Archive for the 'Courts' Category

June
10th 2016
Dougco’s Voucher Lawsuit Muddle Explained

Posted under Colorado Supreme Court & Constitution & Courts & Douglas County & Legal Issues & School Choice & United States Supreme Court

I got a lot of questions yesterday about yet another ruling on the Douglas County voucher program. Was this good news? Was it bad news? Which lawsuit was this anyway? What the heck is going on in Douglas County?

It occurred to me after about the 50th question that stuff has gotten pretty complicated when it comes to vouchers in Dougco. We’re going to dedicate today’s post to clearing up the confusion. After all, there’s nothing worse than being perplexed over the weekend.

Let’s start from the beginning. Most everyone probably remembers that the original Dougco voucher program was shot down by the Colorado Supreme Court almost a year ago thanks to our state’s icky Blaine Amendment. That decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the whole process was complicated by the tragic (in so, so many ways) death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the fact that SCOTUS had already taken a Blaine-related case out of Missouri.

The case remains in limbo somewhere in the echoing hallways of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to decide whether it will hear the case at all. It will likely remain undecided for some time. But Douglas County didn’t want to wait to get a voucher program up and running, so it approved a new version that excludes faith-based schools in March 2016.

For those of you keeping score, this means that there are now two Dougco voucher programs out there. Continue Reading »

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June
9th 2016
Independence Institute Stands Up (Again) for Tenure Reform

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Colorado Supreme Court & Courts & Denver & Legal Issues & State Legislature

I have double good news for my fellow policy nerds on this fine Thursday morning. First, the Colorado State Board of Education voted yesterday to continue disaggregating student subgroup data for accountability purposes. I had some rather strong thoughts on the issue, so this decision makes me smile.

The conversation will continue, and, if Chairman Durham’s comment in the official CDE press release is any indication, may even lead to some thoughtful new approaches. In the meantime, I’m pleased to know that we won’t be sweeping challenging populations of students under the rug or compromising taxpayer accountability to satisfy the edu-blob.

Maybe even more exciting, though, is the fact that the Independence Institute has fired its next salvo in the war to protect teacher tenure reform in Colorado. Continue Reading »

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April
20th 2016
Vergara Overturned (For Now), But the Conversation Continues

Posted under Accountability & Courts & Teachers & Tenure & Union

Two weeks ago, I expressed my ambivalence toward the courts (again) while talking about a creative workaround for a Washington Supreme Court decision declaring charter schools unconstitutional. I then mistakenly allowed myself to believe we would be free of legal discussions for a while. No such luck. And this time, stuff’s complicated.

Last week, a California Court of Appeals panel overturned the now-famous Vergara v. California ruling. For those who don’t remember, this ruling struck down California’s teacher tenure statute along with other seniority-based policies like the state’s last-in-first-out (LIFO) dismissal policy, which paid no heed to effectiveness. Why? Because the court determined that those policies disproportionately harm low-income and minority students, thereby violating the California Constitution’s requirement that the state provide a “meaningful, basically equal educational opportunity” to all students.

A raft of evidence presented by the plaintiffs—a groups of students—and their attorneys showed that seniority-based personnel policies, and especially policies like tenure that make it nearly impossible to let ineffective teachers go, are bad ideas. Continue Reading »

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April
8th 2016
The Washington Charter Phoenix Rises

Posted under Constitution & Courts & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & Union

I have a love-hate relationship with the courts—a fact well known to my readers. From Douglas County vouchers to tire scraps in Missouri to Thompson union battles (even though logic eventually prevailed in that case) to decisions on teacher tenure and forced tribute payment by non-union members, I often find myself befuddled by the apparent lack of ability (desire?) on the part of some courts to do stuff that makes sense.

But even among all that silliness, one decision really stands out as the most surprising in the last couple of years: a decision by the Washington Supreme Court to declare the state’s charter school law unconstitutional. Huh?

I wrote last September about the unpleasant surprise that was the Washington Supreme Court’s charter school ruling. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a court striking down something as firmly rooted as charter schools.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are more than 6,700 public charter schools in America. Those schools serve 2.9 million kids across more than 40 states.  In Colorado alone, charters serve 108,000 kids—about 12 percent of all public school kids in the state—in 226 schools. Charter laws have been around for more than 25 years. Until Washington, the laws had withstood legal challenges in every state where they’d been brought, including Colorado.

