Who Is In Charge

Plan to trim social studies tests comes to screeching halt

House sponsors of a bill to cut back on the state’s new social studies tests asked the House Education Committee to kill the measure Monday afternoon, and the panel did so on a 13-0 vote.

“This bill is trying very hard to be responsive to what we’ve been hearing,” said sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon. She was referring to rising parent and teacher complaints about the amount of state testing.

But, she added, “We haven’t been able to work with our stakeholders on a solution that has been fully vetted.”

“We need to take a close look at the whole testing regime,” said her cosponsor, Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley. He noted that another bill proposes a wide-ranging study of testing this summer and fall. That measure, House Bill 14-1202, received final Senate approval last week.

The social studies measure, Senate Bill 14-221, surfaced just last week, the brainchild of two Democratic senators from Jefferson County, Andy Kerr and Rachel Zenzinger. It passed the Senate 24-11 Monday morning and was immediately introduced in the House.

It proposed delaying next fall’s first 12th grade social studies tests for a year and then moving all three sets of tests to a “sampling” schedule under which an individual school would have had to give the test only every three years. The tests also are given in the 4th and 7th grades. Schools still could have administered the tests every year if they chose to do so.

The bill was criticized for doing too little about the testing burden and for singling out social studies. There reportedly weren’t enough votes on House Education to pass it on to the floor.

The panel also voted 10-0 to kill Senate Bill 14-185, which proposed creation of a “pay for success” method to fund early childhood programs. Sponsor Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, asked that the bill be killed, saying, “We have a lot of work to do to ensure we have the correct guardrails in place.” (Get more background on this innovative but complicated idea in this story.)

Senate whittles down its calendar

The Senate worked through a long list of education bills as it attempted to clear its calendar ahead of adjournment on Wednesday.

Perhaps the most significant for education was House Bill 14-1319, which received preliminary approval. It would create a new funding formula for the state’s higher education system that gives greater weight to enrollment and would base a modest amount of funding on institutional performance measures such as graduation and student retention.

There was no Senate debate; most of the concerns with the bill were dealt with before it reached the floor in the House. The bill gives substantial flexibility to the Department of Higher Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education in designing the new funding formula, which won’t go into effect until 2015-16.

Nearing the finish line

These bills received final Senate approval Monday but still require House consideration of Senate amendments before passage.

House Bill 14-1118 would budget $261,561 to provide incentives for rural school districts to offer Advanced Placement classes. It passed 21-14.

House Bill 14-1301 allocates $700,000 to the Safe Routes to School program, which provides information for students and parents about safe walking and biking to school, as well as grants for driveway and sidewalk improvements and similar work. It passed 24-11.

On the the governor

These bills have passed – or been re-passed – and are on their way to the governor:

House Bill 14-1085 – The Senate voted 20-15 for this bill, which provides $960,000 in funding for adult literacy programs.

House Bill 14-1156 – The House accepted Senate amendments and passed the measure 39-26. The $809,095 proposal would make 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-graders now eligible for reduced-price lunches able to receive free lunches.

House Bill 14-1288 – This is the controversial vaccination education proposal, which was amended to remove its original requirement that parents who choose to opt out of immunizations first receive education on pros and cons. The measure now basically requires the state to set up an immunization information website and requires schools to maintain and provide data on the number of students who haven’t had their shots. The House agreed to Senate amendments and re-passed it 39-25.

House Bill 14-1294 – The House accepted Senate amendments and voted 62-0 to re-pass this measure, which sets various data privacy and security requirements on the Department of Education.

Senate Bill 14-124 – This bill would set up a $2 million program to train leaders for turnaround schools. The House passed it 37-28.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to the texts of bills covered in this story and other 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.”