Archive for the 'Douglas County' Category

November
14th 2017
Union Wins Bragging Rights

Posted under Betsy DeVos & Blaine Amendments & Campaigns & charter schools & Donald Trump & dougco & Douglas County & douglas county school district & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Public Charter Schools & Union & Vouchers

The Douglas County School Board election results were disappointing: The union backed, anti-reform slate of candidates won with the help of a last minute, 300,000-dollar push by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Douglas County’s unique district funded school-voucher program will likely, but not certainly, end. Pam Benigno, the director of the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, elaborated on the results of the election in The Denver Post, stating that:

“No doubt they [the union backed slate] will end the [Choice Scholarship] program and no longer defend it through the court system. No doubt the union’s prize for winning the election will be a collective bargaining agreement and national bragging rights that they killed the nation’s first local school board voucher program.”

While strong union involvement was an important factor in the election, the union backed candidates were also able to capitalize on the current political environment. The Trump/DeVos hysteria, when paired with the recent criticism of charter schools by groups such as the ACLU and NAACP, has created political turmoil that has masked the success of school choice programs across the county. These forces have created uncertainty about the legitimacy of charter schools, and reintroduced the stale “elitist” argument into the school choice debate.

The claims of these groups are notoriously ungrounded lashes at school choice. The ACLU’s “unequal access” claim, in which it stated that hundreds of charter schools in California were practicing discriminatory admissions policies, proved to be over-exaggerated fluff. Dozens of schools were promptly removed from the list, which was ultimately deleted after receiving criticism for its imprecise research. AFT has made its own outlandish claims in preceding years, calling school choice programs “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.”

I’m not sure why grown-ups expect to always be right, and will defend their positions past objectivity into the realm of name calling and dishonesty. How does that benefit anyone?

However, that’s the discourse that school choice critics have adopted. They want parents and students to believe that somehow choice is an attempt at bigotry and elitism. And what better way to tie that tone to school choice supporters than affiliating them with Trump and Devos?

The teachers union clearly wanted to fabricate an election in which anyone who was not on their side was identified as pro-Trump/DeVos. During the Denver School Board race, the teachers union sent mailers which attempted to link pro-reformers with Trump an DeVos, and in Douglas County funded the creation of a website which depicted the pro-reformers as swamp monsters, playing on Trump’s “drain the swamp” statements.

I think, being a five year old, that I would have done the same had I managed one of the anti-reformers campaigns. Drawing mean pictures of your enemies is the highest form of rhetoric; simply draw devil horns on the teachers you don’t like in your yearbook and watch your classmates rally to your inspiring statement.

As everyone knows, agreeing with our president or secretary of education is wrong, and school choice is inherently elitist–despite the results of prominent studies which prove the contrary.

Right or wrong, the union’s mailers and DeVos propaganda proved effective. The Denver School Board, which was previously composed of all reformers, will now face dissonance with the addition of two anti-reform, union backed members.

The Aurora School District has also elected an anti-reform slate, though it has recently experienced the positive effects of school choice. Just this year–after warmly ameliorating its charter school applications process, inviting new charter schools to join the district, and turning over one of its low-performing schools to charter school management–the Aurora school district was removed from the state’s watch list.

Discrimination is obviously neither the goal or the result of school choice–it’s simply a fictitious crutch for its combatants to lean on. Although the results of the election were unfavorable, there are still many incredible events across the nation that are spurring the positive momentum of the school choice movement.

 

 

 

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October
26th 2017
AFT “so far” pumps $600,000 into School Board Race

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Campaigns & castle rock & Colorado Supreme Court & Douglas County & douglas county school district & Public Charter Schools & Union & Vouchers

Remember the Douglas County School Board race? The Toxic-Trio, tire scraps, Blaine Amendments, and what not? Of course you do. The Doug Co race has been one of Colorado’s most eminent issues for months. Well, mail-in ballots have arrived in homes, and with just minutes to go in the bottom of the ninth, the nation’s second largest teacher’s union has made a desperate attempt to sway the outcome of the election in its favor.

