Archive for the 'Douglas County' Category

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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June
23rd 2016
Investigating Dougco’s Independent Investigation

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board

Let’s begin today’s post with a little bit of vocabulary. Merriam-Webster defines the word “independent” as:

a (1) :  not subject to control by others :  self-governing (2) :  not affiliated with a larger controlling unit <an independent bookstore>

b (1) :  not requiring or relying on something else :  not contingent <an independent conclusion> (2) :  not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct (3) :  not bound by or committed to a political party

c (1) :  not requiring or relying on others (as for care or livelihood) <independent of her parents> (2) :  being enough to free one from the necessity of working for a living <a person of independent means>

Some of our friends in Douglas County, however, have chosen to use a more novel definition of the term when discussing the recent results of an independent investigation into bullying allegations against Dougco school board members Meghann Silverthorn and Judith Reynolds: That anyone who finds against their accusations cannot be independent. We’re going to spend some time dissecting that claim today. Continue Reading »

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June
21st 2016
Independent Investigation Clears Dougco Conservatives… And Raises Important Questions

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & Local Reform

Remember that student protest at Ponderosa High School in Douglas County back in March? I wrote then:

The cynical side of me believes that this is but the first step in the march toward a full-blown assault on Dougco’s (now one-seat) conservative majority in 2017.

As is usually (and depressingly) the case, my cynicism was well founded. The protest spawned a fabricated “bullying” fiasco that became the first major political play in what I believe is a wider game to purge conservative thought and policy from Douglas County School District. Now, however, it’s become clear that this particular political maneuver didn’t pan out as the establishment-minded board members Anne-Marie Lemieux, David Ray, and Wendy Vogel had hoped. Continue Reading »

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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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May
27th 2016
Another Friday, Another Goodbye, and a Big Opportunity

Posted under Douglas County & School Board

I hate goodbyes, especially when I have to issue them back to back to people who I think have done good work. Late last week, we talked a little about Commissioner Rich Crandall’s abrupt decision to resign from his position after only a few months on the job. Now we’re saying goodbye to Douglas County’s stalwart superintendent, Dr. Liz Fagen.

Dr. Fagen has been with Douglas County for six years. That’s a pretty good run if you consider that the typical tenure of a superintendent is only about three years—and that’s in districts far less venomous and politically charged than Douglas County. While there is research out there finding that superintendents are not the biggest influences on district performance (see the study linked in the prior sentence), no one can argue with the fact that Dr. Fagen has overseen some dramatic and successful changes in Douglas County. Continue Reading »

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