The fiscal health of the UNO Charter School Network--the third largest network in Chicago serving more than 7,500 students--is mixed, a situation "that could impair long-term fiscal viability," according to a new report from the Civic Federation. UNO recently settled a case with the Securities and Exchange Commission and acknowledged that it was being audited by the IRS, according to the Sun Times.
A troubling finding is that the operator spent an average of 45 percent of its revenue on instruction between 2007 and 2011, less than the minimum standard average of 50 percent. The network is running a deficit and its reserves are shrinking, leaving it with less cash on hand for emergencies than recommended by the Illinois State Board of Education. On the positive side, though, its debt-to-worth ratio is low, which means the organization has the potential to borrow money should it need to.
The Civic Federation, generally supportive of charter schools, also found that LEARN and Namaste were in good financial shape, while UNO and North Lawndale Charter High School, a two-campus operator, were shakier. It examined 13 financial indicators, including instructional expenses, fund balance ratio and debt-to-worth ratio, of the four charter school networks. The federation also wanted to look at the capital, fundraising and strategic plans, but the authors note that the lack of cooperation from the charters made this impossible.
Previous CPS administrations put out thick charter school annual reports that profiled each school’s academic and fiscal profile. Without that report, it is impossible to know to what degree CPS officials are monitoring the financial situation of charter schools. But it would be important to do so because, if a charter school goes out of business, the district will be left scrambling to figure out what to do with the children. North Lawndale College Prep’s two campuses are located in an area with underutilized neighborhood high schools likely able to absorb its 850 students. But UNO schools are mostly in neighborhoods with overcrowded schools.
2. A crowded class… A fifth-grade class at Oriole Park Elementary School on the far North Side got a nice little visit with Reader reporter Ben Joravsky. He was in the class to observe what it is like to be in a classroom with 36 fifth-graders, over the maximum of 31 set out in the Chicago Teachers Union contract. He says he learned--surprise--that it is crowded and noisy.
Before Joravsky wrote the story, Principal Tim Riff decided to hire an additional fifth-grade teacher. Riff tells Catalyst that he was able to swing a third teacher because the already overcrowded school got more students than expected. Schools get about $4,300 per student.
Last year, under the first year of student-based budgeting, 17 percent of elementary schools were over the class size limits set in the teachers contract (28 students in primary grades and 31 in intermediate and middle grades), shows a Catalyst analysis of CPS data. What is going on this year is still unknown. In fact, CPS has not yet released its 20th day enrollment count yet, though that tally was taken a week and a half ago.
3. Cafeteria Wars … New York Times political writer Nicholas Confessore tells the dramatic tale behind the national fight over healthier school lunches. On one side are school food service workers (or lunch ladies, as Confessore calls them) who struggle to maintain sales as students are turned off from the healthier, grainier and less salty foods; on the other, First Lady Michelle Obama and a cadre of health experts who support the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. “The lunch ladies have become the shock troops in a sometimes absurdly complex battle to roll back the Obama’s administration’s anti-obesity agenda,” Confessore writes. “Some Democrats in Congress fear that if Republicans win control of the Senate this fall, Obama’s reform will be gutted within a year — and with it, the government’s single-best weapon against childhood obesity.”
The cafeteria wars are playing out here in Illinois, too. Just a few weeks ago, District 214 in Arlington Heights dropped out of the federally subsidized lunch program in order to avoid the new dietary standards. “The decision eliminated almost $1 million in federal reimbursements for the district, leading to a five-fold price increase for reduced-price lunches on a reduced food service budget,” according to a Chicago Tribune article.
And now, Downer Grove’s high school district is also considering getting out of the program -- and giving up a half-million dollars in subsidies.
4. Learning another language… Get ready because next month CPS will announce its “plan for bi-literacy,” according a Chicago Tribune article, quoting district spokesman Joel Hood. A new state law allows school districts to indicate on high school diplomas and transcripts that a student knows English, as well as another language. This State Seal of Biliteracy is part of a statewide initiative to try get more students to show a high level of proficiency in one or more foreign languages. The state board of education is in the process of developing standards to get the seal. In other states, they have used the Advanced Placement Foreign Language exam to show proficiency.
The idea of such a designation started in California and has been spreading across the country. Having the seal could help students get scholarships or job opportunities. One interesting caveat is that students also have to show that they are highly proficient in English. District participation in the initiative is optional, but several suburban school districts, like Chicago, plan to offer it.
Experts say it will be hard for students to achieve a level of bi-literacy if they do not start learning in elementary school. This could be difficult to achieve in most Chicago elementary schools. According to the 2015 budget, less than 100 elementary schools are getting funding for foreign language teachers. Other schools could be paying for such teachers on their own, but with Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushing more art and daily gym, it is hard to see how many elementary schools will also afford a comprehensive foreign language program.
5. Pre-school for the rich … New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio campaigned on the need to address income inequality, and his signature initiative to provide full-day, universal preschool was supposed to help close the achievement gap. But, one study says it’s children from the city’s wealthiest families who are benefitting the most from the preschool expansion.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkley found that preschool enrollment in zip codes where families earn more than the city’s average income grew at twice the rate than in the poorest 25 percent of zip codes. One reason, the researchers say, is that “schools in poorer communities appear to be less likely to find space for pre-k children, or lack the organizational slack to take on new programs.”
City hall refutes the study, noting that poor neighborhoods already had more seats prior to the expansion. According to Chalkbeat New York, “while lower-income neighborhoods may have seen less of a percentage increase in seats, the sheer number of new seats created in low-income areas offer a different picture. For example, 3,293 seats were added to the city’s 10 poorest ZIP codes, while 288 were added to the 10 wealthiest.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, meanwhile, is targeting the city’s poorest children with his plans to expand half-day preschool. Earlier this week, Emanuel said one way he’ll finance the expansion is through a $17 million loan from big financial institution that ties repayment to better academic outcomes.
One last note … Later Thursday at a press conference we will get some more information about CTU President Karen Lewis’ health, why she’s been hospitalized since Sunday night or whether this will have any impact on her expected mayoral run. In the meantime, we just want to wish her a full and speedy recovery.
Colorado has few options if policymakers want to create a more flexible state testing system, or one that lets districts make their own assessment choices, the State Board of Education learned Wednesday.
The board has been paying a lot of attention to testing ever since 2014 TCAP results were released in August, trying to make its voice heard in the growing state debate over the issue. (See this story for background on board member views.)
Among the key questions in that debate is whether Colorado should reduce testing to only what’s required by the federal government, if it’s possible to test just sample groups of students and if districts can have flexibility to choose their own tests.
A growing number of districts have raised questions about their testing options, Department of Education officials say.
Education Commissioner Robert Hammond formally posed some key questions to the U.S. Department of Education, and the board was briefed on the answers at its monthly meeting. It wasn’t what some members wanted to hear.
Here’s a summary of the questions and answers. Read the full DOE letter here – warning, the language is pretty dense. Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen called it “a weighty document and somewhat difficult to work through.”
What are the federal requirements for frequency, grade levels and content?
The department and the board basically learned what they already know: that all children must be tested in language arts and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Science tests are required once at each level of K-12 education. Colorado tests considerably more than those requirements – get more details in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.
Do states have to give the same tests to all students?
Yes. A state “may not assess only a sample of students, even if that sample is representative of students in each LEA (local education agency – jargon for ‘district’) or the state as a whole,” read the letter. (The exception to this is that a separate test can be used for students “with the most significant cognitive disabilities.”)
“That’s a big issue that we get a lot of questions about. Sampling is not allowed,” Owen said.
Can a state use a combination of state and local tests?
The DOE letter says there’s “some flexibility” on this issue, but it goes on to detail a long list of difficult regulatory hurdles that would to be jumped for this to happen.
