency” in the bill. That standard would be defined by the State Board of Education.

For a third grader who falls in that category, parents, teachers and school administrators would be required to discuss and decide whether to hold that student back. If they decided a student shouldn’t be held back, the case would be reviewed by the district superintendent, who could decide to hold a student back.

In its original form, as proposed last year, the bill would have made retention mandatory. But there was heavy opposition to that – and reported concern from the governor’s office – so Massey dropped the mandatory idea.

Even the bill’s current retention preference raised concern for many witnesses and some committee members. A couple of mothers brought their children along to the witness table to oppose the bill’s retention provisions.

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton
Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton

After testimony ended and committee deliberation began, Solano proposed an amendment to strip the retention provisions of the bill. It failed on a 5-8 vote.

The other concern that dominated the hearing was the potential cost of the program. The current version of the bill proposes taking about $5.4 million from tobacco settlement monies and from the existing Read to Achieve program.

Massey and cosponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County and a former superintendent, said they’re looking for additional funding. Revenue from state school lands reportedly is being eyed as a source of funds.

Solano and Todd kept raising questions about cost, and several school district witnesses made the same point.

Finally, Rep. Carole Murray said, “I guess I’m getting a little uncomfortable with all the questions about money. Why should it take (more) money to teach them … the one thing they should be getting in school?”

Harrison district Superintendent Mike Miles testified in favor of the bill. His district has a policy to eliminate social promotion in five years by holding students back in third, fifth and eighth grades.

Asked about the cost, Miles said, “It does take a lot to get a student to read when they’re far behind, but it can be done. It does take some resources. We’re doing it … mostly because we prioritize our funding in support of early literacy.”

Other witnesses raised concerns about how the bill might affect special education students, about the data reporting requirements it would impose on districts and about how the bill would integrate – or conflict with – the state’s overall system of academic standards, testing and school accountability.

And late in the hearing, one witness even questioned whether the bill is necessary.

Republican Peggy Littleton, a former State Board of Education who’s now an El Paso County commissioner, said, “Let’s use what we already have in place,” citing the existing Colorado Basic Literacy Act and the state content standards. What’s really needed, Littleton said, is better training of teachers in teaching literacy.

The bill now moves to the House Appropriations Committee.


Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”