Archive for the 'Education Politics' Category

March
17th 2017
Colorado Democrats Take Brave Stand for Choice

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & School Finance

I updated you last week on SB 061, which would provide fair local funding to public charter school students in Colorado. As expected, the bill sailed through the senate with broad bipartisan support, clearing the floor on a 22-13 vote. Five Democrats joined all but one Republican (Sen. Don Coram from far southeast Colorado) in passing the bill. The five Democrats were:

I have a lot of respect for the Democrats who were willing to take a stand on funding fairness. This may come as a surprise, but my posts don’t always fully capture the scale of the political forces folks feel at the capitol when big bills come through. Legislators often hear from many, many lobbyists on both sides of an issue, and the pressure exerted on them can be enormous.

Nowhere was that pressure more evident than with the debate about SB 061. Both sides lobbied heavily on the bill, but the opposition—CEA, AFT Colorado, AFL-CIO, a number of school districts, and others—were particularly hard on Democrats considering a yes vote. CEA President Kerrie Dallman penned a high-profile op-ed designed to politically damage Democrats by pinning them to their new arch nemesis, President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, multiple lobbying teams no doubt reminded Democrats that there would be severe consequences (remember all that money unions funnel to Dems?) should they break rank and side with students over special interests.

Despite all this intense pressure, these five Democrats bravely voted yes on this important bill. Granted, a couple of them insisted on including an amendment that would let school districts go back and re-ask voters whether they can share mill levy override revenue with charters—a proposal I don’t love for a number of reasons. But even so, these legislators deserve to be commended. I have a lot of respect for every legislator who voted for SB 061, but we can’t deny the fact that it was immeasurably harder for Democrats to support the legislation. Good for them!

It gets better. Two of the five senate Democrats who voted for SB 061 also took to the well (the name for the podium from which legislators deliver speeches on the chamber floor) to talk about why they believe SB 061 is the right thing to do. Their speeches were way more powerful than anything I could write, so I will shut up. Check out the video below:

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March
10th 2017
Good News: Charter Funding Bill Looks Set to Pass Senate

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & Union

The weekend is fast approaching, but it doesn’t look like charter advocates and legislators will be getting much rest. Further debate on Senate Bill 17-061 has been postponed until Monday, giving both sides some additional time to continue working the levers of influence.

For those who haven’t been watching the Colorado Capitol closely this year, SB 061 would address the problem on inequitable local funding for public charter school students by requiring school districts to share mill levy override revenue, or extra voter-approved property taxes for education, with charters. Many of you probably remember that we saw similar legislation last year (in the form of SB 16-188), and that I was strongly supportive of that legislation. Ross Izard, my favorite policy nerd, also supported the bill.

Here’s a quick refresher on the issue at hand:

Public charter schools get the same amount of funding as traditional public schools under Colorado’s school finance formula (minus some chargebacks for district overhead). But money that flows to schools under the School Finance Act is only part of the education funding equation. In 2014-15, the last year for which we have complete revenue data, the School Finance Formula calculated about $5.9 billion for education. But the actual amount of revenue that flowed into the system from all sources was roughly $10.5 billion. That means more than 40 percent of the money that rolled into Colorado education came from outside the formula. That, my friends, is a lot of money.

Buried somewhere in that mountainous stack of cash is money derived from local mill levy overrides, or MLOs. Don’t worry, you don’t have to walk around saying “MLO” like a nerd. You can just say “property tax increase.” Basically, a school district asks folks to pay more in taxes to run certain programs, buy new stuff, or do something else entirely. Roughly two-thirds of Colorado school districts have some type of MLO on the books in 2016-17, all of which combined add up to about $937 million. That’s about $100 million more than the big, scary negative factor. And, in fact, 62 districts have raised enough in extra local tax money (see page 8) to totally pay off their share of the negative factor and then have quite a bit left over. Just sayin’.

