Archive for the 'Education Politics' Category

March
19th 2015
NEA: Colorado Falls from 21st to 22nd in Per-Pupil Spending – Sound the Alarms!

Posted under Education Politics & Research & School Finance & Teachers

The bad news? Today is one of those days when little Eddie is going to be a broken record. The good news? This will be brief and to the point.

Go back in your mind all the way to last March, a whole year ago. The National Education Association — the nation’s largest teachers union — released its annual statistical dump known as Rankings & Estimates. The big news? Colorado ranked 21st in per-pupil spending during the 2012-13 school year.

In recent months, this information has provided a great antidote to attempted spooks and various forms of number-fudging. With this year’s new release of Rankings & Estimates, guess where Colorado stands? Continue Reading »

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March
18th 2015
What’s a “Bedfellow”? New Article Takes a Look at Weird Alliances and Tenure Reform

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Teachers & Union

Late last year, I wrote about the sticky testing issue knot. After a series of weird events on the State Board of Education and the early prospect of a strange alliance between Republicans and teachers unions during the ill-fated effort to reauthorize ESEA, we may be looking at more of a sticky testing issue black hole. Now, though, things are beginning to reach maximum weirdness, with the same strange alliances seen in Congress being observed in Colorado.

So yeah, stuff’s complicated. It’s getting tough to make sense of it all. That’s why I was glad to see my Independence Institute friend Ross Izard’s new article, “Strange Bedfellows: Teachers Unions, Conservatives, and Tenure Reform.” I’m pretty sure I’m too young to know what a “bedfellow” is, but I think I see what Ross is trying to convey.

The article takes a long, hard look at the differing motivations behind the oddly aligned conservative and union pushes against testing and for opt-outs. We’ll just do a brief overview of the highlights here in order to avoid unnecessary brain damage, but the article is stuffed with links and references for those whose nerdy proclivities drive them to dig a little deeper into the debate. Continue Reading »

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March
6th 2015
How Do We Get the Student Data Coin to Land on Both Sides?

Posted under Education Politics & Parents & State Legislature & Teachers

Have you ever had a day where it just seemed like “Heads they win, Tails you lose”? On those days it may not seem like it, but the truth remains that there are two sides to the coin. (And no, I’m not talking about the coin flip required in Jeffco’s union contract to determine which teacher of equal seniority gets let go.)

The same holds true for the role of data in education. Certain kinds of student data are appropriate for school districts and state agencies to collect, mostly related to academic performance and attainment. But in my humble opinion, the subject matter of some questions is inappropriate. There’s also the issue of whom the data is being shared with.

If you remember last year, I brought your attention to some great work being done by some Colorado parents to tighten up laws that protect student data privacy from local or state breaches, or other misuse. Continue Reading »

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March
5th 2015
Down Goes ESEA Reauthorization?

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government

As the “Great Testing Mess of 2015” grinds on, one of the questions that’s been in the back of the education world’s collective mind is how a federal ESEA reauthorization might affect states’ situations. We’ve talked before about some of the weird politics behind the reauthorization effort, and I even speculated that things may not have been looking good after President Obama failed to even mention the possibility of an ESEA reauthorization in his State of the Union speech. Unfortunately, it looks like that speculation may have been on target.

Rick Hess, a conservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and one of my education policy heroes, posted a smart article earlier this week that takes a look at our ESEA prospects after last Friday’s congressional drama. For those who don’t know, House Republicans pulled back from a vote on Rep. John Kline’s HR 5, or the Student Success Act, after failing to garner enough support. Interestingly, a nearly identical bill did pass back in 2013.

So what happened? I’ll let Rick explain:

… Back in 2013, when the U.S. House passed the Student Success Act without much drama, I was surprised. I’d expected that a number of Tea Party conservatives (several dozen or more) would simply refuse to vote for anything that might be construed as ratifying a federal role in schooling. I was wrong. The bill sailed through.

