Statehouse roundup

House committee endorses “pay for success” bill

The House Finance Committee Tuesday voted 13-0 to advance a bill that would allow the state to craft “pay for success” plans.

House Bill 15-1317 would enable the state to launch such pay for success programs through which private investors or philanthropists would fund social services programs. Funders would be repaid if those programs produced savings in other government services but would have to absorb their costs if programs didn’t produce results.

A oft-cited example of such programs is private funding for quality early-childhood education. The hoped-for savings would come in remedial and special education costs after those children enter school.

“We need to be careful with taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver and one of the bipartisan measure’s prime sponsors. “It shifts the risk from the taxpayers to those individual investors.”

Testimony at the hearing featured endorsements from witnesses representing groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Gary Community Investments, Colorado Concern, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Colorado Fiscal Institute.

A similar measure died in the closing days of the 2014 legislative session, but sponsors feel they have a better chance this year. See this article for more background on the bill.

Senate strips main element from truancy bill

Sen. Chris Holbert’s imaginative plan to end jailing of truant students who defy court orders to stay in school ran aground on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.

As introduced by the Parker Republican and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, Senate Bill 15-184 would have shifted truancy cases from district courts to the Office of Administrative Courts, whose judges don’t have the power to jail people.

2015-Education-Bill-Tracker-plain

Administrative judges typically handle licensing, workers’ comp and teacher firing cases, among other matters. (Get more background on the original bill here.)

School districts now can take truant students to court, and a student can be sent to juvenile detention for contempt if he or she refuses to return to school.

Holbert and Fields want to end such jailing.

“This bill is a step right now to say that zero kids will go to jail because of truancy,” Holbert said on the floor Tuesday.

The idea of using administrative judges first ran into polite opposition at a mid-March hearing of the Senate Education Committee. Justice Brian Boatright of the Colorado Supreme Court and other judges testified about innovative steps already being taken by many courts to deal with truancy.

Some committee members wanted to replace Holbert’s idea with an amendment basically calling on the courts to review truancy policies and continue working on new methods to deal with the problem.

Holbert was able to hold off changes in the education panel and in another committee. But on Tuesday a big coalition of Republicans and Democrats passed a floor amendment to keep truancy cases in the regular courts.

The sponsor wasn’t fazed. Holbert noted that he’d earlier promised, “If I didn’t have the votes I would stand by the will of the body.”

He said he hopes the amended bill goes to the governor’s desk but vowed, “If that number [of jailed students] doesn’t go down to zero I’ll be back with Senate Bill 16-something. Ending the practice of sending kids to jail for truancy is the right cause.”

Sponsor scrambles to save Indian mascots bill

Final floor votes on bills are usually routine, given that members have expended all their rhetoric during preliminary consideration and that sponsors presumably have lined up their votes.

Lamar High School Savages logo
Lamar High School Savages logo

But things didn’t go according to the script on Tuesday when the House prepared to vote on House Bill 15-1165, the Indian mascots bill. (Learn more about the bill and Monday’s preliminary debate here.)

During Monday’s debate bill opponents criticized the bill’s proposed heavy fines for schools that refuse to change offensive Indian mascot names.

On Tuesday prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, offered an olive branch on that issue, saying, “I’m happy to talk with our Senate sponsor about pulling back on that fine.”

But Salazar faced a new problem after Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, came to the microphone to say he couldn’t support the bill and that decisions to change mascot names should be made locally. Vigil’s district includes the La Veta Redskins and the Sanford Indians.

With Vigil a no and a second Democrat excused, Salazar didn’t have the 33 Democratic votes he needed to pass the bill, so a final vote was delayed until Wednesday.

Bill to improve awareness about child sexual assault advances

The Senate Monday gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 15-020, which would require the state’s School Safety Resource Center to provide materials and training for schools on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and assault. It also encourages districts and schools to adopt abuse and assault prevention plans.

Sen. Linda Newell has shepherded the bill through three Senate committees since late January. The Littleton Democrat is an advocate on mental health and abuse issues and argues the bill is needed to give school staff greater awareness of child sexual abuse and enable them to better help victims.