What happens if a state doesn’t meet federal requirements?
It could lose a lot of federal money, particularly Title I funds for low-income students and IDEA money for special education students. Prompted by a question from SBE chair Paul Lundeen, Owen said the worst-case estimate “easily” could be $500 million for Colorado. (The DOE letter outlines a long list of “progressive discipline” steps that would be used before the cash would be cut off.)
Can the secretary of education waive testing requirements?
No and yes – sort of. Testing requirements cannot be waived for individual districts. At the state level, “the secretary would likely not lightly waive such core requirements absent compelling reasons that their waiver would benefit students,” read the letter.
“We’ve reached far and wide to find any loophole.” Owen said.
“Wow,” said Lundeen, thanking CDE staff for pushing the DOE for answers. “This is an issue present in the minds of every educator in Colorado today.”
Hammond indicated he thinks CDE didn’t find any loopholes and that current federal law doesn’t give states many options. “The key to this is reauthorization of ESEA,” the main body of federal education law that a divided Congress hasn’t been able to act on. He also said changing the testing system might draw scrutiny from DOE’s civil rights office.
“With the legislation we have we’re stuck. … We basically ran out of options for next year,” Hammond said, referring to the full rollout of the new online PARCC tests in the spring of 2015.
Lundeen, who’s leaving the board because he’s running unopposed for a seat in the state House, urged the board and the department to keep researching alternatives to PARCC. Lundeen is not a fan of the current system.
He also noted that earlier this year the board passed a resolution urging the state withdraw from PARCC (see story). Denver member Elaine Gantz Berman reminded him that the vote was 4-3. The legislature paid no mind to that resolution.
Testing is expected to be a key education issue for the 2015 legislature. The 2014 legislative session more or less evaded the issue by creating a task force to study testing. (See this Chalkbeat story for the latest on what that group is doing.)
Citizens who spoke at the State Board of Education’s monthly public comment session Wednesday gave members a taste of the passions that have roiled the Jefferson County Schools in recent weeks.
The Jeffco board “is attempting to bring politics and a private agenda to this wonderful district we love,” said retired Jeffco teacher Kristine Kraft.
The morning comment session was pretty one-sided, with four witnesses criticizing the Jeffco board and no one speaking up in support. Ann Rutkovsky, representing the Jeffco League of Woman Voters, said, “Our observers have become increasingly concerned about what’s happening on that board.”
Over the last year SBE comment sessions have become a well-used forum for public remarks about a variety of issues, many of which the board has no authority over. The comment sessions have been dominated by Common Core and testing, and the board recently started scheduling two sessions per meeting to accommodate the public.
Board members generally don’t respond to comments but made an exception to that on Wednesday morning.
“I think the State Board of Education would be remiss if we didn’t say anything,” said Democrat Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver. “I think you should continue being strong and continue representing your perspective,” she said. “Hold the school board accountable.”
Democrat Jane Goff of Arvada, a former Jeffco teacher and administrator, said the conflict “is extremely upsetting to see,” adding, “I know that Jefferson County will rise up together and find a solution.”
Board chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, said, “I am always heartened when people are engaged in their civic life” but cautioned that people who want “to go back to the way it was” should remember that student achievement levels are not what they should be in Jeffco or statewide.
And Republican member Marcia Neal of Grand Junction reminded the speakers, “Colorado is a local control state. I hope you all know we can’t do anything about local districts.”
Other speakers Wednesday were critical of the AP U.S. History course, an element in the Jeffco debate.
Retired Air Force Col. Curtis Dale of Parker – wearing full uniform – said he was “insulted, disappointed and even infuriated” about the “advocacy history” he believes is in that program. “It is biased against America.”
Jeffco’s troubles got less attention during the second, late-afternoon session. Speakers focused their ire on the new AP course – many criticized the perceived lack of military history – and the Common Core State Standards.
Here’s a sampling:
A couple of speakers also supported the embattled Jeffco board. Toni Walker of Loveland said, “I applaud the Jeffco board for standing up.” Jeffco resident Dee Oltmans said, “We have someone who is speaking up for us, and we love it.”
In contrast to the morning session, board members didn’t say anything following the afternoon testimony.
As one of the city's elite selective high schools, Whitney Young received more than $480,000 additional money from the district last year. But that wasn't its only financial advantage.
The school, on the Near West Side, also raked in more than $680,000 in fees. Each student was asked to pay a general fee of $500, though students receiving a free or reduced-price lunch could apply for a waiver. In addition, there were extra costs to participate in sports teams and clubs, and with the financial support, Whitney Young--and other schools with similar fees and financial means--are more likely to offer these activities.
About two miles away in East Garfield Park, one of the city's poorest communities, Manley High School collected less than $8,000 last year in fees--about $17 per student. A few clubs and teams collected some money, but most only brought in a few hundred dollars.
Whitney Young’s football team collected more than $12,000. Manley’s team collected about $2,500.
The sharp difference in the amount of cash that schools collect from families through fees is not accounted for in the published budgets provided by the district. Nor is it documented elsewhere by individual schools. But the windfall reaped by schools with middle-class and wealthier students contributes to disparities among schools--in the number and quality of special programs, elective classes and other activities that are offered.
At the many schools, like Manley, where most of the students are low-income students of color, fees don’t make sense: Students who qualify for a free or reduced-cost lunch get fee waivers. Plus, CPS policy maintains that there should be no consequences if parents don’t pay (though some schools will threaten to prevent students from graduating or going on field trips).
The disparity is not only true among city schools. Wealthy suburbs often have hefty fees in place that cover technology and supplies for classes. As in the city, fees at public suburban schools are often instituted in response to financial constraints—but poorer suburbs can’t generate the extra cash despite being stretched thin financially.
Working with the Better Government Association, Catalyst Chicago submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for documents showing internal financial accounts for all schools in Chicago. CPS denied the request, stating it would be too burdensome, but responded to a narrower request for information for 16 economically and geographically diverse schools.
The internal accounts reviewed by Catalyst showed that:
• Among six North Side elementary schools, including two magnet schools, the fees generated between $15,000 and $40,000 annually from parents. A survey of these elementary schools found that fees range from about $100 per student to $235.
• The three schools with large percentages of low-income students did not charge fees and brought in very little extra money. Bright Elementary School, a black and Latino school on the Southwest Side, and Langford in West Englewood, which is 98 percent black, collected no student fees and almost no additional revenue.
• Selective enrollment and magnet high schools, which have the fewest low-income and minority students, have the highest fees. Parents from the schools say that at the start of the school year, they often received bills of more than $500.
"Unfair and inequitable"
Marguerite Roza, a national expert in school finance and a research associate professor at the University of Washington's College of Education, says the collection of fees at public schools is “unfair and inequitable.” The only way to make it fair is to put the money into one central pot, she maintains. “I am against the notion of fees,” she says.
Roza is especially critical of fees that students have to pay in order to take certain classes or to participate in activities.
While schools tell parents they are paying activity fees or technology fees, it is really a question of priorities, Roza says. Often, budgets become tight as school districts pay to give raises to teachers or to help support a special program.
“Parents will happily pay a supply fee because they want their children to keep having supplies,” she says. “But if you told them it was to keep a perk for teachers, they wouldn’t be so happy.”
CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey says the district does not monitor the collection of fees--though starting in the 2009-2010 school year, CPS forced schools to put all the money in a specific bank and report why the money was collected. McCaffrey also says it would not be right to put the money into one pot and distribute it equally to all schools, maintaining that doing so would constitute a tax on more well-to-do parents.
But even in schools with middle and upper-middle-class families, charging big fees can amount to a heavy burden.
When one mother got the letter this spring offering her daughter a spot at a magnet school on the Northwest Side, she was elated, not only for the opportunity, but also for the financial break of avoiding private school tuition.