Last Friday, pretty much the same bill was to be voted on by the House (if anything, it had a few improvements that should have also made it more attractive to conservatives worried about federal overreach). I thought it would coast through given an enhanced Republican majority, the GOP’s desire to show that it can legislate responsibly now that it controls the House and Senate, and the 2013 vote. Instead, leadership delayed the vote amidst furious pushback from the Tea Party wing and a complicated situation with funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

Continue Reading »

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March
3rd 2015
Another Victory For Choice: Alabama’s STC Program Wins the Day

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & School Choice & Tax Credits

I love to see choice win. In fact, I’m hoping that we will have a favorable ruling on the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program from the Colorado Supreme Court any day now. In the meantime, I’ll have to make due with another victory for scholarship tax credits down south.

Just this week, the Alabama Supreme Court handed down a ruling upholding the state’s scholarship tax credit program. Edu-nerds can read the full decision here, but be warned: It’s 200 pages long. Bring snacks. For everyone else, here’s the short version from Tuscaloosa News story linked above:

The justices said the law does not violate restrictions on giving public funds to private, religious schools because the tax credits go to parents and to scholarship program donors, not to the schools. They also said Republican lawmakers acted legally when they passed the bill the same night that it was introduced in a conference committee.

If you’ve heard similar language in legal decisions on scholarship tax credits before, that’s because it is one of the most important lines of defense for these programs. Money doesn’t flow from the state to private—and possibly religious—schools as it does in voucher programs. Instead, private donors receive tax credits for donating to private scholarship granting organizations that give private scholarships to kids to attend private schools. World record for use of “private” in a single sentence? Perhaps. But it serves to illustrate an important point: No money passes through the state. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons scholarship tax credit programs are so difficult for choice opponents to beat in court. Continue Reading »

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February
20th 2015
State Board Gets Even Weirder On Testing Issue

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & School Finance & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Testing

Last month, we kicked off the 2015 legislative party together. I promised it would be an exciting year, and that has certainly been the case. But I may have been wrong about where that excitement would be coming from. The legislature has its hands full when it comes to education-related issues, but the real party seems to be at the Colorado State Board of Education.

As faithful readers and education followers know, the Colorado State Board of Education got weird in January by voting (along unexpected lines) to grant districts waivers from the performance-based part of this year’s PARCC exams. Those waivers were slapped down by a recent opinion from Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, but that hasn’t stopped the action at good ol’ SBOE.

For starters, the board voted 5-1 (Chairwoman Marcia Neal was absent due to medical issues) to postpone action on the PARCC waiver requests it has received. Judging from comments made during the meeting, this extension is being granted in the hopes that the legislature will “clarify” the issue. According to Chalkbeat, there are currently 20 district waiver requests pending. PARCC’s Performance-Based Assessment is due to be administered next month, which means the extension causes some interesting timing issues.

Most education folks (including myself) thought the matter was settled with the AG’s opinion, but that apparently isn’t the case. Buckle your seatbelts, friends—stuff’s likely going to get weirder on PARCC waivers before it gets… unweirder. Nope, that’s not a word.

Anyway, because the waiver decision extension wasn’t quite weird enough, rogue SBOE member Steve Durham also pulled out another surprising motion: Eliminate penalties for districts who fail to meet the required 95 percent participation threshold on state assessments due to parental opt outs. Continue Reading »

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February
11th 2015
AG Slaps Down State Board Waivers on PARCC Testing

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Testing

Last month, we talked about some State Board of Education weirdness that resulted in a vote to allow districts to apply for waivers from the first half of the state’s new PARCC tests. Called the Performance-Based Assessment, this portion of PARCC is administered in March. Since then, we’ve seen some entertaining fireworks at board meetings over the issue, including a particularly fun meeting in Jefferson County that saw a board member illegally abstaining from a vote—an action ironically taken under the pretext that she could not “violate board policy or the law.” According to Chalkbeat, 10 districts have applied for the waiver.

