March
17th 2017
Colorado Democrats Take Brave Stand for Choice

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & School Finance

I updated you last week on SB 061, which would provide fair local funding to public charter school students in Colorado. As expected, the bill sailed through the senate with broad bipartisan support, clearing the floor on a 22-13 vote. Five Democrats joined all but one Republican (Sen. Don Coram from far southeast Colorado) in passing the bill. The five Democrats were:

I have a lot of respect for the Democrats who were willing to take a stand on funding fairness. This may come as a surprise, but my posts don’t always fully capture the scale of the political forces folks feel at the capitol when big bills come through. Legislators often hear from many, many lobbyists on both sides of an issue, and the pressure exerted on them can be enormous.

Nowhere was that pressure more evident than with the debate about SB 061. Both sides lobbied heavily on the bill, but the opposition—CEA, AFT Colorado, AFL-CIO, a number of school districts, and others—were particularly hard on Democrats considering a yes vote. CEA President Kerrie Dallman penned a high-profile op-ed designed to politically damage Democrats by pinning them to their new arch nemesis, President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, multiple lobbying teams no doubt reminded Democrats that there would be severe consequences (remember all that money unions funnel to Dems?) should they break rank and side with students over special interests.

Despite all this intense pressure, these five Democrats bravely voted yes on this important bill. Granted, a couple of them insisted on including an amendment that would let school districts go back and re-ask voters whether they can share mill levy override revenue with charters—a proposal I don’t love for a number of reasons. But even so, these legislators deserve to be commended. I have a lot of respect for every legislator who voted for SB 061, but we can’t deny the fact that it was immeasurably harder for Democrats to support the legislation. Good for them!

It gets better. Two of the five senate Democrats who voted for SB 061 also took to the well (the name for the podium from which legislators deliver speeches on the chamber floor) to talk about why they believe SB 061 is the right thing to do. Their speeches were way more powerful than anything I could write, so I will shut up. Check out the video below:

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March
10th 2017
Good News: Charter Funding Bill Looks Set to Pass Senate

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & Union

The weekend is fast approaching, but it doesn’t look like charter advocates and legislators will be getting much rest. Further debate on Senate Bill 17-061 has been postponed until Monday, giving both sides some additional time to continue working the levers of influence.

For those who haven’t been watching the Colorado Capitol closely this year, SB 061 would address the problem on inequitable local funding for public charter school students by requiring school districts to share mill levy override revenue, or extra voter-approved property taxes for education, with charters. Many of you probably remember that we saw similar legislation last year (in the form of SB 16-188), and that I was strongly supportive of that legislation. Ross Izard, my favorite policy nerd, also supported the bill.

Here’s a quick refresher on the issue at hand:

Public charter schools get the same amount of funding as traditional public schools under Colorado’s school finance formula (minus some chargebacks for district overhead). But money that flows to schools under the School Finance Act is only part of the education funding equation. In 2014-15, the last year for which we have complete revenue data, the School Finance Formula calculated about $5.9 billion for education. But the actual amount of revenue that flowed into the system from all sources was roughly $10.5 billion. That means more than 40 percent of the money that rolled into Colorado education came from outside the formula. That, my friends, is a lot of money.

Buried somewhere in that mountainous stack of cash is money derived from local mill levy overrides, or MLOs. Don’t worry, you don’t have to walk around saying “MLO” like a nerd. You can just say “property tax increase.” Basically, a school district asks folks to pay more in taxes to run certain programs, buy new stuff, or do something else entirely. Roughly two-thirds of Colorado school districts have some type of MLO on the books in 2016-17, all of which combined add up to about $937 million. That’s about $100 million more than the big, scary negative factor. And, in fact, 62 districts have raised enough in extra local tax money (see page 8) to totally pay off their share of the negative factor and then have quite a bit left over. Just sayin’.

Here’s the trick, though: School districts don’t have to share the extra money they get from these property tax increases with charter schools. And while some districts have chosen to share—Boulder Valley, Denver Public Schools, Douglas County, Eagle County, Falcon 49, Jefferson County, Moffat 2, Roaring Fork, 27J (Brighton), St. Vrain, Weld County, and Widefield—many others don’t. As a result, a 2014 study found that charter schools in Colorado receive, on average, about $2,000 less per student than traditional public schools. That works out to about 80 cents on the dollar.

All of these kids are public school kids. But some of them are being dramatically underfunded. Does that seem right to you? Continue Reading »

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March
2nd 2017
Sloppy Citation Makes Me Smile

Posted under Just For Fun & Research

Citations are always exciting. They tell you that someone out there believed your material was credible enough to hang an important statement or idea from. Citations mean you’re serious business, that people care what you think.