But she was shocked to learn the list of items that she would have to spend money on—the school has four lists of supplies, plus she would have to pay for uniforms and the pricey after-school program. On top of those costs, the school charges a general student fee of about $235. Altogether, she estimated that she would have to spend almost $1,000 for her daughter at STEM Elementary in the West Loop.
“I was floored,” says the mother, who did not want to be identified because her daughter has had a hard time transitioning into the school. She was so surprised that she has since repeated her story to everyone she meets. Some of her friends in the south suburbs tell her they have fees of about $100, but none pay as much as she does.
STEM Magnet Principal Maria McManus says her school has a $100 fee for supplies, plus a $135 fee for field trips. She says that the students go on field trips once every four to six weeks, and the trips are costly; last year, she spent $18,000 just for buses. Some of the field trips are related to the school’s academic focus (on science, technology, engineering and math); some complement other areas in the curriculum. Last year, students went to Legoland and to the Google headquarters.
McManus says that between 90 and 95 percent of the parents pay the fees, and she very rarely hears a complaint.
“In order for us to do what we do for the kids, it costs,” she says. “I am very transparent.” Only half of her students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, so the school doesn’t get much money from federal grants for poor students.
“The parents really want a well-rounded school,” she says. “They are not paying [what they would have to pay] for the British School” (an expensive private school on the city's North Side).
Carolyn Brown, a teacher and member of the local school council at Kelly High School on the Southwest Side, has a daughter transferring from Whitney Young to Kelly this year. If she were to stay at Young, her fees would be more than $500 once all the costs for courses were included.
Brown says that at Kelly, school officials can’t charge as much because parents simply don’t have the money to pay. And even though low-income students can get waivers, sometimes they and their parents feel ashamed to ask for one. Every year, some lower-income students who owe the school hundreds of dollars have to pay in order to graduate because they never got waivers. It is hard to do back waivers, she says.
Brown doesn’t think that there should be more control from central office because setting fees is one of the small things that local school councils have the power to do. Also, parents trust local school councils more, she says.
“With the school fees, there is a level of responsibility being shifted,” she says. “With budgets being chipped away, the fees are being used to fill in the gaps and the schools with more resources have more of an ability to do so. It is another example of why schools are inequitable.”
Photo credit: check writing/shutterstock.com
Dept. of unintended consequences
A ballot measure driven by conservatives to require teachers contract negotiations to happen in public might have an unexpected benefit for unions. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Douglas County school board plans to move ahead with its attempt to gain "innovation" status even after state officials advised them that the status would not exempt the district from state testing requirements. ( 9News )
The chemistry teacher who caused a fire that injured four students has been fired from his Denver charter school. ( Denver Post )
Supporters and opponents of a proposed gambling initiative whose proceeds would benefit schools squared off in a debate. ( Denver Post )
a big helping hand
A Colorado Springs philanthropy is giving a local charter school that caters to low-income and special education students $750,000 to complete its high school. ( Gazette )
Last week Chalkbeat was part of an event on transparency and Colorado's open meetings and records laws. Watch it here. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
stuck on sat
High school students' SAT scores around the nation remain stagnant, with 43 percent of test-takers meeting a college-readiness benchmark. ( AP via Denver Post )
tragedy turned to art
A new play about the Columbine High School massacre written from the perspective of the two student shooters is set to open in New York. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )
A group of investors is betting $17 million that getting more of Chicago’s children into quality early learning programs will generate bigger savings in the long term.
The investors will make a loan to the city so that 2,600 additional children can take part in half-day pre-school programs in the distirct's much-lauded child-parent centers over the next four years, city officials announced Tuesday.
The city expects to repay the investors – including the Goldman Sachs Social Impact Fund, Northern Trust and the JB and MK Pritzker Family Foundation –with interest from the cost savings generated down the road in reduced special education services. If CPS doesn’t save money, the lenders won’t get repaid.
“Too often we think of the bottom line in these companies in dollars and cents,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a press conference at the Velma Thomas Early Learning Center in McKinley Park. “The social impact bond changes that conversation […]. What happens in these rooms matters to the future of the city and that is all of our bottom line.”
City officials did not provide Catalyst with a copy of the contract for the so-called "social impact bond" on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said the city will introduce an ordinance to the City Council on Wednesday in order to help CPS implement the loan agreement.
Emanuel also announced on Tuesday that his proposed 2015-2016 budget will include $9.4 million in capital spending for 10 elementary schools to expand preschool offerings. In addition, the mayor said the state will kick in $4.5 million to support new community-based early learning programs. He said all of these programs will help meet his goal of providing preschool to an additional 1,500, low-income 4-year-olds by next year.
The mayor's critics and early learning advocates, meanwhile, are calling for truly "universal" and full-day preschool for all parents, including those with incomes above the poverty level.
New financing tool
The social impact bond program will launch in November with a cohort of 374 students in six schools – including Velma Thomas – in areas of high poverty and limited preschool offerings. The other elementary schools are: DeDiego in West Town; Melody in Garfield-Humboldt Park; Wadsworth in Woodlawn; Peck in West Eldon; and Hanson Park in Belmont-Cragin.
The cohort will increase to 782 children in the second and third years, and drop back to 680 in its final year. After that, it’ll be up to the city to decide whether it will continue funding the seats.
Chicago’s child-parent centers, which serve preschool to third grade and require parental participation, have been proven to have long-term academic benefits for children. Arthur Reynolds, who has studied the centers for three decades, told The Hechinger Report last month that the programs significantly reduce “remedial education and placement in special education was cut by about 40 percent.”
Social impact bonds – also called “Pay for Success” programs – are a relatively new tool first started in the United Kingdom to finance high-impact social programs. The first such loan in the U.S. was provided in New York City for a jail program; the State of Illinois is also working with a coalition of Chicago-area foster care agencies and other youth service providers on another social impact bond intended to reduce recidivism.
A similar initiative launched last year in Utah can shed some light on how Chicago’s program will work. Goldman Sachs and Pritzker loaned $7 million to the United Way of Salt Lake City to expand its preschool program. When they first start in the program, participating children take a picture vocabulary test which helps predict their likely future usage of special education and remedial services.
Then, “students that test below average and are therefore likely to use special education services will be tracked as they progress through sixth grade,” according a fact sheet. “Every year they do not use special education or remedial services will generate a Pay-for-Success payment.”
In Chicago, the city will pay back investors in several stages, beginning with $2,900 for each child that meets specific academic benchmarks in kindergarten. The city will also pay $750 for each student who scores above the national average on reading tests.
But the biggest cost savings will come from reduced special education services. “Payments for decreases in special education are $9,100 compounded at an annual rate of 1 percent for each child that avoids special education after attending the CPC program,” according to a press release from CPS.
Students will be evaluated through their senior years in high school. Chicago-based IFF, which works in community development finance, will serve as the project coordinator and hire an independent evaluator to analyse the program’s outcomes.
Andrea Phillips, vice president at the Urban Investment Group at Goldman Sachs, said she was very impressed by the work of Chicago’s child-parent centers.
“We’ve taken a look at the prior performance of the CPC program […] and we’re very confident that kids who come through this program will get to kindergarten and be ready to go,” said Phillips, adding that investors can expect to earn interest “in the mid to high single-digits.”
CPS stresses that children will not be denied special education services because of the initiative, but some advocates expressed caution about the program.
Children with severe disabilities are usually identified as needing special education services before they reach preschool. Meanwhile, students with milder conditions such as learning disabilities or dyslexia tend to be identified after third grade, when they begin getting formally assessed in reading, says Rod Estvan of Access Living.
“Unless that disabling condition is identified that early and tackled in a specific manner it’s not clear how much of a reduction can be expected […] unless they’re going to change the curriculum and really move up the scale with these funds,” he said.
