July
2nd 2015
New Arrupe Jesuit Profile Highlights the Power of Educational Freedom

Posted under Private Schools & School Choice & Tax Credits & Urban Schools

It’s almost time for July 4th! We’re only hours away from barbeques, fireworks, and copious amounts of flag waving. Before we get to that stuff, though, let’s take a few minutes to talk about a different kind freedom: The kind that empowers kids without means to access the high-quality educational options they need to build better futures.

Although states around the country have been busy adopting school choice programs, Colorado has been stubbornly slow to expand options for its students. This frustrating fact is highlighted by the recent Douglas County voucher decision. While the Dougco decision has teed up an incredibly important fight over discriminatory Blaine Amendments around the country, that fight will take time. And time is something that many low-income or at-risk kids do not have on their side.

Recognizing this fact, some private schools are finding ways give low-income kids the freedom to chart their own courses even in the absence of educational choice policy. My Independence Institute policy friend Ross Izard recently published a profile of Arrupe Jesuit High School, a private Catholic high school in Denver that uses an innovative model to serve exclusively low-income kids, the overwhelming majority of whom are ethnic minorities. Continue Reading »

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July
1st 2015
Denver Post Editors Hit Back-to-Back Homers for Students, Parents

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Journalism & Public Charter Schools & School Board & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Teachers

My dad told me about these crinkly pieces of paper with print on them that people used to get, something they would read to find out what’s going on in the world. I guess they’re called “newspapers”? Apparently, some websites actually have newspapers, or so I’m told.

The last few days, the editors of one of these publications, the Denver Post, have got me thinking maybe I should take a look. Because I’m definitely taking heart. First, there was the ruling in the Douglas County choice scholarship case. You already may have seen my reaction to that.

How crazy is it then that yours truly almost could have written the Post editorial that came out shortly thereafter, titled “A regrettable ruling on Dougco’s school voucher program”: Continue Reading »

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June
29th 2015
Dougco Decision Brings Good News and Bad

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & School Board & School Choice

By now, my faithful readers should be familiar with Douglas County School District’s embattled first-of-its-kind local voucher program, the Choice Scholarship Program (CSP). I was super excited about an amicus brief written by my friends at the Friedman Foundation and the Independence Institute way back in August of last year, and could barely contain myself during oral arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court last December. It’s been a very, very long wait since then. That wait is now over, though the news is both good and bad.

The bad news is that while the court did decide that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to bring a taxpayer suit under the School Finance Act, it also ruled that the CSP is unconstitutional under Article IX, Section 7 of the Colorado Constitution. That section, frequently called a Blaine Amendment, ostensibly prohibits the state from providing direct aid to religious institutions, including religious private schools.

However, other high court rulings have found that vouchers are designed to provide aid to students, not to the religious institutions themselves. I’ll spare you the legal citations (you know how I feel about legalese) and let my big policy friends do the detailed analysis. Cato’s Jason Bedrick and the Friedman Foundation’s Brittany Corona have already started down that road, and my Independence Institute friends will do the same tomorrow.

For now, the quick and dirty is this: Both U.S. and Colorado legal precedent shows that parental choice breaks the link between government and religious institutions. If a parent chooses to send his or her child to a religious school, that’s just fine. As long as parents aren’t compelled to send their kids to religious schools, any benefit to those schools is indirect and incidental.

Apparently not concerned about this issue, a plurality (notably different than a majority) of Colorado’s justices applied a very broad “plain language” interpretation of this amendment in the full Dougco decision. This argument states, in effect, that no state money can ever be used to support and sustain a religious institution, even if that support is indirect or incidental. Continue Reading »

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June
26th 2015
Jeffco School Board Recall Underway: What’s Really Going On?

Posted under Education Politics & Public Charter Schools & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Union

It’s Friday afternoon in the summertime. I should be kicking back and enjoying the great outdoors, maybe playing in the pool or racing my remote-controlled cars.

But no. Teachers union leaders hide behind a group of parents to file a recall petition against the three conservative Jeffco school board members:

One of the stated reasons for the recall is the board majority’s consideration of reviewing the new Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum, which prompted waves of student protests in the suburban Denver district last year. But the group also accuses the members of meeting in secret and wasting taxpayer money, including paying the superintendent they hired $280,000.

So really… that’s it? Hire a superintendent for slightly more than his predecessor, at a rate comparable to or less than other large Colorado school district superintendents? Not increase transparency enough? Or maybe it really is based on the clever rewrite of history to concern people about non-existent censorship?

Sigh. Wonder what the #MeanGirlz think about all this? Maybe they grew tired of bullying the same old staff members. Continue Reading »

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June
24th 2015
Big Bucks or Big Misconception? Report Sheds Light on Philanthropy in Charter Sector

Posted under Public Charter Schools & School Board & School Finance

Last Friday, we celebrated votes in two of my favorite districts, Jeffco and Thompson, to provide more equitable funding to charter school students. In that post, I briefly mentioned that there were some inaccurate anti-equitability arguments floating around before the board votes. We’re going to tackle one of those misconceptions today: The argument that charters do not need more funding because they pull in untold sums of money from philanthropic sources.

First, though, a disclaimer: We will not be playing the irritating fill-in-the-blank game that often crops up in charter funding discussions. You know the one. It involves a statement that goes something like this: “Charters receive all their money from [INSERT SCARY ORGANIZATION OR INDIVIUDAL NAME]!”