Here’s the trick, though: School districts don’t have to share the extra money they get from these property tax increases with charter schools. And while some districts have chosen to share—Boulder Valley, Denver Public Schools, Douglas County, Eagle County, Falcon 49, Jefferson County, Moffat 2, Roaring Fork, 27J (Brighton), St. Vrain, Weld County, and Widefield—many others don’t. As a result, a 2014 study found that charter schools in Colorado receive, on average, about $2,000 less per student than traditional public schools. That works out to about 80 cents on the dollar.

All of these kids are public school kids. But some of them are being dramatically underfunded. Does that seem right to you? Continue Reading »

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February
15th 2017
Say Bye Bye to High School PARCC Exams

Posted under Academic Achievement & Accountability & Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Governor & Testing

It’s been a while since we talked about PARCC. Truthfully, there hasn’t been much to talk about. The test remains enormously unpopular—a fact that breeds high opt-out rates; limits student, educator, and parent buy-in; and fosters instability in our ability to measure schools’ performance and provide good information to parents looking to choose schools for their children. Now, thanks to a new bill at the legislature, PARCC will very likely be leaving Colorado high schools for good.

It’s hard to talk about PARCC-era testing without talking about opt outs. That subject can get complicated quickly. There’s a lot more going on with the formal “opt-out movement” than meets the eye, a lot of which is pretty concerning. But a good deal of the fuel for that particular fire comes from opposition to PARCC. Don’t believe me? Consider this (from a previous post on the issue):

I still believe PARCC—not the idea of standardizing testing itself—is a big part of the problem here. Americans overwhelmingly still support the idea of regular standardized testing, and this level of anti-testing angst didn’t exist back in the TCAP era. Don’t believe me? Check out the CDE graph from the last ESSA Hub Committee meeting below. Further, the heaviest concentration of opt outs is in older grades, with most lower grades meeting or nearly meeting the magical 95 percent participation threshold. One would expect to see a more even distribution of opt outs across grade levels if we were looking at a true cultural shift among parents overall. One might even expect opt outs to be higher among younger children whose parents are worried about “subjecting” them to standardized testing.


Colorado took a big step back from the PARCC hot potato in 2015 by ditching PARCC as the statewide test for high school sophomores and juniors. Instead, students began taking tests aligned with the 11th-grade college entry exam all Colorado juniors take. That test used to be the ACT before Colorado’s awkward switch to the SAT in 2015. Tenth graders now take the PSAT, which is designed to track with and prepare students for the full SAT in their junior year . As of right now, however, 9th graders still take the PARCC exam. A new bill, HB 1181, would change that. Continue Reading »

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January
19th 2017
Reality Checked at the Door as Anti-DeVos Rhetoric Reaches a Fever Pitch

Posted under Congress & Donald Trump & Education Politics & Education Savings Accounts & Educational Choice & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & Public Charter Schools & Tax Credits & Vouchers

In case you weren’t paying attention, something really big happened in the education world two days ago. Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s pick for secretary of education, had her confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The hearing was actually supposed to happen earlier this month, but it was delayed “to accommodate the Senate schedule.” In other words, politics happened. But Republican leadership stuck to its word about not allowing Democratic complaints over ethics paperwork to prevent the confirmation process from moving forward, and so DeVos’s hearing went ahead.

You can watch the full hearing here if you are so inclined. I’m still waiting for a credible transcript to be released. In the meantime, I’d like to talk a little about the slanted coverage of the hearing I’ve seen.

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a confirmation hearing before, but I have. They tend to amount to a whole lot of rhetorical jousting by senators looking to score points against their rivals’ picks, various attempts to force nominees to make (often absurd) commitments, and a cat-like ability to avoid answering trap questions on the part of the nominees themselves. They usually get partisan—and ugly—fast. There’s a reason these things are known as “murder boards.”