Estvan added that CPS should tread cautiously when it comes to children who need special education services.
“The danger is to make this happen by not identifying some kids, to make your markers,” he said. “It’s not easy to get a kid identified who is in the learning disability category anymore for families, and many parents don’t want their kids identified to begin with, so you could see if this isn’t effective, it could have a very negative consequence for some of these kids because of reluctance to identify.”
Amid the chaos and rumors in Jefferson County, the Chalkbeat team took a few hours last month to discuss transparency issues and public schools.
While Jeffco Public Schools is a hotbed for legitimate concerns and conspiracies theories alike, questions about open and transparent governments are raised in all corners of the state.
So, we teamed up with the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition with the hope that a panel including journalists, a lawyer, and a former school school board member could shed some light — pun intended — on the state’s “sunshine laws.”
For those who couldn’t make our lively conversation about the laws that govern public documents and meetings, you can watch it below.
If you don’t have two hours of spare time, check out these nifty guides made by the coalition on open meetings and records.
For a more in-depth guide and templates for open records requests, poke around the coalition’s resource page here.
The conservative think tank the Independence Institute is no fan of teachers’ unions, so some observers find it interesting that an institute-driven ballot measure might have the side effect of giving those unions a little advantage in contract negotiations with school districts.
The proposed change in state open meetings law, which appears on the Nov. 4 ballot as Proposition 104, would require that union-district contract negotiations be held in public. It would also require that school board strategy sessions be public meetings. Union strategy sessions could be held behind closed doors because non-government entities like unions aren’t subject to the open meetings law.
“For school boards it’s a little like playing poker with your cards facing up,” said Bruce Caughey, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, which opposes Prop 104.
The Colorado Association of School Boards takes a similar view. “Boards will be less able to develop strategies … negotiations will become increasingly one-sided,” predicts Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the group. CASB also formally opposes the measure.
Two other parties to the argument are less willing to make predictions.
Leaders of the Colorado Education Association declined to comment directly on the question of possible union advantage. President Kerrie Dallman made a more general comment, saying, “Proposition 104 contains some vague language, drafted without input from educators or school administrators. As a result, there is speculation on what this law would actually mean to school districts and employee associations as they bargain contracts at the local level. The unclear intent of Proposition 104 may cause confusion and frustration.”
Asked about the question, Jon Caldara, president of the institute, only said, “Transparency is good for everyone. Prop 104 makes transparency the default. If this is such an advantage for the unions, why are they against it?”
One outside observer, Kelly Hupfeld of the University of Colorado Denver, sees some possible advantage for unions. “In collective bargaining negotiations, like any other negotiations, you use the time in private with your team to discuss what your priorities are and what you are and are not willing to compromise on. If you have to tell your superintendent in a public meeting what you are and are not willing to compromise on, it obviously takes away your leverage and hamstrings your ability to compromise in a strategic way.”
But, Hupfeld added, “I’m not really sure how much of an advantage it will be. I think the initiative is more likely just to lead to less meaningful negotiations overall.” Hupfeld is associate dean of UCD’s School of Public Affairs and formerly worked as a labor lawyer.Measure also expands definition of covered officials The measure
Pro & Con
In addition to requiring open negotiating sessions and public board strategy sessions, Prop 104 also expands the kinds of district leaders subject to the open meetings law.
The existing state sunshine law generally applies to elected and appointed members of boards and commissions but does not cover employees such as school administrators. Prop 104 would change that provision for school districts, requiring that what the law calls a local public body “should include members of a board of education, school administration personnel, or a combination thereof who are involved in a meeting with a representative of employees at which a collective bargaining agreement is discussed.” (District administrators rather than a full school board typically conduct negotiations.)
Opponents fear that language could cover such things as a hallway discussion between a principal and a building union leader.
“We think it covers any conversation, any discussion about a contract,” said Caughey.
Caldara dismisses such arguments, noting that the term “meeting” has a specific meaning in current law – a session including a quorum or at least three members of a local public body.
Such arguments “just don’t hold water,” he said.What else the two sides are saying
The overarching arguments for and against Prop 104 are fairly simple.
“I believe secrecy is the enemy of good government,” Caldara says. “Politicians aren’t going to let sunshine in if they don’t have to.”
Given that a labor contract represents the largest portion of a district’s budget, taxpayers, parents and teachers should have access to how contracts are negotiated, he argues.
The education groups opposed to Prop 104 argue that its provisions are unclear and that imposing a statewide rule infringes on the local control powers of school districts.
“We feel the initiative would create significant ambiguity in the [open meetings] statute, Urschel said. School board members would have to be retrained in how to handle the law, likely would have to spend more money on legal advice and “inevitably be subject to lawsuits,” she argued.
Ranelle Lang, a former Greeley superintendent who is campaigning against the measure, argues that school boards currently can decide if they want open or closed negotiations. “It’s something that can happen right now, so why do we need a statewide measure? It should be managed at the local level.”
Caldara’s response to the ambiguity argument is to note that Prop 104 would only change state law, not add a new section to the constitution.
“Even if all their fears are correct, the legislature can change it,” he said.Campaigns mostly under the radar Contract landscape
Both campaigns are modestly funded, limiting their activities mostly to speaking engagements, websites and some literature distribution.
The Sunshine on Government Committee has received $284,312 in “non-monetary” contributions from the institute, which primarily covered to cost of circulating the petitions necessary to get Prop 104 on the ballot. The committee has received an additional $20,100 in director contributions from the institute, money that hadn’t been spent as of the Sept. 29 reporting deadline.
Opponents, organized as the Local Schools, Local Choices committee, have raised $62,300, including $42,200 from CEA, $5,000 from the American Federation of Teachers and $15,000 Education Reform Now, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform.
One of the opposition’s talking points is what they see as the institute’s lack of transparency in its campaign funding. (The sources of non-monetary contributions don’t have to be reported.) Caldara said the money came from institute reserves.The issue has a history
There have been repeated legislative attempts in recent years to open district contract negotiations. Those Republican-sponsored bills have all died, opposed by school district lobbyists. (One session, discussion of expanding the requirement to all local governments also raised the hackles of county and municipal lobbyists.) Caldara said the failure of legislative efforts prompted his petition campaign.
Republicans and conservative allies like the institute push this issue partly because of disagreements with teachers’ unions over educational policy and because the CEA is a significant funder of Democratic candidates.Will open meetings matter?
A handful of Colorado districts already conduct negotiations in public. Most frequently mentioned are Colorado Springs District 11 and the Poudre schools.
But both those districts use a process called “interest-based bargaining,” which is a more collaborative approach than traditional collective bargaining. And those district methods allow closed strategy sessions.
Open negotiating sessions are required by state law in Idaho. “I think the response has been very good both from the teachers’ side and the school board side,” said Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association. “Negotiations for the most part are going very smoothly.” But, she said, the law allows closed strategy sessions for school boards.
Both Echeverria and Greg Grote, president of the Poudre Education Association, note that open meetings don’t necessarily draw public interest.
“I will tell you that nobody shows up for these things,” Echeverria said. “You might see a reporter occasionally, [but] there really isn’t anyone showing up.”
“We just don’t have people who come,” said Grote.