The Douglas County School Board race has garnered much national attention–and rightly so. It will not only determine the fate of private school choice in Douglas County, but could determine the constitutionality of Blaine clauses in Colorado. It’s a pivotal moment in education, which is why the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is adamantly attempting to manipulate the election to fit its political agenda.

Ross Izard, senior policy analyst at the Independence Institute and my favorite policy nerd, details the recent uncovering of an additional 300,000-dollar donation AFT made to the Douglas County race (after its initial 300,000-contribution) in his op-ed A national teachers’ union’s war machine is on the move in Colorado, which was published in The Hill.

In total, AFT has donated 600,000 dollars to the anti-choice, self-proclaimed “grassroot” Community Slate in an effort to decimate school choice in Douglas County and blacken the name of any candidate who dares advocate it. Ross’s op-ed expounds how “the [school board] race has been irrevocably altered in its final weeks” by these contributions.

After losing its collective bargaining agreement in Douglas County in 2012, the Colorado chapter of AFT needs to reinstitute itself in Douglas County to be relevant in Colorado. Electing a union friendly school board would help AFT avoid losses in membership, and capitalize on millions from a union contract.

I’m not sure why AFT so inflexibly opposes parents and students having choices in education, but I am sure of one thing; a donation of this size this late in the game means the union is unsure of or frightened by the political landscape it faces. The pro-school choice candidates, also known as Elevate Douglas County, have undoubtedly threatened AFT’s anti-choice agenda.

 

 

 

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October
17th 2017
AFT Jumps in Douglas County School Board Race with a BIG Splash

Posted under Blaine Amendments & dougco & Douglas County & douglas county school district & Educational Choice & School Board & School Choice & Vouchers

I just came home from school and read an article about the Douglas County School Board race. The article is titled Douglas County ‘Dream Team’  candidates get dream support via $300,000 from National Teachers Union” by Sherrie Peif from Complete Colorado. My mom and dad say this race is the most watched school board race in the country. The AFT, a teachers union, and other school choice opponents have put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race because they oppose school choice. I don’t understand why anyone would want to stop children from attending a school that they want to attend. But I don’t always understand grown-ups.

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August
25th 2017
Summer break was exciting for school choice!

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Colorado Supreme Court & Constitution & Courts & dougco & Douglas County & douglas county school district & Educational Choice & School Board & School Choice & United States Supreme Court

It has been a long summer break, but I’m back watching over education in Colorado!  And, oh my, what a summer it has been for school choice!

On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 7-2 in favor of tire scraps.

Huh?  Tire scraps?

That’s right, tire scraps.

A private, church-affiliated preschool in Missouri applied for the provisioning of tire scraps for playground resurfacing under a state grant program, but was turned down because of their church affiliation under the Missouri State Constitution’s Blaine clauses.  The school challenged the decision in court.  The case, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, made it all the way to our country’s high court, which decided that First Amendment freedom of religion rights supersede the discriminatory Blaine clauses of Missouri’s State Constitution.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision means that just because the preschool was affiliated with a church, that should not prevent them from being eligible for the State’s tire scrap grant program.

Okay, why should Colorado care about tire scraps in Missouri?

In light of this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to rule on another Blaine-related case—the case regarding Douglas County School District’s Choice Scholarship Program (CSP).

Let’s back up for a moment.  In 2011, a Denver District Court judge placed an injunction on the CSP.  The decision was overturned by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2013.  That decision was petitioned to the Colorado Supreme Court, which struck down the CSP 4-3, with three of the four justices in the majority citing Blaine clauses.  The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Moving back to this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision on the CSP, ordering the Court to reconsider the case given the Trinity Lutheran ruling.  The case was then sent back down to the District Court.  Why exactly?  It’s hard to say.  Could this be a political maneuver to test the will and ability of the plaintiffs to see the case through?  Perhaps we’ll never know.

And that’s where things stand now.  School choice advocates are anxiously awaiting the ultimate ruling on the CSP which may take several months…

…which brings us to yet another obstacle: school board elections are just over two months away, and the current majority on the Douglas County School Board that supports the ongoing case is in danger of being voted-out in November.  In fact, if they lose just one seat out of the four that are up for election, the Board may flip.