Last night’s hearing mostly fell into the same bucket, though you wouldn’t know that from reading the mainstream media’s hysterical accounts of the hearing, which tended to paint the affair as the craziest thing ever to happen in Congress. In truth, I think they might be the crazy ones for reacting to the hearing kind of like this:

Continue Reading »

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January
6th 2017
New Video Illustrates the Power of Educational Choice

Posted under Education Politics & Educational Choice & Federal Government & Private Schools & Vouchers

As you all know, I like to write. We’ve tackled all sorts of policy and politics here on Ed is Watching, usually in the form of blog posts written by yours truly. But even at five years old, I know something important: Sometimes it’s better to just shut up and listen. That’s what I plan to do today as you enjoy this Heritage Foundation video about the power of educational choice.

But first (you didn’t really think I wouldn’t say anything at all, did you?), I do have to say one thing. I wrote not too long ago about what Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, could do to advance the cause of educational opportunity in America. High on that list is the reauthorization—and maybe even the expansion—of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The only federally funded private school choice program in the nation, the OSP has helped and is helping thousands of low-income kids and families desperate for better educational opportunities. Sadly, the program has been left in existential limbo as the Obama Administration and its allies worked against it in previous years.

Mrs. DeVos has a real opportunity to breathe new life into the OSP and to solidify its role in changing lives in the years to come. I hope she does exactly that. Kids like the Battle brothers deserve no less.

And with that, I will shut up. Enjoy the video and your weekend!

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December
19th 2016
LIFO Procedures and Schrödinger’s Financial Crisis

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & Union

You may have noticed that my policy friend Ross Izard recently published an issue paper calling out nearly half of Colorado’s unionized school districts for maintaining last-in-first-out (LIFO) layoff procedures in their union agreements or negotiated policies. LIFO procedures prioritize seniority over performance when making teacher reduction-in-force (RIF) decisions despite the fact that doing so is both bad policy and against the law.

Just this weekend, Ross used a column in the Denver Post to amplify the message that these districts should fix their layoff procedures. He also addressed the weak arguments thrown up by some districts in defense of their remaining LIFO procedures.

I encourage you to read both the report and the op-ed if you want to learn more about the issue. For today, I’d like to focus in on one of Ross’s arguments specifically. From the column [emphasis added]:

In some cases, these unlawful provisions have simply been overlooked. Many districts do not scrutinize their agreements or policies while renegotiating them. However, a number of the districts have attempted to justify the continued presence of LIFO systems using two primary arguments. First, that they have “elected not to” follow the law because they have not recently conducted layoffs and do not anticipate doing so in the near future. And second, that the continued existence of these LIFO procedures is acceptable because state law supersedes district union agreements. These arguments fail to pass muster.

The sentence in bold really stands out to me, though not necessarily for the reason you might expect. Ross goes on to argue that laws should be applied equally across districts, and that these districts deserve no special treatment.  That’s definitely true More interesting to me, however, is this angle:

The LIFO issue presents an opportunity for school districts to engage in the type of responsible, forward-thinking governance citizens expect. There is no compelling reason to wait until a volatile economy once again delivers a financial downturn to address the problem. And, if these same districts’ perpetual warnings about dire funding shortfalls are any indication, one must assume that the specter of hard financial decisions looms larger than they now argue. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

This paragraph captures my thoughts on the response to the paper from some school districts and members of the media. Not even ten years after the Great Recession, these districts practically scoff at the notion that layoffs are something they will ever have to think about again. But how does that square with the constant warning cries about lack of funding? Continue Reading »

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December
14th 2016
Educational Choice, Hell, and the 2018 Gubernatorial Race

Posted under Education Politics & Education Savings Accounts & Educational Choice & Governor & Public Charter Schools & State Legislature & Tax Credits & Vouchers

Have you ever read a news story that made you simultaneously want to laugh and cry? That’s exactly what happened to me this morning as I perused the day’s edu-news.

One of the first articles I ran across was a Chalkbeat Colorado piece on a very interesting development in what is shaping up to be a crowded 2018 gubernatorial field: My dear friend Senator Mike Merrifield is contemplating a run for the highest office in the state. It’s fortunate that I am too young to drink coffee, or I might have spit it all over my computer screen.