A group of Jeffco students who helped organize recent protests want the board majority to know that they're planning to continue to work to influence district policy. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Here's a round-up of the local and national television segments discussing the conflict in Jeffco that happened over the weekend. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Weld High School is among several Colorado schools to be debuting new security systems this year. ( 9News )
And St. Vrain schools are also stepping up security precautions, adding cameras and streamlining systems to handle officer absences. ( Daily Camera )
The Montrose school district will put a new school funding initiative on the ballot to support bringing on new teachers, technology and materials. ( NBC 11 )
Parents in Aspen are upset after an elementary school imposed noise limits in the cafeteria. ( AP via 9News )
The St. Vrain Valley School District's credit rating was raised, a move that could save taxpayers when the district refinances $53 million in bonds. ( Daily Camera )
run run run
A group of European exchange students in Fort Collins are thriving in their school in part because of participation in their school's cross country team. ( Coloradoan )
moving on up
The RE-1 Valley Board of Education is beginning to consider changes to its graduation guidelines that will meet or exceed new state requirements. ( Journal-Advocate )
Two juveniles have been arrested for vandalism at Slater Elementary School in Jeffco. ( 9Newss )
Feeling scorned by their school district’s conservative board majority, Jefferson County high school students plan to keep the heat on their elected officials.
Calling themselves the Jeffco Student Network for Change, the coalition plans to make their public debut at a noon rally Saturday in Littleton.
Organized by about 20 students from most of the suburban county’s high schools, the students plan to ask attendees whether they would support a recall of at least two members of school board majority made up of Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk.
The question of whether to attempt to recall the conservative majority, who were each elected by wide margins last year, has often been a topic of conversation among parents, teachers, and board observers.
While the conversation reached a fevered pitch last spring before a summer cool-down, no official campaign manifested. In fact, some of the most vocal and connected opponents to the board majority privately dissuaded one another from pulling the trigger on an expensive recall election.
It won’t work. It will cost too much money. It will be mutually assured destruction, they said.
But a recent decision to revamp an existing curriculum review process and place it under the board of education’s purview has changed things, said Ashlyn Maher, a Chatfield High School senior.
Still too young to vote herself, Maher said, “a recall is much more feasible now.”
If official recall petitions aren’t ready by Saturday, Maher said, students will collect contact information from attendees Saturday.
In order to establish a recall election, the student organization would need to collect 15,000 signatures, or 40 percent of the voters in the last regular election, per board member. They would have 60 days to collect those signatures after they file the recall petitions with the county clerk. If enough certified signatures are gathered in time, an election would be held between 45 and 75 days.
Jeffco Public Schools would be required to pay for the election’s costs.
“It’s a huge step, it’s a huge commitment, it’s a lot of money,” said Thomas Sizemore, a Lakewood High School student. “It’s a really big decision.”
Both Maher and Sizemore organized protests last month at their respective high schools during a week of acrimony. Thousands of students marched out of their classrooms to the street to protest a proposed curriculum review committee that they believed would lead to censoring a popular advanced history course.
While the board ultimately adopted tamer language, students are skeptical.
“It was like a smack on the face,” Sizemore said, referring to the board majority’s decision to move forward with the panel.
Both Sizemore and Maher said they believe the board majority chose to push their own political agenda instead of listening to a groundswell of public opposition. Opponents to the curriculum review panel outnumbered supporters by more than two-to-one during an expanded public comment before the board took its vote Thursday.
Witt, the board’s chairman, defended the 3-2 decision to expand the district’s current system to include teachers and students when curriculum is challenged and to make those meetings public.
“I’m delighted with the result we’ve come up with the curriculum review process,” he said by phone Monday. He said input from the district, community, and board were all a part of the final solution.
“Unanimity is not necessary for compromise,” Witt said. “I’m very confident that this is by far the best compromise we could have come up.”
While student organizers behind the network said they hope to establish working relationships with other community advocacy groups, their decisions are their own.
“We’re going to make our opinions known,” Sizemore said. “We’re not going to give up that easily.”
Besides reigniting the conversation about a recall, Jeffco Student Network for Change leaders plan to attend upcoming board meetings.
“We will definitely be at the next meeting for sure, and the next one, and the next one, until we’re heard,” Maher said. “There is no stopping us now.”
Witt said he welcomes more students speaking during public comment.
“I think it’s great that our students want to involve themselves in our civic dialogue,” he said.
Jefferson County board members, parents, students, and teachers were pulling double duty this week debating among themselves in the board room and on the airwaves.
At issue was a proposal to form a curriculum review panel that would report directly to the Jefferson County Board of Education. That proposal sparked more than a week’s worth of protests from students. Board members who supported the measure said they were fulfilling their constitutional duty.
Ultimately, the board majority laid the groundwork Thursday for the panel. But that didn’t mean the debate ended. Here’s a roundup of appearances by Jeffco folks in local and national media.Ken Witt, Dan McMinimee, Jill Fellman on Colorado State of Mind
Superintendent Dan McMinimee explained his proposal for Rocky Mountain PBS viewers. His proposal was the backbone for the what ultimately became the board majority’s “compromise.”
Board member Julie Williams told Fox News’s Megyn Kelly she believes the new Advanced Placement U.S. history course downplays important historical figures to make room for the Black Panthers. Meanwhile, Fritzler, a parent, explained why so many parents were concerned.
Board chair Ken Witt explained, to the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara, why he wants more input from the community to make better decisions.
And, Jeffco student Ashlyn Maher told MSNBC viewers students will keep the heat on the board majority. She rejected the claim the board compromised on the final makeup of the committee.
The Chicago Sun Times applauds Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS for not approving any new charter schools this year. The editorial says it is about time the district took a break. “Though we support quality charter options in Chicago, CPS’ breakneck pace of new charter openings at a time of tremendous financial stress has unfairly siphoned resources from traditional public schools. And crucially, not all charters perform well, leaving CPS in the odd position of taking money from successful traditional schools to give to inferior charters.”
Many hypothesized that Emanuel made the call to avoid what has become a contentious process during the election season. Since 2005, an average of nine charter schools have opened each year. In 2011, the year of the last mayoral election, six new charter schools opened and, in 2007, the election before that, nine opened.
Under Emanuel, the biggest year of charter school openings was in 2013, when the school board approved 12 new charter schools and the Illinois Charter School Commission approved two. Overall, 33 of the city's 130 charter schools, which includes multiple campuses of the Youth Connection network, have opened under Emanuel.
While it is likely that the election is a major factor in the stall in charter school approvals, other realities might also be in play. Consider that five of the charter schools were approved to open in the fall of 2014 did not. UNO and Concept were dealing with scandals that prevented them from pursuing openings. Other charters are having difficulty finding space.
2. Happy Hancock?… The Sun Times revisits Hancock High School, whose students and staff got the word last week that the school will be converted to a selective enrollment school. The article points out while some support the decision, many are miffed that CPS leaders did not first hold community meetings or get public input. Community groups and staff say they only found out about the announcement after the decision had been made. Interestingly, Ald. Marty Quinn, the area alderman who had been pushing for a selective school on his side of town, has yet to respond to questions about the decision, according to the Sun Times.
As she did in an earlier interivew with Catalyst, Sarah Duncan from the Network for College Success voices her dismay that a neighborhood school that just completed a $5.7 million grant program and has improved in almost every indicator is now going to be changed drastically. She and others are upset that that the school is only being renovated as a precursor to becoming a selective enrollment school.
Also last week, the Public Building Commission awarded a $13.46 million contract to Paschen Milhouse Joint Venture III to add 11 classrooms to Walter Payton High School on the North Side. With Hancock, the Walter Payton addition and the new selective enrollment school being built on the Near North Side, CPS will have nearly 2,000 more selective enrollment high school seats and a total of 5,300 by 2017.
3. Bring mommy to school day... Few school districts in Illinois are taking advantage of a law that designates the first Monday in October as “Bring Your Parents to School Day.” The law, which makes the visits optional, is meant to increase parent involvement, which studies have shown helps improve academic performance.
But school officials say allowing parents to follow their children into the classroom presents all sorts of additional challenges, including security, teachers union contract terms and actual classroom lessons, the Chicago Tribune reports. Chicago is one of the districts skipping the program. The original version of the law would have made it mandatory, but the Illinois Association of School Boards lobbied against it. "[Legislators) have an idea, and it's a fine idea, but when it comes to implementation, it's a different ballgame," says the group’s deputy executive director.