Naturally, I don’t get many citations. All 10 of my regular readers tell me I’m brilliant, but the fact remains that I’m simply too snarky and young to be cited by “serious” writers in the world of mainstream media (or at least that’s what I tell myself). Apparently, however, I’ve finally made the big league by earning a citation in the Los Angeles Times. Continue Reading »

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March
1st 2017
Bipartisan Vote Sinks Anti-Accountability Bill… Again

Posted under Accountability & Legislation & Senate Bill 191 & State Legislature & Teachers & Union

I’m back after a brief hiatus, and we’ve got some catching up to do on the legislative front. Specifically, we can celebrate the fact that Sen. Michael Merrifield has learned once again that doing the same thing over and over again may not be the best approach.

I wrote a rather snarky post a few weeks ago about Merrifield’s SB 067, which was functionally identical to last year’s SB 105. Both bills sought to gut tenure reform, performance pay, and merit-based personnel decisions by essentially blowing up strong educator evaluations. In particular, Merrifield was once again attempting to eliminate the requirement that evaluations include multiple measures of student growth. And once again, he failed to do so. Continue Reading »

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February
15th 2017
Say Bye Bye to High School PARCC Exams

Posted under Academic Achievement & Accountability & Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Governor & Testing

It’s been a while since we talked about PARCC. Truthfully, there hasn’t been much to talk about. The test remains enormously unpopular—a fact that breeds high opt-out rates; limits student, educator, and parent buy-in; and fosters instability in our ability to measure schools’ performance and provide good information to parents looking to choose schools for their children. Now, thanks to a new bill at the legislature, PARCC will very likely be leaving Colorado high schools for good.

It’s hard to talk about PARCC-era testing without talking about opt outs. That subject can get complicated quickly. There’s a lot more going on with the formal “opt-out movement” than meets the eye, a lot of which is pretty concerning. But a good deal of the fuel for that particular fire comes from opposition to PARCC. Don’t believe me? Consider this (from a previous post on the issue):

I still believe PARCC—not the idea of standardizing testing itself—is a big part of the problem here. Americans overwhelmingly still support the idea of regular standardized testing, and this level of anti-testing angst didn’t exist back in the TCAP era. Don’t believe me? Check out the CDE graph from the last ESSA Hub Committee meeting below. Further, the heaviest concentration of opt outs is in older grades, with most lower grades meeting or nearly meeting the magical 95 percent participation threshold. One would expect to see a more even distribution of opt outs across grade levels if we were looking at a true cultural shift among parents overall. One might even expect opt outs to be higher among younger children whose parents are worried about “subjecting” them to standardized testing.


Colorado took a big step back from the PARCC hot potato in 2015 by ditching PARCC as the statewide test for high school sophomores and juniors. Instead, students began taking tests aligned with the 11th-grade college entry exam all Colorado juniors take. That test used to be the ACT before Colorado’s awkward switch to the SAT in 2015. Tenth graders now take the PSAT, which is designed to track with and prepare students for the full SAT in their junior year . As of right now, however, 9th graders still take the PARCC exam. A new bill, HB 1181, would change that. Continue Reading »

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February
7th 2017
What Might Gorsuch Mean for Education?

Posted under Congress & Courts & Educational Choice & Federal Government & Legal Issues & United States Supreme Court & Vouchers

President Trump has always been a wild card. It’s been very hard to say what he would or would not do—and in some ways it still is. But one of the central promises of his campaign was that he would nominate a great justice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died tragically almost exactly year ago. To his credit, he has kept that promise by selecting Neil Gorsuch to fill Scalia’s empty seat.

Education is still a bit of a question mark when it comes to the Trump administration. There have been all sorts of rumors and ideas floating around, but none has yet coalesced into a cohesive vision of how the federal government will interact with K-12 education. The crystal ball is further clouded by Betsy DeVos’s sharply contested nomination to head the U.S. Department of Education.

It’s been sad to watch the conversation about DeVos, a lifelong philanthropist who has donated her time and money to increasing opportunities for those who need them, devolve into a shouting match that sidesteps reality and avoids real conversations about what DeVos should or shouldn’t do should she be confirmed. As Rich Lowry wrote for National Review, “We now know that working to give poor kids more educational opportunities is considered a disqualifying offense for the Left.”

Fortunately, even as the battle over DeVos continues to rage following her historically close confirmation, I think we have good reason to be hopeful on a couple of educational fronts thanks to Gorsuch’s nomination. Continue Reading »

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January
31st 2017
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Disregard All Feedback and Do Exactly the Same Thing Again

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Legal Issues & Legislation & Senate Bill 191 & Teachers

Everybody’s heard this famous advice: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I have certainly heard my dad say something like that many times before. State Senator Mike Merrifield (remember him?) and his legislative allies must have also heard the saying somewhere, because they recently introduced Senate Bill 17-067—a practically identical copy of last year’s spectacularly defeated Senate Bill 16-105.