Charter schools are not some new-fangled experiment or radical idea. They are an inerasable part of the American public school system. Well, except in Washington, where a panel of unelected judges decided that an obscure ruling from 1909 provided enough of a legal platform to outlaw them entirely. Or at least they thought that would be the result. Continue Reading »

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March
31st 2016
Expected but Disappointing: SCOTUS Splits on Important Union Tribute Case

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Teachers & Union

Good afternoon, fellow policy nerds. I’m a little strapped for time today thanks to some exciting stuff going on at the Capitol. The drama surrounding the School Finance Act continues, and I’m going to be watching the second half of SB 148’s Senate Education Committee hearing. If you’ll recall, I’m sort of a fan of that bill. So is my policy friend Ross Izard, who took to the Denver Post to make the case for the bill. (Funny how often Ross’s and my viewpoints line up, isn’t it?)

Anyway, we don’t have much time to chat this afternoon, so today’s post will be a short one. That’s probably for the best; nobody likes to dwell on bad news.

Back in February, I wrote about what Justice Scalia’s tragic death might mean for some important education-related cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. I (and every other education wonk in the country) predicted then that the 4-4 split between conservative and liberal justices could spell serious trouble for the very important Freidrichs case, which deals with forced payment of “agency shop fees” by teachers. I wrote:

The most immediate ramifications of the tie vote rule work in favor of unions, and particularly the teachers unions. Tough questions asked from the bench during oral arguments in the Friedrichs case led many to believe that a decision against agency shop fees was all but inevitable. Such a decision would have been a significant victory for teachers and other workers forced to pay tribute to deeply political (i.e., Democratic) unions with which they disagree, and would have put a big dent in teachers union budgets in many states across the nation (though unfortunately not Colorado). Justice Scalia’s untimely departure has changed all that. A tie now seems unavoidable, which will result in the unions getting to keep their forced tribute payments for now. Ick.

Unfortunately, that prediction turned out to be accurate. Continue Reading »

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March
24th 2016
Colorado Supreme Court Takes on Huge Tenure-Related Case

Posted under Constitution & Courts & Denver & Teachers & Union

We just can’t stop talking about court cases, can we? First, we covered an interesting Blaine Amendment case out of Missouri. Then things took a turn for the sad (and scary) with Justice Antonin Scalia’s untimely death, and we looked at what that loss might mean for important education cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Then Douglas County up and restarted its voucher program, this time without religious schools—a decision that has since caused no small amount of edu-drama.

Today, we’re going to look at another exciting development: The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to grant certiorari to the very important tenure-related Masters case. That’s a really big deal.

I’ve been talking about the Masters case ever since the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and a group of non-probationary teachers started down that lonely road back in 2014. We celebrated when a Denver District Court judge shot down the union’s arguments. We covered the union’s opening arguments in the subsequent appeal. Then I neglected to post on the disappointing appeal outcome as I wallowed in grief and frustration about the ruling.

Why is Masters so important? Let me explain. Continue Reading »

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February
15th 2016
Justice Scalia’s Passing Leaves Me Sad and Worried

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Constitution & Courts & Union

I would normally start a Monday morning post with a cheerful message. Nobody wants doom and gloom on the first day of the week. Unfortunately, today’s post will have to tackle a decidedly sadder and more concerning event: the surprising death over the weekend of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

For those who don’t follow the proceedings or makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court closely, Justice Scalia was an intellectual and legal titan. Appointed to SCOTUS by Ronald Reagan in 1986, he almost single-handedly led a “conservative revolution” on SCOTUS that has left an indelible imprint on the high court’s thinking and reasoning. A staunch believer in constitutional originalism, he supported the idea that the U.S. Constitution ought to be read in light of what it actually says, not interpreted through the warped lens of the political fads of any given administration or era (imagine that).

In many ways, one could argue that it was Scalia who brought the intellectual firepower needed to push constitutional originalism into the mainstream. His ideas, critiques, and arguments will echo for decades to come, and have forever changed the conversation surrounding constitutional law in America. One day 100 years from now, long after I’ve grown up and lived out my life, my great-grandchildren will learn about Antonin Scalia and the inerasable impression he left on the United States—an impression he left while earning the respect and admiration of even those who vehemently disagreed with him.

