State Senator Owen Hill, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, appeared on KNUS last Saturday to discuss upcoming legislation which will impact school funding and licensure for Colorado teachers.
Earlier in same “Weekend Wakeup” show, hosts Chuck Bonniwell and Julie Hayden featured another guest, Stacy Rader, from the Colorado League of Charter Schools. Both Rader and Sen. Hill advocated in favor of legislation that would mandate equal sharing of all tax revenues between public schools and charter schools, which receive public funding but are independently operated.
Sen. Hill and Rader also oppose possible legislation that would mandate that teachers in publicly funded schools be licensed by the state.
While Senator Hill maintained that there is bipartisan support for the equal funding proposal, the interviews with him and Rader revealed that lawmakers may not be in agreement that these two categories of schools operate under the same rules and laws governing their accountability and transparency, and that funding is discriminately unfair to charters.
Despite the differences in management, accountability, and oversight, Owen Hill and Vader work hard to frame both categories of schools as “public”. They appear to want to blur the lines of distinction between them for funding purposes, but insist on distinguishing them for purposes of teacher accountability.
It gets confusing when charter advocates demand local and independent control for charters, but reject state-wide mandates for accountability and oversight of teachers. Yet, at the same time, they reject the current laws which allow local districts to fund their schools according to the needs and demands of their communities.
COLORADO STATE SENATOR AND CHAIRMAN OF THE STATE SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE, OWEN HILL: Absolutely. We’ve got a bipartisan opportunity here. We have two kind of main categories of our public schools in Colorado. We have the traditional neighborhood schools, and then we have public charter schools. So when you hear about people going to charter school, these are all public schools as well. But sadly, there are many districts in Colorado that don’t share the tax dollars — the property tax dollars or the bonding money — they don’t share that money equally with these public charter schools. […] So, when you pay your taxes to the state, you know, every April, those are all shared equally. But when you write that check for your property taxes — usually it will come out of your mortgage — that property tax money, that is not shared equally. And many districts are saying they are going to fund public charters at about 75 to 80% of the other traditional charter — [correcting himself] or traditional public schools. And so we need to honor our constitution and say, “Every single one of the public school students will be treated equally and fairly.” That’s what our bill will do this year. […] We give our local school boards the opportunity to determine how that funding is shared. And sadly, many of these local school boards have this — uh, they kind of treat the public charters like a, uh, inferior—
BONNIWELL: Red-headed, left-handed stepchild. Yeah.
HILL: There you go, that’s exactly right.
Following the discussion on equal funding for charter schools, host Chuck Bonniwell questioned Hill about a possible teacher licensing mandate, which seemed to dismiss pedagogical study and training, while conflating advanced degrees in different subject areas with a person’s ability and expertise to understand and implement proven, effective, developmentally appropriate practices in the classroom.
BONNIWELL: Well, and — let me go to this point. Stacy was worried about another provision coming the other way which would require teachers be licensed, and how it would exclude an incredible group of people who could be tremendous teachers, who do not want to go back and have to learn high school biology when they have their PhDs, like you do.
HILL: You know, it’s a great example. So I taught in the University of Colorado system. I’ve taught political science there. I’ve taught, basically, Intro to Statistics. But right now, I am not allowed — I’ve got a PhD, but I am not allowed to teach in some of these traditional neighborhood schools. And so, one of the — some of the real innovation we get in these public charters is, maybe if someone is in the technology sector and wants a change of pace and wants to go and help teach math, or in the science sector wants to go and teach science, or my wife, who just loves literature — is able to bring it alive to a new generation, all of us are excluded from teaching in the traditional neighborhood schools. So, if we wanted to be serious about providing opportunities for students and parents and teachers, we would take away this onerous barrier to entry called “Teacher Licensing” in many of our neighborhood schools as well, and trust our local principals, trust out local leadership, to say, “Hey, hire the right people. And if you don’t have the right people, get rid of them and make sure the right people are in there.
BONNIWELL: How likely would it be to get out of your committee — if assigned to your committee — of a thing that would require charter schools to hire only licensed teachers?
HILL: Um, you know, not speaking for my other members —
HILL: —but this is an issue we’ve discussed a lot, and all of us are adamantly opposed to the stifling effects that has on good education.
Later in the interview, host Bonniwell seemed to challenge Hill’s support of federal reform efforts. Specifically, Bonniwell believes that U.S. Senator Cory Gardner’s work with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) — which Hill supports — in implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act.
ESSA is generally viewed as a move from federal mandates on education reform toward more customized, community based approaches to implementing national standards of student achievement and school accountability.
Bonniwell characterizes ESSA as a continuation of a well-intentioned but mistaken directive (No Child Left Behind), which serves to placate special interests, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
HILL: I think Cory [Gardner] has done a good job in some areas, and I support him on that front, as a —. When you talk about national education reform, Senator Gardner I think has done a fantastic job working with Senator Lamar Alexander. This is one of the first times in the last, you know, several decades that Washington has voluntarily given up some of their power, through the new ESSA — Every Student Succeeds Act. Not since welfare reform have we had Washington DC say, “You know what? We are not doing the best job of this. We are going to give more opportunity to states.” And that’s exactly what they have done in education. So, kudos to them on that front. I’ll tell you, it’s going to make our child’s futures — create much more opportunity for our children’s futures.
BONNIWELL: Well, hopefully they’re going to do a lot more of that, and get rid of what is basically the successor to No Child Left Behind, which, —once again, best intentions pave the road to hell. And, you know, I’m glad you’re working well with Senator Gardner. Our last Liberty Scorecard, I saw he got a D+, which for a Republican is not a great score. So hopefully he’ll find other areas of common grounds that the conservatives and the freedom lovers in the state can enjoy, not just simply the US Chamber of Commerce. But I digress.