Capitol Roundup

House panel advances modest teacher tax break

A bill that would allow teachers to take a $250 state tax deduction for school supplies and materials they pay for out of their own pockets passed the House Finance Committee Thursday on a 9-2 vote after members of both parties agreed it would be a nice gesture even if it wouldn’t make much financial difference.

Things didn’t look promising for sponsor Rep. Clarice Navarro as the hearing opened. Democrats peppered the Pueblo Republican with questions about the bill’s real impact and whether it would be better to use the revenue lost to the deduction for more K-12 funding.

Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, did some quick calculations and estimated the deduction would only save an individual teacher about $10 on state taxes. “I think it’s not a huge benefit to a teacher,” she said.

Navarro stood her ground, saying, “I absolutely do believe it’s worthwhile.”

Most Democrats eventually came around to that point of view, especially after House Bill 15-1104 was amended to eliminate an escalator clause that would have increased the deduction to $750 in a couple of years. (The legislative staff estimate for the bill projects that it would cost the state about $350,000 in lost revenue for the first year.)

As Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs put it, “This is truly a case of it’s the thought that counts.”

Only Becker and Rep. Michael Foote, D-Lafayette, remained unconvinced and voted no.

The bill goes next to the House Appropriations Committee, where it faces an uncertain future, as chair Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, noted.

If the bill passes, it would go into effect only if Congress does not reinstate a lapsed federal deduction for teacher purchases of school supplies. Teachers would be able to take the state deduction even if they don’t itemize other deducations.

Senate Education has long and ragged afternoon

The Senate Education Committee’s afternoon hearing ran for four and a half hours, and the panel didn’t even get to the most interesting bills.

Much of the hearing was devoted to Senate Bill 15-020, which would require the state’s School Safety Resource Center to provide materials and training for schools on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and assault. It also encourages districts and schools to adopt abuse and assault prevention plans.

The bill is a Colorado version of what’s called Erin’s Law, named after an Illinois woman who has made it her mission to get states to pass such laws. Erin Merryn, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, came to the hearing in person to support passage of the bill. The bill’s prime sponsor is Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, whose daughter is an abuse survivor.

Most of the hearing consisted of emotional and moving testimony from abuse survivors and advocates in support of the bill.

Before testimony started, chair Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, announced that a vote on the bill would be held at a later meeting because some amendments were in the works.

So, after testimony ended, the audience was surprised when Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, moved to pass the bill unamended. “I think not acting on this bill today is disrespectful to the people who came here today to testify, to bare their souls.” He also noted the bill still has to go to another committee, leaving plenty of time for amendments.

Kerr’s motion threw committee Republicans into confusion. Hill had to be hastily recalled from another committee where he was presenting a bill, and several Republican “passed” when their names came up in the roll call.

Ultimately Kerr’s motion failed on a 4-5 party-line vote, so the committee will consider the bill again later.

(The back story here is that Democrats suspect that Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, is going to use the bill to propose a broader rollback in state sex education requirements, an issue that prompted a hot partisan fight a couple of sessions ago.)

Marble was tight-lipped about her plans, telling her colleagues only, “The amendments being looked at are very important. … That’s all I can share with you.”

The committee also had trouble of a more technical kind with Senate Bill 15-117, which has the interesting title of “Concerning prohibiting discrimination in public financing of institutions of higher education.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, appears to be aimed primarily at the new higher education funding formula created under a 2014 law of which Lambert was a prime sponsor. That law and related formula base part of higher education funding on how well colleges perform on goals including the recruitment, retention, and graduation of minority students.

Lambert told the committee he thinks its discriminatory that the formula excludes Asian-heritage students from the group of minority students included in the formula.

The bill passed the committee on a somewhat surprising 9-0 vote, although several Democrats made it clear that they were yes votes “for now.” This is an issue that we haven’t heard the last of and which may resurface when the Joint Budget Committee decides on the higher education budget for 2015-16. The JBC is split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans, and Lambert is chair for this session.

After the committee had finished Lambert’s bill, Hill abruptly announced that the two most interesting bills of the day were being “laid over” until a later meeting. (Lobbyists and others in the audience quietly breathed sighs of relief.)

Those two measures are Senate Bill 14-072, another Lambert measure that would raise admissions standards at Metropolitan State University, and Senate Bill 15-045, the annual Republican effort to create tax credits for parents who pay tuition at private schools. Look for those on next Thursday’s committee agenda.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts, fiscal notes and more details on the measures covered in this article.

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”

reaction

Tennesseans reflect on Candice McQueen’s legacy leading the state’s schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with Arlington High School students during a school visit Tuesday that kicked off a statewide tour focused on student voices.

As Candice McQueen prepares to leave her role as Tennessee education commissioner in January, education leaders, advocates, and parents are weighing in on her impact on the state’s schools.

McQueen 44, will become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in mid-January after about four years under the outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam administration.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy. But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Here are reactions from education leaders and thinkers across the state:

Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas:

“It was her commitment to transparency, equity, and strong accountability that helped create a nationally recognized framework that places students at its center. Commissioner McQueen’s commitment to inclusion and engagement meant that our partners across the state had the opportunity to weigh in, share their experiences, and to ask hard questions and conduct real conversations with policymakers. Tennessee continues to lead the nation in innovation and improvement in K-12 education, and that is due in no small part to Commissioner McQueen’s leadership.”

Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who in August co-penned a letter declaring “no confidence” in state testing:

“Since joining MNPS just over two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Commissioner McQueen and her team. She has been a strong advocate for Tennessee’s children, and I especially want to thank her for her support of the work that is taking place in Nashville. We send her our very best wishes — and our hearty congratulations for accepting her new role.”

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee:

“Commissioner Candice McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration. She took over the department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the department, particularly in the infrastructure. Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital. There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state. It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction. The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.”

Sharon Griffin, leader of the state-run Achievement School District:

“I have truly appreciated Dr. McQueen’s leadership and vision for the Department of Education.  From a distance and even closer in recent months, I have clearly seen the integrity and passion she brings to the work of improving student outcomes.  We have absolutely connected around our shared belief in how what’s in the best interest of students should guide our work.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of SCORE:

“Tennessee students have been served very well by the steady and strong leadership of Commissioner McQueen. Her priorities have been the right ones for our children: improving student achievement, with a specific focus on reading skills; advocating for great teaching and supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction; and emphasizing that students and schools with the greatest needs must receive targeted focus and support in order to improve.”

Sarah Carpenter, executive director of parent advocacy group Memphis Lift:

“Memphis parents want decision makers to be accessible, and we appreciate that Commissioner McQueen made a point to build relationships and hear concerns from the entire community. Hopefully, the next education commissioner will bring parents to the table for conversations about our kids’ education.”

Mendell Grinter, leader of Memphis student advocacy group Campaign for School Equity:

“In our collaborative work and position in the educational landscape, we have witnessed firsthand how Commissioner McQueen has served as a tireless advocate for students and families in Tennessee. Over the past two years her leadership has inspired school leaders, and teachers alike to recognize the sense of urgency for improving school equity and academic outcomes for more students.”

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report and vocal critic of state test, TNReady:

“After what can charitably be called a rocky tenure at the helm of the Tennessee Department of Education, Candice McQueen has miraculously landed another high-level job. This time, she’ll take over as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, an organization apparently not at all concerned about the track record of new hires or accountability.”

Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”