4. Striking … Teachers in Hinsdale Township High School District 86 have filed paperwork to strike after contract negotiations stalled last week. The 337-member union's previous contract expired in June. The district and teachers can't come to an agreement over the salary schedule and stipends, the Tribune reports. The earliest day teachers in this western surburban district can strike is Oct. 14.
Meanwhile, in Waukegan, teachers remain on strike this week, unable to reach a deal with the district over salary, health benefits and time in the classroom. The Lake County Federation of Teachers Local 504 went on strike last Thursday, a move that keeps about 17,000 students out of class. Teachers were expected to remain on strike into Monday, when negotiations are scheduled to continue. The last time teachers in this northern suburb held a strike was 30 years ago, ABC Channel 7 reports.
And just a few weeks ago, teachers in Highland -- a tiny Illinois school district outside of St. Louis, MO. -- ended their first-ever strike with a three-year contract that includes yearly salary increases.
5. A message to the Democratic Party … A poll commissioned by the newly formed Democrats for Public Education says that Democrats overwhelmingly want more funding for public schools. (Just 45 percent of Republicans feel the same way.) The poll also found that 43 percent of voters have positive views of charter schools, while nearly the same amount -- 40 percent -- don’t have an opinion or don’t know enough.
The poll comes just a month before midterm congressional elections. As Politico reports, “candidates across the country have already been playing up education as a theme; the adequacy of school funding is a key issue in the gubernatorial races in Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan and in the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina.” Education will be a critical issue in Chicago’s upcoming mayoral elections, especially if Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis decides to make a run for the gig. Mayor Rahm Emanuel already has already gotten strong backing from Democrats For Education Reform (DFER).
Jefferson County students, parents, and teachers rallied along a busy boulevard Friday. Organizers hope to raise awareness about their concerns over the district's school board. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, CPR )
As Election Day nears, campaign war chests continue to grow in races that will have consequences for Colorado's education landscape. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
sorry, not sorry
The Colorado Department of Education said the Douglas County School District can't use the state's innovation laws to opt-out of mandatory tests. ( Douglas County News-Press )
Leveling the playing field
Success continues at DSST as charter network continues to grow. ( 9News )
Obstacles are keeping some special needs students out of after-school programs. ( Longmont Times-Call )
Changes are coming
School districts like the one in Cortez are considering new graduation guidelines. ( Journal-Advocate )
Busting the cycles
A Denver organization explains how it's working to end the school-to-prison pipeline. ( National Journal )
The U.S. is caught in a vicious cycle of education reforms that needs to be broken, a former state education commissioner opined. ( Denver Post )
Schools in Washington are caught in the political crossfire of a battle over No Child Left Behind. Even high performing schools must spend 20 percent of their budget to comply with the law's consequences. ( New York Times )
LAKEWOOD — Jefferson County mom Amanda Stevens first became suspicious of the county’s newly-elected board of education majority when she heard they planned to do away with a school readiness evaluation program.
“I wanted a tool to collaborate with my child’s teacher,” she said, standing at the corner of Wadsworth and Alameda with more than 100 other students, parents, and teachers.
The group, a microcosm of a much larger countywide rally, waved signs reading “stand up for all kids,” “honk if you support recall,” and “we love Jeffco.”
The aim of those gathered along the 30-mile stretch of Wadsworth Boulevard, a major traffic conduit in the Denver suburb, is to raise awareness for their concerns regarding Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk, who make up the new majority on the Jeffco school board.
Stevens has become a regular at school board meetings. She said she’s seen the board ignore the wishes of the public time and time again.
“First it was [the school readiness evaluation program], then it was full-day kindergarten, then it was more money for charter schools,” she said, continuing to list more controversial decisions.
Tension between the new board majority, which was elected by wide margins in November, and the public reached an all time high last month when thousands of students walked out of their classrooms in protest over a proposed curriculum review committee. Separately, teachers at four high schools staged sick-outs over a new compensation model.
Critics of the proposal, originally introduced by Williams, feared the committee would eventually lead to censoring an advanced U.S. history class.
On Thursday night, the board majority approved a sort of half-compromise on a 3-2 vote. Instead of creating a brand new committee, they amended current district policies that govern challenges to curriculum to include students and board-appointed community members to a panel to review materials. The committees will also now report directly to the board instead of the superintendent.
While that matter, which attracted international media, is mostly closed, it’s unlikely turmoil will ease.
The Wadsworth demonstration, organized by a loose network of parents, teachers, and the county’s educators union, was not in direct response to Thursday’s board meeting. Friday’s rally had previously been planned before the board took up the issue. A similar protest was organized last spring.
Supporters of the board majority have characterized the vocal community as a proxy for the teachers union. A new website, Jeffcotruth.org, launched this week with two videos critical of the union and student protests.
Asked when things might cool down in Jeffco, Stevens said, “your guess is as good as mine.”
Katya Mazon had never been heavily involved with the LGBTQ community, until two and a half years ago, when she attended her first Illinois Safe Schools Alliance meeting. One of her friends, who self-identified as “queer," invited her and said there would be food.
“They were looking for newer members and my friend told me about it,” said Mazon, who graduated from Walter Payton High School in June and plans to attend the University of Illinois-Chicago. “He was like, ‘You’ve always been really supportive of me and you should just come. And there’s pizza.’”
Mazon, a straight ally, will be honored at the Alliance’s annual brunch at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Chicago Cultural Center Yates Gallery (a one-person brunch ticket is $150) as Activist of the Year – it’s the first time a high school graduate has received the award – for her work with Chicago Public Schools and her leadership in the Alliance’s Youth Committee.
Fifty-six of more than 100 Chicago public high schools have registered Gay-Straight Alliances, but the Alliance’s program director David Fischer said there should be more. According to one national school climate survey, 98 percent of lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgender/queer students in Illinois hear anti-LGBTQ comments in school. Across the country, only 22 percent of LGBTQ students report having a gay-straight alliance in their high school.
Studies estimate that between 4 and 10% of the general population is gay; in CPS, that translates to between 16,000 and 40,000 students.
“Schools are still struggling to not ‘out’ young people to other school personnel or their parents,” Fischer said. “Schools are not in a place where they’re truly working to accommodate transgender youth.”
Mazon has been working with CPS to set up guidelines to protect transgender and gender non-conforming students, because schools often don’t know guidelines when it comes to bathrooms, preferred gender pronouns, or recreational sports teams.
“The Alliance is youth-driven, so youth are really the decision makers,” Mazon said. “I love that because they’re the stakeholders, they’re the ones who are experiencing it, and so they’re the ones who should have a say in it.”
A lack of dialogue about diverse identities in school curricula is another challenge for LGBTQ youth. Mazon was never taught about gender identity at school, and many students can go through a decade of schooling without learning about significant historical or literary figures who identified as LGBTQ.
“That complete silence can have a serious negative impact,” Fischer said. “It’s very hard to perceive your own identity in any sort of positive light if it’s never shown to you.”
These issues are prevalent throughout Illinois, and across the nation, but young people in Chicago face unique difficulties, Fischer said, because “a lot of time and energy and effort and resources are put in a small percentage of schools” that address the issue.
“When we talk about equality, it’s not giving [students] the same things,” Mazon said. “It’s giving them the things to reach the same steps.”
According to research done by UIC College of Education, youth and their families want to have intergenerational conversations about sexuality and gender identity. Spaces for facilitated dialogue, where youth can ask authentic questions without feeling like they’re going to get in trouble, is not just for the people who identify as LGBTQ, said researcher Stacey Horn.
“Creating a safe environment is good for everyone in the schools,” she said. “It allows for a broader expression of identity for anybody.”
