Monday, February 9, 2015

I Visit the Senate Education Committee Meeting and Learn A Lot.

Senate Education Committee meeting, 2/9

First day of hearing bills and deciding whether they will be amended, have the title struck, be passed onto the full Senate, or die ignominiously.

Talk about another steep learning curve. I sat down, watched, listened, and learned. After the meeting, I introduced myself to Chairman Ford and asked a couple of questions. Told him I would attend as many as I could, for all my friends who are busy teaching today. I told him I’d be writing a letter in opposition as soon as I saw he had scheduled Senator Brecheen’s ideological attack on AP US History. He did not seem surprised.

I had an agenda, but the committee jumped around, dealing with education bills written by nonmembers of the Committee. Senator Loveless preened about his deep concern about administrative costs and his deep commitment to slashing waste. More on that later. His bill, SB18 passed.

Senator Holt’s bill, SB68, which gives communities the power to sponsor charter schools passed along party lines. He spoke glowingly about competition and choice, and all the families who were moving into communities who would need charter schools. He described this bill as a tool in their toolbox. He didn’t seem forthcoming about the actual stated need, and the research that shows such need exists. Holt spoke of the success of John Rex School, and KIPP schools, and Harding.   I loved Senator Sharp’s questions: “Why aren’t we helping failing schools? Why aren’t we putting our money into the existing schools?” Good questions…and he voted for the bill anyway.  He spoke of the slippery slope, and asked who would control the schools? Jolley warned of mayoral and city council control. I immediately thought of Mayor Bloomberg and Emmanuel. He was concerned about DeBlasio. Funny how our minds work—same issue, different conclusions.  So, the Republicans didn’t much like it but passed it out of committee anyway.

Loveless’s (see above) next bill was SB171, Rural Charters. The title was struck right away, so I THINK that means we could see it again, even though it did not pass. Senator Sparks (my Senator) asked point-blank, how this bill can reconcile with Loveless’s commitment to fewer schools and fewer districts. How can we expand and consolidate at the same time? Mr. Loveless tried to answer a question that wasn’t asked, to avoid answering this one. Sparks asked again…Someone (Brecheen??) made a great point: are we just adding charters to grow our kingdom? Or is there a need? Sharp returned to his theme of properly funding education, and how this bill would complicate that…more teachers would be needed, more funding. The bill did not pass…and Loveless never did see the irony of the cross-purposes of his two bills. On one hand, administration is bad and must be curbed. On the other hand, if it’s a charter, somehow administration is good. Mercy.

His SB301 is a mass of hyperbole in the shape of research. And anyone who dares to questions its purpose is labeled as a child hater. The bill will  provide an investigator in OSDE who will, I believe, have the power to strip educators of their teaching license if there is an accusation of moral or sexual wrongdoing…He called this a ‘growing problem’ without citing any research. He expects us to accept this on faith. The committee asked him to withdraw the bill to revise and rework. He refused. They did strike the title. They grilled him, peppering him with questions, he quite frankly, could not answer. Finally, Amy Ford, member of the School Board, got up and tried to rescue him. It was apparent she is the power behind this bill. She spoke eloquently about children victimized by evil teachers and bus drivers, and implied if you were against her bill, you sided with the evil-doers. I remember a FB conversation I had with them, asking about due process, and the possibility of inaccurate accusations. I was dismissed as an abuser-lover who obviously wants to protect criminals at the cost of our precious children. Jolley found a way to explain that lawsuits from wrongly-accused educators would flood the OSDE…he asked the bill to be laid over…He said it is not ready for prime time. He begged for time to craft a bill that would stand, but Loveless was adamant. Garrison said he would vote to pass it out of committee, but if said if it came to the floor in this condition, it would go down. Loveless gave his personal word that it would be a good bill. Ford…Amy Ford…finally sat down. It was comical to watch her answer the questions that Loveless, the ‘author’ couldn’t answer. This discussion was sausage-making at its worst. Not a one of the Senators liked the bill and thought it was a great idea…and yet…I cannot help but wonder why Board Member Ford did not work with a member of the Education Committee to write this particular bill. It would seem to me to give more credibility to a bill.

This bill took up a lot of the time, and so the other bills voted on were handled with the dispatch of a committee who knew how to get work done quickly.

The bill that generated the most discussion after Loveless's performance was SB303 by Shaw…Erin’s Law. Its companion House bill is being carried by Rep. Denney, HB1684. It’s about sexual abuse and assault awareness. I have not read this one, but Brecheen has, and he went ape…especially when Senator Shaw made mention of parents’ opting out of information as a red flag. Brecheen talked about evangelical concerns in secular education. I see trouble ahead for this. They struck the title of this also.

 Brecheen’s SB29 was one I didn’t know about, and it sounded like a small detail. Will study to see…somehow, Senator Brecheen’s support of it makes me nervous.

SB50 by Smalley is about Ag Ed, and easily passed out of committee.

Halligan’s SB177 is about modifying income caps for OHLAP-eligibility. Its title was also struck on its way out of committee.

His SB179, adding days to the school calendar had its title struck too. Brecheen voted no, but it was passed out of committee also.

Chairman Ford stepped down to speak to SB285, directing alignment of early childhood standards…he was quick to point out there were no aligned assessments connected to these standards. Another one to read carefully.

Paddack’s SB262 will have no fiscal impact, since workplace safety training would only be encouraged, not required. She was quick to point out it would not mandate any particular curriculum or time for the training.

Jolley’s SB504, allowing OHLAP funds to go to ‘certain’ online universities, including out-of-state universities, passed 11-1 (Sparks voting no). Somehow after the discussion of Loveless’s bills, we lost a committee member… SB505 by Stanislawski, dealing with virtual schools and revolving funds passed 11-1 (Sparks voted no).

SB763 by Bass passed…and frankly I don’t remember a thing about it. I think I was trying to juggle papers and phone…sorry. Your not-so-intrepid reporter failed.

They got all this done, and cleared the room for its 11:30 meeting. I was impressed by the speed with which they could ask questions, call the question, debate, and vote.  That might have explained the frustration I think I saw at Sen. Loveless’s bills. They really slowed down the morning, partly because he couldn’t answer questions put before him, and partly because he refused to take the committee’s suggestion about laying it over. There is more going on here than I’m aware. I’ll continue to watch.

Whew! That all happened in 2 hours, after my furious drive through rush-hour traffic.  I stayed for the House Appropriations and Budget Committee meeting, but chose to miss the House Common Education meeting, set for later today. Schedules are not set for amateur observers on their own time.

We need to watch the Legislative website and the  calendars of these committees, and check the agendas. There we’ll see the bills to be discussed in upcoming meetings. That will give us a few days to contact our Legislators and share our support or concerns.

Stay alert.

Stay informed.

Be ready to be loud if necessary.

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