Anti-charter folks really love to go down this road from time to time, and they do occasionally come up with some pretty entertaining conspiracy theories. Even so, we’re going to stick with the numbers. I’ve never much cared for black helicopters, anyway. They’d be much cooler with green polka dots.

Fortunately, we have plenty of numbers to stick with thanks to a brand spanking new report from the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform. Continue Reading »

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June
19th 2015
Thompson and Jeffco Stand up for Fair Charter Funding

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & School Choice & School Finance

Last Friday, pressing Colorado education news forced us to do a less-than-happy Friday post. This week, pressing Colorado education news is forcing us to do a fantastically happy blog post. I guess my dad was right. It really does all even out in the end.

Today’s big news is that two of our favorite districts, Jefferson County and Thompson, passed budgets this week that reflect more equitable funding for charter school students. The move toward funding equalization was driven by reform majorities on both district school boards. From Sherrie Peif’s latest Complete Colorado story:

Jefferson County Public School District and the Thompson School District both agreed to shift some of the districts’ money to the charter schools, and in the case of Thompson, dipped into district reserves to provide additional funding for charter students …

… In Thompson, $450,000 was set aside for the district’s two charter schools, New Vision and Loveland Classical. The increase works out to about $400 per student. Of the additional money, $191,000 will go to New Vision and $260,000 to Loveland Classical …

… In JeffCo, an additional $2.5 million was set aside to fund the district’s 16 charter schools. The new money is in addition to $5.6 million that was budgeted in 2014-15 after the board learned it would take about $7.4 million to fully equalize mill levy override funding for the district’s charters.

Continue Reading »

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June
18th 2015
Performance-Based Learning, Strategic Compensation Keep My Eyes on Mesa 51

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & learning & Online Schools & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Testing & Union

When it comes to K-12 education, I tell you a lot about what’s going on in the Denver area and along the Front Range. That’s where most people in our state live. But Colorado is a big place, and it’s good for me to keep expanding my horizons.

One of those places is called the Western Slope. The largest school district out there is Mesa Valley 51. A lot of times it’s just hard for little me to get a good look at what’s taking place on the other side of the mountains.

I appreciate the big step ladder provided by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, which includes an Emily Shockley article yesterday that points to big things happening in Mesa 51, namely a forward-thinking system of competency-based (or “performance-based”) learning. It will launch in seven schools this fall: Continue Reading »

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June
16th 2015
Great Minds Assemble to Promote ESA Success for Nevada Students

Posted under Innovation and Reform & learning & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice & State Legislature

A couple weeks ago I giddily danced to the national news of this year’s growing momentum behind educational choice. Foremost among recent developments is Nevada’s breakthrough adoption of a nearly universal ESA program in Nevada.

This snippet from Leslie Hiner’s new column in The Hill puts the new Education Savings Account in perspective:

During the 2014-15 school, more than 377,000 pupils utilized vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and ESAs. With recent action in the states, that number will grow exponentially. In Nevada alone, over 453,000 students will be eligible to use an ESA in 2016.

Continue Reading »

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June
15th 2015
Fact Checking the Fact Checkers: Counting Local Teachers Unions in Colorado

Posted under Education Politics & Teachers & Union

We’ve spent an awful lot of time recently debunking (or at least very critically reviewing) stuff. We beat up a bologna study on school choice, poked holes in a school finance study that made some weird assumptions, poked some more holes in even more school finance reports,  and took a very close look at the claim that reform is causing an “exodus” of Colorado teachers. Today, we continue the trend by examining the facts about the number of local teachers unions in Colorado.

As most of you know, there’s a big fight going on in Thompson School District, where four conservative members of the district’s school board have twice shot down junky tentative agreements brought back from the negotiating table. This has led local (and, I suspect, non-local) union backers to take to the area’s biggest newspaper with a variety of vituperative letters to the editor.

Recently, a number of these letters have focused on refuting several board members’ claims that most Colorado school districts do not have recognized teachers unions. One letter in particular stands out by calling the statement a “bald-faced lie.” This letter also asserts that CEA itself states that it has 200 local associations, which is true enough. However, it goes on to argue that this automatically means every one of Colorado’s 178 (the letter incorrectly says 179) school districts must have a recognized teachers union.

Not quite. Continue Reading »

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June
12th 2015
State Board Resignation Raises Eyebrows

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & State Board of Education

I wanted to do a fun Friday story today. I really did. But duty calls, and we need to talk about something important in Colorado education: The resignation of Chairwoman Marcia Neal from the Colorado State Board of Education.

Many of you are already familiar with Marcia, but here’s a quick bio for those of you who may not be fully plugged into the Colorado education scene. The short version is that she taught for 21 years and served on the Mesa County School Board for eight more years before heading to SBOE, where she’s been for the past six years.

Marcia’s departure comes on the heels of some pretty weird (and weirder) occurrences on the State Board, particularly in areas related to testing. It also coincides pretty obviously with the departure of Education Commissioner Robert Hammond and, according to the Denver Post, four other executive-level employees at the Colorado Department of Education. Colorado education veteran Elliott Asp will serve as an interim commissioner until a permanent replacement for Hammond is hired. Continue Reading »

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