Democratic Senate candidates with ties to education continue to gather significant campaign contributions, and outside political committees now also are spending significantly in battleground races.
For example, consider Arvada Democrat Rachel Zenzinger, an appointed freshman who sits on the Senate Education Committee and who is seeking a full-four year term from a Jefferson County district evenly divided among Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.
Democrats are battling hard to maintain – or improve – their 18-17 majority in the Senate, and the heavy spending in certain races reflects that.
Zenzinger’s campaign committee has raised more than $193,000 according to a campaign finance report filed Monday, one of the largest amounts of any Democratic Senate candidate. She raised nearly $20,000 in just the last two weeks of September.
But Zenzinger also has been the indirect beneficiary of at least $71,000 in additional spending by what are called independent expenditure committees. Two of those committees, Citizens Alliance for Accountable Leadership and Colorado Voters Voice, have paid for television ads and digital media supporting her candidacy.
Independent committees also have spent money on behalf of several other Democratic Senate and House candidates. Election law allows independent expenditure committees to spend money for and against candidates, but those efforts aren’t supposed to be coordinated with candidates.
Citizens Alliance and Voters Voice are part of a network of committees affiliated with the Democratic Party, labor unions and progressive groups. Democrats and donors organized the system several elections ago and have successfully used it to support candidates.
Here’s an example of how it works:
Republicans use similar tactics with outside committees. A committee named the Senate Majority Fund, which backs GOP candidates, has raised $1.3 million and spent $470,377. It’s received $22,000 from K12 Management Inc., the for-profit education company, and $20,000 from Ed McVaney, a longtime school choice backer, among lots of other contributors. The Fund is what’s called a “527” committee, and such groups don’t necessarily have to specify which candidates they support or oppose.
Another 527, Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government, has raised $350,000 and spent $205,399, again without reporting which races it’s spending in.
Citizens Alliance is an “independent expenditure” committee and subject to somewhat different reporting rules.
The complexity and variation in campaign finance contribution and reporting laws is part of the reason for the variety of committees. There are limits on the size of contributions to candidate committees, and corporations can’t donate directly to candidates. Such limits don’t apply to independent expenditure and 527 committees, so they offer a way to support candidates without direct contributions to candidate themselves.
Other Democratic Senate candidates who’ve been the beneficiaries of independent spending by Citizens Alliance include Andy Kerr in Jefferson County, Mike Merrifield in Colorado Springs and Judy Solano in Adams County.
Those three are have high-profile names in education. Kerr, a Jeffco teacher, is chair of the Senate Education Committee. Merrifield and Solano are retired teachers and former House members. Merrifield was chair of House Education, and Solano was known as one of the legislature’s harshest critics of standardized testing.How the candidates and committees are doing
Many candidate committees continued a fast pace of fundraising during the last two weeks of September. Senate candidates of both parties grew their war chests at a faster rate than House candidates.
There was virtually no new fundraising by the two committees battling over Amendment 68, the slots-for-schools constitutional amendment. Both those groups raised and committed their funds earlier in order to reserve TV ad spots.
The two sides have spent a total of about $32 million, about the same amount as the annual general fund spending of a 5,000-student school district.
Get the details in the chart below. Select a candidate or candidates to generate bar graphs at the top of the chart. Story continues after the chart.Education-focused committees less active
Things were relatively quiet for education-oriented political action and small donor committees during the latest reporting period.
Raising Colorado, an independent expenditure committee affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform, spent $10,243 on a mailing for Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and $12,594 on direct mail for Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge.
The Public Education Committee, the main campaign contribution arm of the CEA, also made some modest new contributions to Democratic candidates.
The DCTA Fund, affiliated with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, made its first foray into the general election campaign with some small contributions to a few Democratic legislative and statewide candidates, and it also gave to the state Democratic Party.
Key to chart: SDC means small donor committee, usually funded by dues or individual small contributions from a large number of people. IE means independent expenditure committee, which can spend for or against candidates, but spending can’t be coordinated with campaigns. PAC means political action committee, which can contribute directly to candidates.
Latest Jeffco twist
The district's board majority claims compromise and OKs a new curriculum review process, but other board members remain skeptical. And it remains to be seen if the new process will be used to review AP U.S. history. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A new view
A “Schools of Opportunity” project designed by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder aims to recognize high schools for a broad range of efforts to help students succeed, rather than just test scores. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Jeffco Roundup
In a commentary, a student takes the Jeffco board to task for denigrating student protestors. ( Denver Post )
Aspen school officials are seeking more local control over school revenues after years of fluctuating state funding. ( Aspen Daily News )
Building a school
The Thompson school board has approved a creative financing plan to build a new school in a growing neighborhood. ( Reporter-Herald )
A column signed by Mayor Michael Hancock and education Secretary Arne Duncan urges passage of the tax measure for the Denver Preschool Program. ( Denver Post )
A study done for supporters of Amendment 68 claims the slots-for-schools plan would generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the economy. ( Denver Post )
CSU President Tony Frank still wants an on-campus football stadium in Fort Collins. ( Coloradoan )
As if Chicago’s upcoming mayoral election didn’t already promise to feature education as a prominent campaign issue, a coalition of community and labor groups are now trying to get a measure for an elected school board on February’s ballot in each of the city’s 50 wards.
Part of their strategy, organizers say, is to make the question of whether Chicago should have an elected school board a sort of litmus test for incumbent aldermen and their challengers.
“We’re going to raise this with aldermen in upcoming elections – and hopefully in time for the November elections – and ask, ‘Do you support this?’” said Jitu Brown, education organizer of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and a longtime proponent of a change from an appointed board. “Will these people go against the mayor’s wishes and advocate for the children of Chicago, or will they go lockstep with the mayor while our children are the collateral damage of these policies?”
Brown says he expects some current aldermen and other candidates for city seats – including Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who is considering a mayoral run – to support the referendum and even circulate some petitions, but he says that the effort is not coordinated with those campaigns.
“If someone wants to champion this issue, that’s what our elected officials should be doing,” Brown added.
Even if the referendum gets on the ballot and passes, state legislators would have to rewrite state law--and go against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who now has control of the system--to allow for an elected board.
The effort is being led by the coalition of community groups called Grassroots Educational Movement, or GEM, of which KOCO is a member. In addition, the United Working Families independent political organization--which formed over the summer with the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Action Now, and Grassroots Illinois Action--is also supporting the campaign.
“Never any debate”
Among the groups gathering signatures is the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, which will be leading volunteers to canvass in the 12th, 14th and 15th wards on the Southwest Side.
“This is a very popular issue in our community, and a lot of people support this,” says Patrick Brosnan, the group’s executive director. “There’s never any kind of debate going on at any of those board meetings, always just presentations and ‘everything is great.’ But things aren’t great. There’s a lot of problems […] Frankly, I don’t think an elected school board would be making most of the decisions this current board is making.”
Chicago’s school board has been made up of mayoral appointees since 1995, when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley convinced the State Legislature to turn over control of the school district to City Hall. Chicago’s previous system for choosing school board members involved a messy nominating procedure in which community groups offered up names from which the mayor had to choose appointees.
To get the item on the ballot, the groups need to collect signatures from at least 8 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial race in each ward; that means some wards with a higher voter turnout will require more signatures. Petitions are due to the city’s Board of Elections on Nov. 24, the same day they’re due for aldermanic and mayoral candidates.
This wouldn’t be the first time the issue goes to a referendum. In 2012, another coalition of community groups called Communities Organized for Democracy in Education (CODE) collected enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot in 327 of the city’s more than 2,000 precincts.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the non-binding referendum, with an average of nearly 87 percent of votes in favor in each precinct.
“It’s pretty clear that the sentiment is there,” says Rico Gutstein, a professor at the University of Illinois Chicago who is part of Teachers For Justice, a member of CODE. “We were in 13 percent of precincts, in precincts that were entirely black, entirely white, entirely brown and entirely mixed […]. We were in the wealthiest and the poorest neighborhoods.”