For those of you don’t know, Senator Merrifield is arguably the most radical anti-reform, anti-choice politician in Colorado. A former music teacher with a deep affinity for the teachers unions, he has loudly and consistently opposed everything from charter schools to private school choice to teacher evaluation and tenure reform. He is perhaps best known for the statement that there “must be a special place in hell” for supporters of charter schools and private school choice. I hope they at least have some decent games to play down there for me and my fellow kid-focused evildoers. And will there be air conditioning available?

In fairness, this disturbing remark was the better part of decade ago. People can change, right? One would hope that Sen. Merrifield’s positions would soften following years of rapidly expanding educational choice and piles of compelling evidence that both public and private school choice can be powerfully effective tools in the march to improve student outcomes.

Nope. Continue Reading »

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December
1st 2016
DeVos, Delusions, and Difficult Decisions

Posted under Education Politics & Educational Choice & Federal Government

Welcome back, friends! I apologize (again) for my absence (again) in recent days, but I had some important policy business in Washington, D.C. As a matter of fact, President-elect Donald Trump wanted to meet with yours truly to gather my deep and inspirational thoughts on the future of education in America.

Okay, that’s not true. But I really was in D.C., and I really do want to talk about Donald Trump and education.

I wrote recently about what we could expect in the realm of education from a Donald Trump presidency. In that post, which admittedly led to an awful lot of question marks and few firm answers, I said that “a strong pick for secretary of education that seriously redefines and redirects the department could lead to significant improvements.” As it turns out, we got exactly what I was hoping for on that front. Continue Reading »

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November
21st 2016
Constants and Changes: Colorado’s New Political Landscape in 2017

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & State Board of Education

I apologize for my absence last week, friends. I was helping my policy friend Ross Izard wrap up another major publication—and trying to finish wrapping my head around the previous extraordinary (and extraordinarily confusing) political week. I’m not sure anyone fully understands what happened this November, but it’s clear that something has changed. This week was something of a watershed in modern American politics. Exactly what kind of watershed—and what it means going forward—remains to be seen. President-elect Trump is still a question mark when it comes to education, and all we can do is wait and see what happens in 2017.

In the meantime, we should remember that national-level elections weren’t the only nail-biting contests in 2016. In fact, I think I could make compelling case that they weren’t even the most important. Truthfully, we should be far more interested in what happened at the state level in Colorado, where political tides and the policy shifts they bring can immediately and directly impact our lives. Let’s catch up on those important changes today.

For those who don’t follow state-level politics very closely, here was Colorado’s landscape heading into the 2016 election:

  • Democratic governor
  • 18-17 Republican majority in the Colorado Senate
  • 34-31 Democratic majority in the Colorado House of Representatives
  • 4-3 Republican majority on the Colorado State Board of Education

After the election, things look the same in some ways and importantly different in others. Here’s the new breakdown:

  • Democratic governor
  • 18-17 Republican majority in the Colorado Senate
  • 37-28 Democratic majority in the Colorado House of Representatives
  • 4-3 Democratic majority on the Colorado State Board of Education

As usual, these results gloss over some important details. We discuss some of those details below.

Continue Reading »

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November
9th 2016
So… What Happens Now? Thoughts on What President Trump Means for Education

Posted under Accountability & Colorado Department of Education & Colorado Supreme Court & Courts & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & State Board of Education & United States Supreme Court

Something happened last night. I was already in bed, of course, but I could hear strange shouting downstairs. I couldn’t quite make it out, but it sounded like someone saying, “Wisconsin?! What?!” This morning I found my dad still awake, sitting in an arm chair with bleary eyes and a strange expression that I’m not sure I’ve seen on his face before. It was weird. It was really, really weird.

I am, of course, referring to Donald Trump’s utterly astonishing victory over Hillary Clinton in last night’s presidential election. He deserves a hearty congratulation for defying the political odds and, in the end, pulling off exactly the kind of map-changing, crushing victory he said he’d accomplish. Truthfully, I never thought I would write the words “President-elect Trump.” But here we are. Continue Reading »

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