Archive for the 'Legal Issues' Category

May
23rd 2017
HB 1375: What Is It, and What Does It Mean for Charters?

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Legal Issues & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & School Finance & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Union

Last week, we talked about the sausage-making process behind House Billl 17-1375, which was originally Senate Bill 17-061, but on two separate occasions was part of Senate Bill 17-296.  Got it?

Tortured though its legislative journey was, HB 1375′s passage has been heralded by many who worked on it as a huge victory for public charter schools. The Colorado League of Charter Schools, which spearheaded the effort, has been celebrating the bill’s passage as it heads to the governor’s desk, as has much of the rest of Colorado’s education reform lobby. Even the Denver Post gave the bill it’s nod of approval just before final passage.

Certainly, some high-fiving and celebration is in order. Many people and organizations, including the Independence Institute, worked in support of Senate Bill 061′s original incarnation. Those folks, and the handful of Senate Democrats brave enough to vote for the bill in its near-original form, deserve a lot of praise for their efforts. But after all the backroom deals and last-minute compromises, I think it’s important to take a close look at what, exactly, we passed. Let’s do that today. Below is a rundown of the major changes to the final bill and what they might mean in practice for charters.

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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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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
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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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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August
2nd 2016
Ding Dong! NCLB Waivers Are Dead

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & Legal Issues & Tenure

I’ve talked a fair amount over the last couple of years about the “weaponized waivers” employed by the Obama administration under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the previous iteration of which was called No Child Left Behind. The newest iteration of the act, now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed back in December of last year. As of yesterday, ESSA officially ushered NCLB waivers down the path of the dinosaurs. That’s great news for those of us who think that the federal government has little business dictating education policy to states. 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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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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