The importance of the Douglas County School District’s ongoing commitment to the pursuit of the CSP case cannot be understated.  I will be keeping a close watch on the upcoming election, knowing that it is perhaps the most important election related to school choice in our country’s recent history.

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April
19th 2017
Trinity Lutheran Gets Its Day in Court

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Colorado Supreme Court & Courts & Douglas County & Educational Choice & Legal Issues & SCOTUS

This week is a big week in the world of education law. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up its first case related to state constitutional Blaine clauses. We talked about these ugly little pieces of constitutional language in some detail last week when I highlighted the Independence Institute’s new paper, Blaine’s Shadow: Politics, Discrimination, and School Choice. Check out that paper if you need some historical background on Blaine clauses and what they mean for education today.

Before you ask, the court isn’t considering the Dougco voucher case tomorrow. We’re still waiting to find out whether SCOTUS will hear that one. Instead, the high court will hear oral arguments in Trinity Lutheran v. Pauley, which deals with a Blaine-related case out of Missouri. We’ve talked about that case in passing over the year or so since I wrote about it in detail, but a refresher is probably in order. From my previous post:

Here’s the skinny: Missouri runs a program under which organizations can apply to the state for grants. That’s not unusual. But here’s the trick: these “grants” do not come in the form of money. They come in the form of scrap rubber. That rubber is used by organizations to replace hard playground surfaces with soft, bouncy pads—a significant improvement over the concrete my dad used to play on. If you’ve met my dad, you know what kind of impact (heh) repeatedly hitting one’s head against concrete playground surfaces can have.

Trinity Lutheran Church runs a preschool in Missouri. That preschool has a playground, and that playground is surfaced with gravel. Gravel is admittedly better to fall on than concrete, but it’s still not great. It is, after all, made of rocks. With this safety concern in mind, the church’s preschool applied to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for scrap rubber that it could use to resurface the playground.

The department’s response? “No can do. You’re religious.” It then fervently pointed to the state’s Blaine Amendment and walked away.

The problem here is a nuanced one. The Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant Program is supposed to operate on the basis of neutrality. But Trinity Lutheran asserts that the department actively discriminated against its preschool simply because it is a religious organization, thereby violating its First Amendment rights.

Trinity Lutheran provides an opportunity for SCOTUS to consider whether this kind of application of state constitutional Blaine clauses violates the government’s First Amendment responsibility to maintain neutrality with respect to different religions. Continue Reading »

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April
12th 2017
History! Blaine’s Shadow Tells an Important Story

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Colorado Supreme Court & Constitution & Courts & Douglas County & Educational Choice & Legal Issues & Vouchers

James G. Blaine. You’ve heard that name before, right? Of course you have. I’ve written about Congressman Blaine a number of times, usually in the context of Douglas County’s ongoing legal battle against so-called “Blaine Amendments” through its first-of-its-kind local voucher program. Or maybe I should say programs (plural), as the district’s other voucher program made things pretty complicated for a while before a debatable court decision and a new decision by the board put an end to most of the legal craziness.

But while we’ve talked a fair amount about Blaine and the state constitutional clauses named after him, I’m not sure we’ve ever really known the full story. There’s a lot of important history and drama and politics buried behind the simple narrative that most folks just don’t know.  Ross Izard, my favorite policy nerd, set out to tell that story—and to explain why it matters from a constitutional perspective—in his most recent issue paper, Blaine’s Shadow: Politics, Discrimination, and School Choice Continue Reading »

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November
22nd 2016
A Field Trip to Aspen View Academy

Posted under Douglas County & Educational Choice & Field Trip & Public Charter Schools

It’s almost Thanksgiving! Everyone is slowly starting to unwind from the last few weeks of frantic activity. Most are preparing to stuff themselves silly with turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and many, many other delicious treats. But Thanksgiving isn’t just a time to test how much food the human stomach can hold. It’s also a time to reflect on the things you’re thankful for.

Of course, all the usual suspects are on my list—friends, family, plenty of food, light-up shoes, Juicy Fruit gum, etc. But as an education guy, I’m also incredibly thankful for all the talented educators who wake up every day and go to work for the next generation of Colorado citizens. With that in mind, and because we haven’t been on a school field trip for a while, I thought today might be a good day to spotlight the work some of these educators are doing at Aspen View Academy in Castle Rock.

