Archive for the 'Legislation' Category

May
23rd 2017
HB 1375: What Is It, and What Does It Mean for Charters?

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Legal Issues & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & School Finance & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Union

Last week, we talked about the sausage-making process behind House Billl 17-1375, which was originally Senate Bill 17-061, but on two separate occasions was part of Senate Bill 17-296.  Got it?

Tortured though its legislative journey was, HB 1375′s passage has been heralded by many who worked on it as a huge victory for public charter schools. The Colorado League of Charter Schools, which spearheaded the effort, has been celebrating the bill’s passage as it heads to the governor’s desk, as has much of the rest of Colorado’s education reform lobby. Even the Denver Post gave the bill it’s nod of approval just before final passage.

Certainly, some high-fiving and celebration is in order. Many people and organizations, including the Independence Institute, worked in support of Senate Bill 061′s original incarnation. Those folks, and the handful of Senate Democrats brave enough to vote for the bill in its near-original form, deserve a lot of praise for their efforts. But after all the backroom deals and last-minute compromises, I think it’s important to take a close look at what, exactly, we passed. Let’s do that today. Below is a rundown of the major changes to the final bill and what they might mean in practice for charters.

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May
17th 2017
Sausage, Sausage Everywhere: Charter Funding Bill Survives the Legislature… Sort of

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

Well, my friends, we made it. As of last week, Colorado’s 2017 legislative session is a done deal. The session produced a couple of notable wins, including the elimination of PARCC in Colorado high schools and the bipartisan death of  Senator Mike “Special-Place-in-Hell” Merrifield’s perennial effort to blow up teacher tenure reform, performance compensation, and accountability in Colorado. But the main show of this year’s session was Senate Bill 061’s long and tortured journey toward finally providing funding equity for Colorado’s public charter school students. Unfortunately, that journey was rather messy and didn’t end quite the way I had hoped it would.

Despite some major controversy, SB 061 cleared the Colorado Senate on a bipartisan 22-13 vote back in March. Five brave Democrats joined most Senate Republicans in pushing the funding bill forward, though they did add an amendment offering districts the opportunity to “clarify” voter intent with regard to mill levy override revenues—an addition I find rather disconcerting given the near-total lack of MLOs that explicitly exclude public charters. But hey, at least it got through.

Then stuff got weird. Continue Reading »

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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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March
1st 2017
Bipartisan Vote Sinks Anti-Accountability Bill… Again

Posted under Accountability & Legislation & Senate Bill 191 & State Legislature & Teachers & Union

I’m back after a brief hiatus, and we’ve got some catching up to do on the legislative front. Specifically, we can celebrate the fact that Sen. Michael Merrifield has learned once again that doing the same thing over and over again may not be the best approach.

I wrote a rather snarky post a few weeks ago about Merrifield’s SB 067, which was functionally identical to last year’s SB 105. Both bills sought to gut tenure reform, performance pay, and merit-based personnel decisions by essentially blowing up strong educator evaluations. In particular, Merrifield was once again attempting to eliminate the requirement that evaluations include multiple measures of student growth. And once again, he failed to do so. Continue Reading »

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January
31st 2017
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Disregard All Feedback and Do Exactly the Same Thing Again

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Legal Issues & Legislation & Senate Bill 191 & Teachers

Everybody’s heard this famous advice: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I have certainly heard my dad say something like that many times before. State Senator Mike Merrifield (remember him?) and his legislative allies must have also heard the saying somewhere, because they recently introduced Senate Bill 17-067—a practically identical copy of last year’s spectacularly defeated Senate Bill 16-105.

The complete unwillingness to listen to any of the feedback—or learn any of the political lessons—that came out of the SB 105 debacle last year is striking. That old saying about trying again is definitely a good reminder of the importance of persistence, but I’m not sure it should be interpreted as refusing ever to rethink one’s position on bad public policy. After all, the saying is not “If at first you don’t succeed, disregard all feedback and do exactly the same thing again.”

I could write a big blog post about why SB 067 is bad policy that holds the potential to harm students; destroy important collective bargaining reform, teacher tenure reform, performance-based compensation systems, and a variety of other things (which is its intended purpose); and decrease fairness for teachers by refusing to acknowledge and reward excellent teaching. But that would require more time, energy, and thought than was put into this rehash of the same old bad idea.

Instead, I’ll put a commensurate level of effort into this post by simply copy-pasting what I wrote about the bill’s forerunner last year. Continue Reading »

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April
26th 2016
2016 Legislative Session Sprints Toward Finish Line

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Legislation & State Legislature

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s already the end of April. That means another legislative session is winding down, its drama and intrigue fading quietly into the warmth and relaxation of summer. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are 336 bills still pending in the legislature, including 51 that are at least peripherally related to education. All of those have to be dealt with by May 11. Colorado’s lawmakers have a lot left to do under the dome.

Of course, those lawmakers have already done a lot of work, some good and some bad. We’ve talked about a number of high-profile bills over the course of the session, including a couple bad bills on accountability, one of which died rather spectacularly, and a bill intended to bolster floundering civic knowledge. We’ve also discussed a variety of other bills, some of which got pretty interesting.

