Statehouse roundup

“Diploma protection” bill jumps first hurdle

A long line of people signed up to testify at the House Education Committee Wednesday, but most didn't get to speak because a key bill was delayed,

The House Education Committee has approved a bill that would prohibit state colleges and universities from discriminating against applicants who earn high school diplomas from districts that have low ratings or aren’t accredited by the state.

The measure, House Bill 15-1326, is being pushed by lawmakers whose legislative districts include low-performing school districts that face state intervention, including loss of accreditation, in 2016. (Get background on the process in this story and in Chalkbeat’s accreditation timeline.)

This bill is one sign of the rising anxiety about the state’s five-year accountability clock. One of the proposed testing measures, House Bill 15-1323, would designate 2015-16 as “timeout” year for the clock.

Loss of district accreditation could affect college applicants’ “ability to apply for scholarships, get financial aid or even be admitted,” said prime sponsor Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. “To me this is an issue of fundamental fairness.”

Both Moreno and cosponsor Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, acknowledged that colleges don’t necessarily consider accreditation when reviewing applications. But Esgar said, “We’re putting this in as a safety net.”

Kiera Hatton, the mother of an 8th grader in the Pueblo 60 schools, supported the bill and said she’s moving her daughter to another district because of uncertainty about the district’s future accreditation. “We will have a lost generation of Pueblo kids, and we will have families leaving.”

Pueblo 60 is in Esgar’s district, and the Adams 14 district is in Moreno’s. Six other districts are in the same situation.

The bill applies only to state colleges and universities, not private colleges or out-of-state schools.

The bill passed to the House floor on a 9-2 vote.

House Ed runs out of time on other bills

The main act for Wednesday’s late-morning House Education session was supposed to be Senate Bill 15-173, the proposal to set security and privacy requirements for data vendors who work with school districts.

The bill left the Senate with some unresolved issues (see story), but the committee didn’t get to amendments or even finish public testimony. Because House floor work dragged on Wednesday, the committee didn’t get started until nearly 11:30 a.m. and had to vacate the hearing room by 1:30 p.m. for another committee.

Chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, delayed additional testimony until a special meeting sometime Friday. Buckner was startled when prime sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, announced, “I actually won’t be in the state on Friday afternoon.”

Buckner said that means action on the bill won’t come until next week. “That would have been really great information for me to have this morning,” Buckner said sternly to Pabon about his absence.

The committee also had to delay consideration of House Bill 15-1339, which makes important changes in district financial transparency reporting, and House Bill 15-1273, which seeks to improve compilation and reporting of dangerous incidents at schools.

For the record

It’s the time of year when multiple education bills are on the move – or being killed – daily, so here’s a quick rundown of what else happened Wednesday. Also check the Education Bill Tracker for updates on other bills of interest to you.

American Indian mascots – The House gave 33-32 approval to House Bill 15-1165, which would require state approval for school use of American Indian mascots and logos. This measure has little or no chance in the Republican-controlled Senate (get background here).

Truancy – Senate Bill 15-184, a watered-down version of a measure originally intended to end jailing of truant students, passed the Senate 31-4 (get background here).

Teacher evaluations – The Senate Education Committee voted 9-0 to kill Senate Bill 15-003, which would have eliminated the use of student academic growth in teacher evaluations. The bill was largely a symbolic statement by Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs – he joined the vote to kill the bill. More modest changes to teacher evaluation are contained in Senate Bill 15-257, of which Merrifield is a cosponsor.


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.”