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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.

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Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

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Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.