Simply put, Justice Scalia was a superhero. To conservatives and believers in the constitution as the Founding Fathers wrote it, he is something of a father figure. He will be dearly missed. Rest in peace, Justice Scalia, and thank you for your service and commitment to our nation.

Sadly, there will be little time to grieve Justice Scalia’s death. Continue Reading »

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December
14th 2015
It’s Official, 2015 is the New “Year of Educational Choice”

Posted under Courts & School Choice & Union

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but 2015 is almost over. And boy, what a year it has been. We finally saw a successful reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, waved goodbye as our policy friend Ben DeGrow carried the reform torch to Michigan (where he’ll be needing all the warm torches he can get), and watched as yours truly turned into a slightly snarkier six-year-old.

But we can—and will—do a full rundown of 2015’s adventures later. For now, I want to focus on what the year meant for our nation in terms of educational choice. In short, it meant an awful lot.

Earlier this year, I wondered whether 2011’s “Year of School Choice” might see a repeat in 2015. As it turns out, history did repeat (and even beat) itself; 2011’s educational choice gains were eclipsed by massive leaps forward across the nation in 2015.  Fifteen states adopted 21 new or expanded educational choice programs this year, compared to 13 states in 2011. That, my friends, is a whole lotta choice. Continue Reading »

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November
12th 2015
Federal Court Voids Intrusive Anti-Choice Order, Makes Me Smile

Posted under Courts & Federal Government & Parents & Private Schools & Research & School Choice

In the recent busy season, there hasn’t necessarily been a lot of different things to tell you about. But the coverage has been thick. And after all that — including everything from telling reformers to keep their chins up to unpacking ugly smear columns — little me is eager, practically desperate, to talk about good news and spread a little cheer.

Yesterday I ran across just such a story that made me smile. I first learned of the big judicial win for Louisiana kids from, of all places, the American Federation for Children:

“Today’s decision is a win for children, especially the more than 7,100 children who rely on the Louisiana Scholarship Program to attend a quality school of their parents’ choice,” said Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel to the American Federation for Children. “The U.S. Department of Justice attempted to play politics and was caught red handed and reprimanded by this Court.”

Bingo. What exactly is the backstory? Well, I’m glad you asked. Continue Reading »

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November
11th 2015
Ugly Smear Column Tries, Fails to Shove Conservative Education Reform Aside

Posted under Accountability & Courts & Education Politics & Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & Private Schools & Privatization & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & School Board & School Choice & State Board of Education & Teachers & Union

I hope you all enjoyed a nice, long break from recent depressing edu-happenings over the last few days. I also hope that your disappointment is tempered by hope for the future. As my friend Ross Izard pointed out in a recent op-ed—and as my dad always says—it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.

I never have figured out who that fat lady is, but I’m pretty positive it isn’t Michael Vaughn, a former DPS spokesperson turned communications director for Education Post. Mr. Vaughn recently wrote a post-election Denver Post op-ed about the fact that “real” reform is winning in Colorado. It’s a rather nasty piece in which he celebrates reform victories in Denver while all but dancing on the graves of conservative education reformers around the state.

When I look at what conservative education reform folks have pushed for over the past few years in Jeffco, Thompson, Dougco, and other districts, I see a long list of meaningful reforms. New curricula, new charter schools, pay-for-performance systems, equal funding for charter students, collective bargaining reform—you name it, it’s there. But that doesn’t seem to qualify as true reform for Vaughn, who instead offers this definition of the term:

I know there’s no tried-and-true definition of reform, but there are generally accepted reform stances: school choice/charter schools; Common Core; annual, federally mandated standardized testing; teacher and school accountability. So let’s see how the losing candidates stand on these issues.

He goes on to hammer Dougco for applying for a State Board of Education Waiver from PARCC testing, taking school choice to “an extreme” with its local voucher program, “busting the union,” and “jamming” policies down teachers’ throats. He then implicitly extends most of those critiques to Jeffco, and adds an astonishingly unsophisticated take on the A.P. U.S. History fiasco that fails to acknowledge the fact that despite Julie Williams’ blunt approach to the situation, conservative concerns about the framework were ultimately validated by the College Board itself.

Sadly, those flubs are far from the worst the column has to offer. Continue Reading »

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