The bill is a Colorado version of what’s called Erin’s Law, named after an Illinois woman who has made it her mission to get states to pass such laws.

new money

House budget draft sends more money to schools, but not specifically to teacher raises

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

Despite months of heated debate, Indiana House Republicans are not setting aside extra dollars for meaningful teacher raises in their version of the state’s $14.5 billion education budget plan released Monday night.

Even though lawmakers are proposing preserving a controversial merit-based bonus pool and adding small amounts for teacher training programs, their budget draft would largely leave it up to school districts to dole out raises through increased overall funding.

The budget draft proposes increasing what Indiana spends on schools overall by $461 million — or 4.3 percent — through 2021, a little more than increases in years past. The basic per-student funding that all districts get would jump from $5,352 per student this year to $5,442 per student in 2020 and $5,549 per student in 2021. House lawmakers are also adding in a one-time payment of $150 million from state reserves that would pay down a pension liability for schools. But while lawmakers and Gov. Eric Holcomb have said that pension payment would free up about $70 million in schools’ budgets each year, the state likely wouldn’t require the cost-savings be passed along to teachers.

Although increasing teacher pay is a top goal for House Republicans, lawmakers have crafted bills that hinge on districts spending less money in areas such as administration or transportation rather than adding more money to school budgets and earmarking it for teacher salaries.

Their criticism of school spending has raised the ire of superintendents and educators who say they have little left to cut after years of increasing costs and state revenue that has barely kept pace with inflation.

But budget draft, which is expected to be presented to and voted on by the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, doesn’t completely omit efforts to incentivize teachers to stick around. Unlike Holcomb’s budget proposal, House lawmakers are keeping in the current appropriation of $30 million per year for teacher bonuses.

The House budget draft would also set aside $1 million per year for a teacher residency pilot program and $5 million per year for schools that put in place career ladder programs that allow teachers to gain skills and opportunities without leaving the classroom.

Teacher advocacy groups, such as the Indiana State Teachers Association and Teach Plus, have been supportive of residency and career ladder programs, but the organizations have also called for more action this year to get dollars to teachers. Additionally, the ideas aren’t new — similar programs have been proposed in years past.

Calls for the hundreds of millions of dollars it would take to raise teacher salaries to be more in line with surrounding states will likely go unheeded for now as the state instead prioritizes other high-profile and expensive agencies, such as the Department of Child Services and Medicaid.

But while plans for major teacher pay raises appear to be on hold, House lawmakers are looking to boost funding in other areas of education to support some of the state’s most vulnerable students.

The budget draft would increase what the state must spend on preschool programs for students with disabilities from the current $2,750 per-student to $2,875 in 2020 and $3,000 in 2021 — the first such increase in more than 25 years.

House lawmakers are also proposing the state spend more money on students learning English as a new language, at $325 per student up from $300 per student now. While all schools with English learners would receive more money per student under this plan, the new budget draft removes a provision that had previously allocated extra dollars to schools with higher concentrations of English learners.

A 2017 calculation error and an uptick in interested schools meant state lawmakers did not budget enough money for schools with larger shares of English-learners in the last budget cycle, so they ended up getting far less than what the state had promised. But even the small increases were valuable, educators told Chalkbeat.

House lawmakers also suggested slashing funding for virtual programs run by traditional public school districts. Going forward, funding for both virtual charter schools and virtual schools within school districts would come in at 90 percent of what traditional schools receive from the state — now, only virtual charter schools are at the 90 percent level. It’s a marked change for House lawmakers, who in years past have asked that virtual charter school funding be increased to 100 percent.

The virtual funding proposal comes as lawmakers are considering bills that would add regulations for the troubled schools, where few students pass state exams or graduate.

The budget draft also includes:

  • $5 million per year added to school safety grants, totaling $19 million in 2020 and $24 million in 2021
  • Doubling grants for high-performing charter schools from $500 per student to $1,000 per student, at a cost of about $32 million over two years. The money is a way for charter schools to make up for not receiving local property tax dollars like district schools, lawmakers say.
  • $4 million per year more to expand the state’s private school voucher program to increase funding for certain families above the poverty line. Under the plan, a family of four making between $46,000 and $58,000 annually could receive a voucher for 70 percent of what public schools would have received in state funding for the student. Currently, those families receive a 50 percent voucher.
  • About $33 million over two years (up from about $25 million) for the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship program.

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.