Help for rural districts

Advanced Placement incentives bill gets in line

The House Education Committee on Wednesday apparently agreed with Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, when he said, “I believe all students should have equal opportunity to pursue Advanced Placement classes.”

The panel voted 12-1 to approve Wilson’s House Bill 14-1118, which would provide rural school districts with financial support to offer AP classes.

But the bill faces a big barrier before even getting to the floor – the House Appropriations Committee. That panel is the gate keeper for new spending bills, which already are piling up and which may not get sorted out until March or April. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for an overview of the challenges facing education spending bills this year.)

“Good luck in appropriations,” Rep. Millie Hamner said brightly to Wilson after the committee vote. Hamner, a Dillon Democrat, is chair of the committee.

The idea is something of a crusade for Wilson, a former rural district superintendent who saw a similar measure defeated last year.

“This bill is back, and it’s better than it was last year,” Wilson said as he launched a rapid-fire recitation of the value of AP classes plus statistics about how rural students lag behind in AP participation.

Wilson proposed, and the committee accepted, an amendment to shave the bill’s cost. The original cost estimate came in at $2 million for aid to small or rural districts. Wilson amendment narrows the eligibility definition to districts that are small and rural, halving the fiscal impact to $1 million.

Key provisions of the bill include:

  • A requirement that participating districts give a college entrance exam to all 10th graders to help determine potential for passing an AP exam.
  • Participating districts to already offer at least one AP class.
  • Designation of a district staff member to support students.
  • Payment to districts of $500 for each student who takes an AP class and $500 for each student who takes the corresponding AP test.
  • Payment to teachers of $50 for each student who takes and AP class and the test.

Native American tuition bill advances

The committee spent most of its time Wednesday – nearly 90 minutes – on another measure, House Bill 14-1124.

The bill would give resident tuition eligibility to Native American students who are enrolled members of tribes “historically” associated with Colorado.

(If you remember your Colorado history, you may think of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. But a legislative staff analysis of the bill reported there are 48 tribes with historic ties to the state, according to the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs and History Colorado.)

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, said the idea has been in the works for sometime but is being introduced this year partly in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, a 1864 tragedy during which state militia killed and mutilated Native Americans in an eastern plains encampment.

A long parade of witnesses testified in support of the measure, saying it would help underserved Native American students attend and complete college. Many of the witnesses were administrators or students from various Native American programs at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Resident tuition rates – significantly cheaper than out-of-state charges – generally apply to students who have lived in Colorado for at least a year.

But there are existing exemptions to that rule, including active and honorably discharge military members, Canadian military members stationed in Colorado, athletes training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and even Russian and Chinese students studying public policy at the University of Colorado Denver.

The bill wouldn’t apply to Fort Lewis College in Durango. Under the terms of a decades-old federal treaty, Native American students already get free tuition there, regardless of their home state. (Colorado taxpayers pick up that tab, and persistent lobbying efforts to get the federal government to chip in have been unsuccessful.)

Legislative fiscal analysts estimate the bill could cost $5.3 million in lost tuition revenue. But Salazar said that estimate is inaccurate and is being revised.

The bill passed 9-4, with a majority of Democrats and Republicans supporting it and four GOP members voting no.

Like the Advanced Placemen bill, this measure now goes to House Appropriations.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.