Who Is In Charge

Testing bill passes Senate

Updated 10:15 a.m. – The state Senate voted 31-4 this morning for final passage of Senate Bill 12-172, which would require the State Board of Education to take full membership in one of two national groups developing common tests in language arts and math.

Text of Tuesday story follows.

Sen. Mike Johnston trimmed down his already-short Senate Bill 12-172 Tuesday, and the Senate gave it preliminary approval on a voice vote Tuesday.

Pencil on test paperThe bill would require the State Board of Education to become a governing member of a multistate testing group.

One amendment successfully proposed by the Denver Democrat would allow the board to withdraw after Jan. 1, 2014, from whichever group it joins if the board doesn’t like the tests the group develops.

English and math tests based on the Common Core Standards are being created by two national consortia, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Colorado now is participating in both but it isn’t a governing member of either. States that join a group’s governing board have a greater say in test development – but they also commit to use that group’s tests, based on the rules of the groups. Most Colorado education leaders favor joining the second group, known as PARCC.

The state board – at least its Republican majority – has been skeptical of Johnston’s bill. At a face-to-face meeting with Johnston and cosponsor Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, last Friday, some members made it clear they’d be more comfortable, among other things, with an opt-out clause in the proposal.

But after Johnston and Spence left last week’s meeting, the board voted 4-3 to oppose the bill, even if amendments were added (see story).

Johnston’s original bill also contained language encouraging the board to work with other states, if possible, on development of tests such as science and social studies. At Johnston’s request, the Senate removed that language from the bill. He said the language wasn’t necessary because the Department of Education already is involved in such discussions.

Testing has been a nagging issue throughout the 2012 session.

The board last fall requested $26 million to develop a full battery of new state tests to replace the CSAPs, which are obsolete because of new state content standards. The Hickenlooper administration proposed no funding.

The Joint Budget Committee fussed over the issue for months, with members complaining about mixed signals from the board, the governor’s office and the House and Senate education committees.

The legislature finally decided to provide only some $6 million for development of new social studies and science tests, plus Spanish language and special education tests.

Johnston is now optimistic about the bill’s chances in the Republican-controlled House. He told Education News Colorado that he’s signed on Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, as a prime sponsor. Massey, chair of the House Education Committee, has been a central figure on most major education bills this session. Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County, also will be a House sponsor.

Colorado currently is using the transitional TCAP tests but needs new permanent tests to both fully assess students on new state content standards and to implement the educator evaluation law.

Although Johnston described his bill as “Colorado’s long-term assessment plan,” only one thing is certain out of this year’s testing debate. Colorado students will be taking a third year of TCAPs in the spring of 2014, instead of just the two years originally planned.

House GOP wants to intervene in Lobato

A resolution introduced Tuesday in the House would require the legislature to hire its own lawyers and enter the Lobato v. State lawsuit as an amicus curiae (friend of the court).

The measure, House Joint Resolution 12-1023, argues that the Denver District Court’s decision against the state threatens the legislature’s constitutional powers to set the state budget.

The defendants in the case include Gov. John Hickenlooper, the State Board of Education and education Commissioner Robert Hammond but not the legislature. Attorney General John Suthers has appealed the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, with his appeal brief due in June.

A victory for the plaintiffs could have massive implications for the state budget. Although the trial court’s ruling was issued in December, the case has received scant mention during the legislative session. (See EdNews’ Lobato archive for background.)

The resolution is sponsored by House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and 16 other House Republicans. There are no Democrats or senators on the measure (read the resolution).

Key change made in literacy bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday morning made a significant amendment to House Bill 12-1238, the proposed early literacy measure. In order to fund interventions for K-3 students with significant reading deficiencies, the bill proposed to use $16 million in interest revenue from the state school lands permanent fund.

Committee chair Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, successfully proposed an amendment that would cap annual literacy revenue at that $16 million, allowing revenues above that to flow into the permanent fund, the body of which can’t be spent. The permanent fund has been flat at about $600 million for some years, a subject of concern for some education groups that would like to see it grow and be able to provide revenue for future education spending.

The committee passed the amended bill on an 8-1 vote.

Union dues bill passes House

The House Tuesday gave 33-32 party-line approval to House Bill 12-1333, a measure that would allow school district employees who are members of unions to have payroll deductions for dues stopped at any time.

Union contracts now typically allow members to withdraw only during a single short period once in the school year.

Teachers’ unions oppose the measure, which isn’t expected to survive in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

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.”