Who Is In Charge

House Ed puts CDE on hot seat

Members of the House Education Committee spent a free-wheeling 90 minutes Monday afternoon raising questions about – and criticizing parts of – Department of Education plans for future state tests and for implementing the educator evaluation law.

Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster
Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster
A top CDE official, summoned by the department lobbyist, had to hustle across East Colfax Avenue to the Capitol and take the witness chair to answer committee questions in the middle of the meeting.

The discussion is by no means over and could resume as early as Wednesday.

The unusual session was sparked, at least indirectly, by the SMART Government Act, a new law that allows all legislative committees to make recommendations to the Joint Budget Committee about the budgets of relevant state departments. (So the two education committees can make recommendations about the departments of education and higher education, and other committees make them for other agencies.)

The agenda for Monday afternoon’s House Ed meeting was devoted solely to that SMART Act assignment, prompting a free-form discussion and complaint session of the kind that usually doesn’t happen during a normal committee meeting, when members have bills to consider and parliamentary procedure to follow.

Chair Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, opened by telling his colleagues they were “under no obligation” to make formal recommendations. “We can just punt this back to the JBC and tell them to take care of it.”

Panel members took him at his word – no formal motions were offered – but the chatter made clear what some members think about two key issues – the $25.9 million cost of designing a new state testing system and $7.7 million in proposed spending for implementing the new educator effectiveness and evaluation system.

Part of the discomfort is sparked by the fact that the executive branch is sending mixed signals on those two issues. The State Board of Education and CDE have asked for the $25.9 million, but Gov. John Hickenlooper doesn’t want to spend the money. The governor, in turn, asked for the $7.7 million. But that wasn’t part of CDE’s formal 2012-13 request, although the department supports Hickenlooper.

“Those interested persons should get together,” said Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton and a longtime critic of the state testing system. “I think there needs to be more discussion” within the executive branch.

Other committee members agreed with her, but Massey noted gently that the costs and timing of multi-state tests, the alternative to buying a Colorado-only set of tests, are unknown.

The discussion detoured into a round of test bashing before Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, took aim at the $7.7 million request for implementation of the education evaluation system.

(To add to the confusion, there are various amounts of money in play here. CDE wants about $425,000 in 2012-13 to continue paying current staffers who are working on the program. There’s Hickenlooper’s $7.7 million ask. And the state recently won a $17.9 million federal Race to the Top grant that will be split between CDE and school districts to help implement the evaluation system.)

“The money is really beyond what’s necessary,” said Ramirez, citing his experience as a corporate trainer to stress the project could be done for a lot less money. “I just really think they’re going about it the wrong way.”

“There’s got to be more discussion about the cost of implementing,” chimed in Solano.

“Just because we got the [R2T] money it doesn’t mean we have to spend it all,” Ramirez said.

Jill Hawley, Colorado Department of Education
Jill Hawley, Colorado Department of Education
After about half an hour of this, Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, interjected to say, “I just feel like we need to hear from CDE to defend themselves.”

CDE lobbyist Anne Barkis, cell phone in hand, left the room, and 10 minutes late Jill Hawley, department policy chief, showed up with her arms full of binders and settled in at the witness table.

“At this point we’ll let Miss Hawley be grilled,” said a smiling Massey.

Hawley, composed and smiling herself, launched into a detailed explanation of how the R2T money will be used for creating key elements of the evaluation system that can be used by districts. The $7.7 million will be needed for outreach to and training in school districts, she said.

Ramirez listened intently but didn’t seem convinced. He said the funding was “a lot of top-heavy money in terms of directors, executive directors and office space. … This can be done a lot less expensively,” throwing out an estimate of $700,000.

“It’s complicated,” Hawley offered.

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County and a former superintendent there, said, “The implementation is a huge cultural shift” for schools, “So I’m not surprised it’s going to take time and money.”

The back-and-forth continued with a discussion about whether the legislature was uninformed or misinformed about costs when it passed SB 10-191, but Hawley finally was able to escape after about 45 minutes of grilling.

“Thank you for jumping into the fire,” said Hamner.

Things may warm up again on Wednesday morning, when the House and Senate education committees have a previously scheduled session with CDE leaders to talk about implementation of various recent reform initiatives.

That session will be followed later in the morning when the two committees are scheduled to meet with JBC members to talk about the SMART Act.

Members of Senate Education had their own problems with the SMART Act and testing costs at a meeting late last week (see item).

Although the budget requests from the Hickenlooper administration and CDE have been public since last Nov. 1, and the department has provide extensive briefing papers about its plans, Monday’s meeting made clear that the department has a more to do to bring lawmakers up to speed.

For the record

Speaking of the educator effectiveness law, the House Monday gave 64-1 final approval to House Bill 12-1001, which ratifies the regulations issued by the state board to implement SB 10-191. The bill has generated zero controversy in the legislature. The only no vote was Rep. Ed Casso, D-Adams County.

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.