As the session ramps up for its final weeks, I thought it might be helpful to provide an update on some of the more interesting education-related bills still lingering in halls of the Colorado Capitol. This stuff gets complicated, and tracking it all at once can be a bit like juggling a hundred balls of different shapes and sizes. On fire. With a blindfold on.

We won’t hit everything, but we’ll hit the big stuff. Continue Reading »

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April
15th 2016
It’s Time for Fairness for Colorado Charter Students

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & School Finance

Earlier this week, we celebrated the addition of some exciting new numbers to a Colorado Department of Education spreadsheet. Today, we’re going to talk about a new bill that will make some existing spreadsheet numbers—numbers with dollar signs in front of them—a whole lot more equitable for Colorado charter schools.

In case you missed it, there was a big press conference down at the Capitol last week, at which a bipartisan group of charter supporters unveiled a package designed to fairly fund Colorado’s charter kids. SB 16-188 would require school districts to—wait for it—actually fund all of their public school students equitably rather than playing favorites. Or, as Chalkbeat put it in the article linked above:

Charter school advocates Thursday launched an effort to gain what they call a “more equitable” share of local funding through two bills to be introduced in the state Senate.

I take issue with the pseudo-sarcastic use of quotation marks around “more equitable,” which seem to subtly imply that there might not be a real problem here. I assure you there is. As a matter of fact, let’s take a few minutes to talk about that problem. Continue Reading »

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April
8th 2016
The Washington Charter Phoenix Rises

Posted under Constitution & Courts & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & Union

I have a love-hate relationship with the courts—a fact well known to my readers. From Douglas County vouchers to tire scraps in Missouri to Thompson union battles (even though logic eventually prevailed in that case) to decisions on teacher tenure and forced tribute payment by non-union members, I often find myself befuddled by the apparent lack of ability (desire?) on the part of some courts to do stuff that makes sense.

But even among all that silliness, one decision really stands out as the most surprising in the last couple of years: a decision by the Washington Supreme Court to declare the state’s charter school law unconstitutional. Huh?

I wrote last September about the unpleasant surprise that was the Washington Supreme Court’s charter school ruling. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a court striking down something as firmly rooted as charter schools.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are more than 6,700 public charter schools in America. Those schools serve 2.9 million kids across more than 40 states.  In Colorado alone, charters serve 108,000 kids—about 12 percent of all public school kids in the state—in 226 schools. Charter laws have been around for more than 25 years. Until Washington, the laws had withstood legal challenges in every state where they’d been brought, including Colorado.

Charter schools are not some new-fangled experiment or radical idea. They are an inerasable part of the American public school system. Well, except in Washington, where a panel of unelected judges decided that an obscure ruling from 1909 provided enough of a legal platform to outlaw them entirely. Or at least they thought that would be the result. Continue Reading »

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February
19th 2016
SB 105′s Death Proves Colorado Can Stand on Its Own

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & Legislation & State Legislature

It’s Friday again, friends. Fortunately, I have good news to share after Monday’s depressing post about Justice Scalia’s passing and what it means for education. One of the “abominable snowbills” I wrote about a few weeks ago has died—and died rather spectacularly—in the Senate Education Committee.

From a previous post:

Senate Bill 105, which is being supported by a “bipartisan” group of senators that makes me feel like I’ve fallen into Bizzaro World, forgoes any pretense and just murders SB 191 entirely. It removes the 50 percent requirement for student growth in educator evaluations, forbids school districts from using student growth in evaluations in any amount exceeding 20 percent (an apparently arbitrary number that flies in the face of the research on the subject), and makes so local school boards can allow teachers and principals with effective or better ratings to pass on evaluations for up to three years…

Most of you probably remember that I didn’t much care for those changes, arguing that they would return us to the days when nearly every teacher was rated effective year after year and essentially destroy tenure reform, pay-for-performance systems, and even the basic practice of evaluating teachers annually. My policy friend Ross Izard felt the same (surprise, surprise), and sent a letter to the Senate Education Committee stating:

With the importance of teachers in mind, we believe that educators deserve to be treated like professionals through meaningful performance evaluations, taxpayers deserve accountability in how their education dollars are spent, and every child in Colorado deserves to be taught by a truly effective teacher. Senate Bill 105 represents a dangerous shift away from these goals…

…Put simply, Senate Bill 105 stands to serve the interests of the teachers union rather than those of students, parents, and educators. It represents a radical rollback of tenure reform and accountability in education, and has the potential to severely damage pay-for-performance systems and collective bargaining reform efforts across the state. More importantly, it hurts students by making it more difficult to ensure that every child has a truly effective teacher.

While SB 105 initially had bipartisan sponsorship—including five of the nine members of Senate Education—the bill’s Republican support disintegrated before the committee vote. Two of the bill’s Republican sponsors pulled their support and voted No during the committee hearing. The bill failed on a 6-3 vote that included every Republican member of the committee and Democratic Senator Mike Johnston, who was the original architect of SB 191. Continue Reading »

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