Being the curious policy explorer that I am, I’ve had many conversations with a variety of knowledgeable adults on this topic. What does the Performance-Based assessment do exactly? What happens if we don’t take it? Does the State Board have the authority to provide these waivers? When will our new attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, issue an official opinion?

Other than a CDE statement instructing districts to “continue implementing state and federal law” until an official opinion is issued and an unofficial opinion issued by an assistant AG, the answers to these questions were usually shrugs and various interpretations of one of my favorite parent-defense phrases: “I dunno.”

Well, it looks like we now at least have an official answer to the legality question. Continue Reading »

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February
5th 2015
Today’s Policy Field Trip to Senate Ed and the Discussion to Come

Posted under Education Politics & Private Schools & School Choice & Tax Credits

As you all know, I love policy field trips. And I especially love those field trips when they are about something as fun as school choice. Maybe that’s why I had so much fun at today’s Senate Education hearing. Well, the very end of it, anyway; I showed up a little late. My little legs can only carry me so fast!

So what exactly happened in Senate Ed today? The committee heard Senator Kevin Lundberg‘s bill on tax credits for private school tuition, which is known to political nerds as SB 045. Feel free to read the bill if you’d like (it differs significantly from the tax credit scholarship programs we’ve talked about before), but here’s the quick and dirty version: The bill would allow taxpayers enroll their children in a private school (or who provide a scholarship for other children to do so) to receive a tax credit in return. It also would allow credits for parents who use home-based education for their children.

As one might expect, the bill drew its fair share of fire. Democratic senators Andy Kerr, Michael Merrifield, and Michael Johnston all offered amendments to the bill. These included a requirement that private school students take state tests, require private schools to scrap their admission requirements, and a proposal from Sen. Kerr to make the issue a statewide ballot question. All of these were defeated. Sen. Johnston then offered a tricky amendment that would allow the program to begin only after the “Negative Factor” has been eliminated—a move designed to force Republicans to choose between two untenable positions. This was also defeated. Continue Reading »

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February
3rd 2015
Should I Get My Hopes Up about Colorado Course Choice Once More?

Posted under Education Politics & High School & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & School Finance & State Legislature

Hopes were a little high last May when I offered K-12 online pilot program ideas in the wake of House Bill 1382′s adoption. My Education Policy Center friends have been talking about the promise of Course Choice and course-level funding for a few years now.

It sure would be nice to see Colorado take even a small, clear step in the direction of greater flexibility and student access to learning opportunities. But reading the recently released HB 1382 task force report and its underwhelming recommendations gave me the deep sense that even my modest hopes may have been misplaced.

Sigh. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again…. It’s hard for a kid my age to be patient and persist rather than to quit. Continue Reading »

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February
2nd 2015
Tom Coyne’s Smart Jeffco Whistle Bomb

Posted under Education Politics & Research & School Board & Teachers & Union

Every now and then, an op-ed drops from the sky like one of those whistle bombs in the movies. The resulting explosion gets folks all riled up, and usually leads to some highly entertaining (though not terribly productive) conversations. Today is one of those days, with a Denver Post op-ed that sees Jeffco’s Tom Coyne outlining one of Colorado education’s biggest issues: The difficulty of removing ineffective teachers from the classroom.

Coyne smartly argues that despite spending enormous amounts of money, Colorado districts haven’t been able to achieve their academic goals. Coyne quantifies these shortcomings in Jeffco at some length using some pretty convincing data. As he puts it:

As taxpayers, we spend an enormous amount of money each year to achieve these goals. For example, based on the most recent Colorado Department of Education data, in the 2012-13 school year, total revenue per student in Jeffco was $10,420, or over $260,000 for every classroom of 25 students. In aggregate, total revenue in Denver’s most affluent suburban school districts (Boulder Valley, Cherry Creek, Douglas County, Jefferson County, and Littleton) was about $2.5 billion in 2012-13.

Despite this spending, we aren’t coming close to reaching our student achievement goals. Continue Reading »

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