Unlike the 2012 campaign, CODE is not actively taking part in this newest, ward-level effort to get a referendum on the ballot. (There are several ways to get a referendum item on the ballot, including at the precinct-, ward- and city-wide level.) Many of the groups who are part of CODE, however, are also members of GEM, which is behind the referendum. As a coalition, CODE is focusing on two other strategies for transforming the school board’s makeup, explains Roderick Wilson, who heads the Lugenia Burns Hope Center in Bronzeville and is a member of CODE.
“We’re seeing if we can file a state or federal lawsuit because this is voter suppression and taxation without representation,” Wilson said, adding that the group is currently fundraising for that possibility.
Separately, CODE has also been actively lobbying the State Legislature to push forward a bill to convert Chicago’s board into an elected body. The bill was introduced in the House in 2013 but has not advanced much since.
“This particular policy need to be changed in Springfield,” Wilson acknowledges. “What these referendums do is show more citywide support for an elected school board, which is definitely helpful in bringing the issue to move in our Legislature.”
GOLDEN — The Jefferson County Board of Education tonight amended established policies to reconfigure an existing curriculum review system and place it under the board’s purview.
Whether the reshaped committees, which make up the review process, will take up the issue of an advanced history course is to be determined.
The final makeup of the process — along with its assigned tasks — is a departure from the original draft that set off a firestorm in Jeffco, the state’s second largest school district, over the course of the past month.
Created by merging existing policies, the new review process will be made up of curriculum specialists, parents, students, teachers, and board-appointed community members.
Final touches still need to be worked out. It’s also unclear whether the committee — or committees — will be formed at the board’s leisure or only after a direct challenge to particular curriculum is made.
The board’s majority — made up of Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams — called it a compromise. But board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper cried foul.
“What’s the rush?” Dahlkemper asked in one of the many sharp exchanges she had with board chair Witt. She asked Newkirk and Williams to table their proposals and allow the board to take the issue up again.
But Witt refused to entertain a delay.
“It’s my position that all of the objectives are met in [the new proposal],” Witt said, highlighting the new committee will consist of a more varied collection of constituents.
The board came close many times during their debate to a rare full compromise, thanks in part to Superintendent Dan McMinimiee. The board majority’s final resolution is largely based on McMinimee’s recommendation. At times, it appeared Fellman, normally in the minority, was close to approving changes to existing policies, as long as the committees remained in the purview of the superintendent and his team, not the board.PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Board member Lesley Dahlkemper, center, answered questions Thursday night before the Jeffco board meeting.
“It’s important to think about our role — our role is to direct the superintendent,” she said. “We need to allow him to do his job.”
Witt said he wanted the committee to report to the board to ensure transparency.
McMinimee, who appeared perturbed at times during the debate, said a district committee could be open to the public.
Witt wasn’t convinced.
Originally proposed by board member Williams, the curriculum review committee would have sought to ensure an advanced U.S. history course promoted patriotism and condemned civil disorder.
Williams, echoing the concerns of fellow conservatives, believes the new Advanced Placement U.S. history framework, a guide for teachers across the nation, emphasizes the worst of the nation’s history and skips over characters like Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Architects of the framework, teachers, and other reports discredited Williams claims. Local television news station KDVR, for example, found references to all of the historical figures Williams believes are left out in each of the approved textbooks for the course.
But Williams’ request — coupled with ongoing conflicts between a vocal group of teachers and parent, and the board — ignited a dozen days of acrimony in the suburban county. Teachers called in sick or took personal days en masse, prompting the district to cancel classes at four high schools. And thousands of students, mostly high schoolers, left their classrooms to protest at busy intersections. They waived signs decrying censorship.
Organizations like the ACLU and the National Coalition Against Censorship issued statements condemning the proposal. And the College Board, the organization behind the framework and aligned test, which students may take for college credit, threatened to strip Jeffco of its ability to offer the class under the College Board banner.
Separately, the College Board released an update to its framework Wednesday. It reiterated local teachers and school districts, not the College Board, chooses what materials to use in class and, among other points, “the AP scoring rubrics award points based on the accurate use of historical evidence, not on whether a student takes one specific position on an issue.”
Back in Golden, community protests, which caught the national media’s eye, resurged today outside the district’s headquarters. Hundreds of students, parents, and teachers rallied for more than an hour before the board met.
“We want the curriculum review committee voted down,” Chatfield High School student Ashlyn Maher told a crowd of about 250 people before the meeting started. “We shouldn’t even be talking about this, because there are already two committees in place to take on any concerns about curriculum. Why the board majority believes they need their own select, special committee smacks of hidden agendas.”
A smaller crowd supportive of the proposed review committee gathered as well.
“I feel bad because the kids feel we’re against them,” said Regina Hilton, a Jefferson County mother. “And we’re not.”
As expected, the meeting was one of the most well-attended and politically charged in recent years. Several speakers who opposed the committee suggested the board majority resign. And when some speakers went over their time, audience members who opposed the speaker’s views chanted “time,” or “thank you” until they stopped speaking.
Hundreds of students, parents, teachers, and community members filed in and out of the board room to address the board. Their speeches — for or against the committee — were captured by cameras from both local and national media outlets.
Students, more polished and informed since their walkouts, reiterated their opposition to the review committee.
“It may not matter to you if we lose our AP designation, but it does to us,” said Eric Temple, an Evergreen High School student.
Turing to board member Williams, he said, “thank you for the lesson in civil disobedience.”
Others turned in an online petition signed by 40,000 Internet users urging the board to spike the proposal.
Others explained to the board the value of the advanced history class and urged them to kill the proposed committee.
“Learning about America’s past mistakes will not result in students bashing on their county, but rather to take a nuanced view on the world today,” said Jessica Yan, a Standley Lake student. “The students of Jeffco are standing up for themselves, and for their friends, family, teachers and most importantly, their education. So are you with us?”
The majority of adult speakers also opposed the committee.
“In only the last ten days I have received hundreds of emails and phone calls from parents who are angry and fearful about this committee,” said Michele Patterson, president of the Jeffco PTA organization. “I guarantee you, these parents, who stand firmly behind our students, are not anyone’s ignorant pawns. If the voices of our teachers, if the cries of our students, mean nothing to you, 13,000 angry parents should get your attention. Or will you find a way to denigrate us as well?”
Another, Mary Parker, said the opposition to the proposed committee crossed generational and politically ideological lines.
“It’s time the board majority disenthrall itself with the idea that it’s only the teachers union that disagrees with its actions,” she said.PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia School board member Julie Williams, left, answered questions Thursday night at the Jeffco school board meeting.
Speakers who appeared to support the curriculum review also addressed other hot button education issues, including the Common Core State Standards.
Donna Jack, who spoke in favor of the committee, said the board can’t rely on its districts’ committees alone.
“The board already has plenty of committees and experts at their fingertips,” Jack said. “[But] The point of the committee is to have citizens who are able to do the homework. The board certainly doesn’t have time to do the job.”
Another speaker supportive of the curriculum review committee rattled off a list of other community committees that reports to board. He highlighted one such committee that was established in a few years ago to help cut the budget.
“[But] we have no community advisory input one of the two most important elements to education,” said Ed Sutton. “[A committee] will greatly improve the effectiveness of the board.”
Jefferson County parent Kevin Thistle told the board he supported the board majority and was thankful he didn’t have their job.
Lakewood High School student Anna Tiberi, after the meeting, said she was disappointed in the outcome.
“I am purely confused at how these people on the board can even pretend that they are working toward our best interests,” she said. “I’m glad that i will be gone so that I can fight them without any negative repercussions on me or those I respect.”