The complete unwillingness to listen to any of the feedback—or learn any of the political lessons—that came out of the SB 105 debacle last year is striking. That old saying about trying again is definitely a good reminder of the importance of persistence, but I’m not sure it should be interpreted as refusing ever to rethink one’s position on bad public policy. After all, the saying is not “If at first you don’t succeed, disregard all feedback and do exactly the same thing again.”

I could write a big blog post about why SB 067 is bad policy that holds the potential to harm students; destroy important collective bargaining reform, teacher tenure reform, performance-based compensation systems, and a variety of other things (which is its intended purpose); and decrease fairness for teachers by refusing to acknowledge and reward excellent teaching. But that would require more time, energy, and thought than was put into this rehash of the same old bad idea.

Instead, I’ll put a commensurate level of effort into this post by simply copy-pasting what I wrote about the bill’s forerunner last year. Continue Reading »

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January
27th 2017
SIG Program: “The Greatest Failure in the History of the U.S. Department of Education”

Posted under Federal Government & Research & School Finance & Turnaround Schools

Almost a year ago, I highlighted a Denver Post analysis detailing the general failure of millions of dollars in federal grant money—given out in the form of School Improvement Grants—to produce the kinds of results we might expect in many underperforming Colorado schools. It now turns out that the overall results of this $7 billion federal turnaround endeavor are worse than we might have thought.

Education policy maven Andy Smarick has been a staunch critic of the SIG program since its inception, and made a compelling case against the program as early as 2010. As he says in the Denver Post story above:

If you funnel a whole lot of money to the same dysfunctional districts that have been running the dysfunctional schools, these are the results you should expect. What’s mystifying to me is that people thought the school improvement grant program was going to get dramatically different results than the dozens of other similar efforts at school turnaround in the past.

It turns out Smarick was right, not only in Denver, but in the nation overall. His latest blog post for Education Next is a scathing indictment of $7 billion spent on the SIG program, which he now brands as potentially the greatest failure in the history of the United States Department of Education. Yikes. Continue Reading »

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January
25th 2017
Big Win for Florida Students Kicks Off National School Choice Week 2017

Posted under Educational Choice & Legal Issues & Tax Credits & Taxpayers & Teachers & Union

It’s National School Choice Week again, my friends. This year’s celebration of educational opportunity is the biggest yet with more than 21,000 events attended by more than six million people across all 50 states. You can help us celebrate the occasion by stopping by the Colorado Capitol on Thursday, January 26, at 11:30 AM. If you live further south, there will also be a rally at the Colorado Springs City Hall at 9 AM on January 24. If neither of those options works for you, you can take a look at this interactive map to find another event in your area.

No matter where you live, you should plan to get to a NCSW rally. There will be lots and lots of fuzzy yellow scarves as usual, and you’ll get to go home feeling pretty fuzzy yourself for having helped promote opportunity for all students.

There’s plenty to celebrate during National School Choice Week 2017, like the fact that educational choice just keeps on expanding all across the United States. There are more than 2.5 million students enrolled in more than 6,500 public charter schools in more than 40 states. Additionally, there are 61 private school choice programs of various types spread across more than half the states in the country. A combined 450,000 students utilize these programs. But yeah, school choice is totally some radical idea only crazy people believe in in.

That’s all great, but folks in Florida have an even more specific reason to party: The state’s enormous,97,000-student scholarship tax credit program has survived an all-out assault by the teachers union. Continue Reading »

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January
19th 2017
Reality Checked at the Door as Anti-DeVos Rhetoric Reaches a Fever Pitch

Posted under Congress & Donald Trump & Education Politics & Education Savings Accounts & Educational Choice & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & Public Charter Schools & Tax Credits & Vouchers

In case you weren’t paying attention, something really big happened in the education world two days ago. Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s pick for secretary of education, had her confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The hearing was actually supposed to happen earlier this month, but it was delayed “to accommodate the Senate schedule.” In other words, politics happened. But Republican leadership stuck to its word about not allowing Democratic complaints over ethics paperwork to prevent the confirmation process from moving forward, and so DeVos’s hearing went ahead.

You can watch the full hearing here if you are so inclined. I’m still waiting for a credible transcript to be released. In the meantime, I’d like to talk a little about the slanted coverage of the hearing I’ve seen.

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a confirmation hearing before, but I have. They tend to amount to a whole lot of rhetorical jousting by senators looking to score points against their rivals’ picks, various attempts to force nominees to make (often absurd) commitments, and a cat-like ability to avoid answering trap questions on the part of the nominees themselves. They usually get partisan—and ugly—fast. There’s a reason these things are known as “murder boards.”

Last night’s hearing mostly fell into the same bucket, though you wouldn’t know that from reading the mainstream media’s hysterical accounts of the hearing, which tended to paint the affair as the craziest thing ever to happen in Congress. In truth, I think they might be the crazy ones for reacting to the hearing kind of like this:

Continue Reading »

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