I went to Aspen View a couple of weeks ago to chat with the charter school’s principal, Jason Edwards, about the school and its work in Douglas County. It was an awesome trip! Continue Reading »

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October
19th 2016
Dougco’s Toxic Trio Talks the Talk, Once Again Fails to Walk the Walk

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board

Last month, I wrote about how the Douglas County School District Board of Education’s anti-reform Toxic Trio—Anne-Marie Lemieux, Wendy Vogel, and David Ray—abrogated their duties as elected officials by refusing to accept board majority member Doug Benevento’s resignation from the board. In so doing, they signaled their willingness to leave tens of thousands of Dougco residents without representation on the school board and ensure deadlock on most important issues.

Benevento’s resignation was accepted a short time later, but only after Benevento himself felt awkwardly obligated to come back to accept his own resignation—an unprecedented scenario to the best of my knowledge. Since then, the district has embarked on a process designed to fill the vacancy in accordance with board policy and the law.  Meanwhile, the Toxic Trio has continued to incessantly lecture their school board colleagues about the importance of “following policy and the law.” They have continued sermonize at every opportunity about the criticality of transparency and openness with “the community.”

I happen to agree with both points. Policy and the law must be followed, and transparency is critically important. But all this proselytizing begs an important question: Why don’t they put their money where their collective mouths are? Continue Reading »

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September
7th 2016
Dougco’s Toxic Trio Shirks Responsibility, Shafts Citizens

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board

I know I’m a little snarky from time to time, but I generally feel like I’m a pretty even-keeled kid. It takes a fair amount to get me mad. But if there’s one thing that is absolutely, positively guaranteed to send me off the rails, it’s when grown-ups entrusted with the levers of power choose to operate those levers to benefit themselves and harm students, parents, and taxpayers.

That is exactly what I saw happen last night when I tuned in for my favorite biweekly Tuesday entertainment: the Douglas County School District Board of Education meeting. As some of you may know, Doug Benevento, a member of the four-person conservative majority on the board, resigned his seat on August 17. He submitted a brief but official “letter” of resignation to Dougco BOE President Meghann Silverthorn, who subsequently informed the other board members of the news. In case all of that wasn’t clear or public enough, Benevento also ran an op-ed explaining his decision in the Denver Post, the largest newspaper in the state.

In addition to that, major news outlets across Colorado covered the resignation, including:

7News

9News

Chalkbeat Colorado

CBS Denver

The Denver Post

That’s only a partial list, but you get the picture. It was no secret to anyone paying attention—and really even to those who had no idea of who Doug Benevento is—that Benevento had stepped down from the board on August 17. You can imagine my surprise, then, when board minority members Anne-Marie Lemieux, David  Ray, and Wendy Vogel—the three of whom collectively form the “Toxic Trio” in Douglas County—blocked a straightforward resolution designed to start the process of filling the seat. Continue Reading »

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August
11th 2016
New Dougco Ruling Stretches Logic, Hampers Choice

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Colorado Supreme Court & Courts & Douglas County & Educational Choice & Legal Issues & Vouchers

Yesterday, we celebrated the continuing success of public school choice by taking a look at some very encouraging findings in Colorado’s public charter school sector. I mentioned in the post that despite the rapid expansion of charter schools, demand is far outstripping supply when it comes to school choice—there are thousands of students on charter waiting lists and in lottery pools across the state.

Yet even as I type this, between 10,000 and 15,000 seats sit empty in Colorado private schools. Each of those seats represents the opportunity to change a student’s life, but that doesn’t stop choice opponents from fighting tooth and nail to shut down any attempt to open the door to those opportunities.

Sadly, these opponents scored another win against choice in Douglas County last week when 2nd Judicial District Court Chief Judge Michael Martinez—the very same judge who blocked the original Dougco voucher program in 2011—ruled that the district’s new local voucher program, which excludes faith-based schools, is still bound by the Colorado Supreme Court’s sweeping 2015 ruling under Colorado’s Blaine Amendment. Continue Reading »

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