College completion bills move ahead

Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed a bill intended to make it easier for adult students to return to and finish college, and a measure designed to boost the number of associate’s degrees is nearing final legislative approval.

Colorado college campus montage
From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.
Also Friday, a bill to modernize state regulation of for-profit colleges and universities was introduced in the legislature. The measure, which is being pushed by the Department of Higher Education, had been expected.

Signed by the governor was House Bill 12-1072, which requires state colleges and universities to adopt policies for awarding academic credit to students for “prior learning,” such as professional experience of military training. Such policies have to be in place by the 2013-14 school year.

There already are a variety of tests available to assess students’ life experience, and some colleges give such credit to students. But backers of the bill feel students need broader and more consistent access to such credits.

The House Friday gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 12-045, which is intended to make it easier for students who don’t have associate’s degrees but actually have sufficient credits to get degrees. The bill is aimed at students who transfer from community to four-year colleges without associate’s degrees and who then leave school without earning their bachelor’s. The bill would allow combination of credits from both colleges to qualify for an associate’s degree.

The measure directs the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and state colleges to develop a system for doing so.

Improving college completion rates is a policy priority of the Hickenlooper administration, but the 2012 bills on the issue deal with small parts of the problem.

Regulation bill designed for changing times

Senate Bill 12-164 is intended partly to respond to the rapid growth in degree-granting institutions operated by for-profit companies.

Under current law, such institutions fall into something of a gray area between other four-year colleges and schools that offer vocational certificates or associate degrees.

Under the new system proposed in the bill, any institution – state, private or for-profit – that has a majority of its students enrolled in bachelor’s degree or graduate programs would be regulated by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

Schools where more than half of the students are seeking vocational certificates and associate degrees would remain under the supervision of the Division of Private Occupational Schools and the Private Occupational School Board, which are separate parts of the Department of Higher Education.

As under existing law, the primary requirement for state authorization of an institution is whether it is accredited by a regional accrediting agency.

The bill also proposes some financial and consumer protection provisions to help students, such as requiring new institutions to demonstrate financial fitness or, in some cases, to post bonds that could be used to repay students if an institution closes. (Long-established institutions would be exempted from the new financial requirements.) The bill also bans various deceptive marketing practices.

The bill is the product of extensive discussions between state higher education officials and college operators. Administrative costs would be covered by fees on institutions.

Another PERA bill dies

The House Appropriations Committee Friday killed House Bill 12-1142, which would have allowed all future members of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association to choose between the system’s defined benefit and defined contribution plans. Currently only members of the PERA State Division can choose the defined contribution. Sponsor Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, asked the panel to kill the bill, saying its price tag of nearly $600 million over 30 years meant the bill wasn’t viable.

Of seven Republican-sponsored PERA bills introduced this year only two remain alive. House Bill 12-1150, which would change the way retirement benefits are calculated for new employees, has passed the House but faces slim chances in the Democratic controlled Senate. House Bill 12-1179, which would reduce employee and retiree membership on the PERA board, is sitting in a House committee.

Coming attractions

Three bills of interest to education cleared the House and Senate appropriations committees Friday, clearing the way for floor action. They include:

Senate Bill 12-068, which would ban use of trans fats in foods served at schools. The initial version of the bill drew complaints of “unfunded mandate,” but the bill was amended in the Senate Agriculture Committee to exclude districts with fewer than 1,000 students, and the bill wouldn’t apply to foods sold for fundraisers or supplied for social events. The bill passed Senate Appropriations 5-4 Friday and goes to the Senate floor.

House Bill 12-1240 is a mostly routine cleanup of laws relating to the Department of Education, although it would delay implementation of state high school graduation guidelines and specialized diplomas. The bill gained some controversial amendments in the House Education Committee that were later stripped by House Finance (see story). On Friday House Appropriations passed the bill 13-0 with no further tinkering.

House Bill 12-1261 would extend a program that provides stipends on top of salary to all nationally board certified teachers and additional stipends for those who teach at low-performing schools. However the stipends are subject to annual legislative funding and haven’t been provided in recent years. Appropriations passed the bill to the House floor on a 9-4 vote.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”