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Conservative group Americans for Prosperity launches campaign to promote ‘school choice’ in Colorado

Author: Peter Marcus - June 8, 2017 - Updated: June 12, 2017

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The conservative Americans for Prosperity this week launched a “six-figure school choice ‘It’s Working’” campaign following a politically charged legislative session on the subject.

The effort – which runs through July – includes a promoted video, mail, digital and social advertising, according to the organization. Events and “grassroots advocacy” also will accompany the campaign.

The website for the effort, SchoolChoiceColorado.com, also launched with the announcement.

“Over 70 percent of Coloradans favor school choice,” said newly-hired AFP state director Jesse Mallory, who recently left his position as the chief of staff for Colorado Senate Republicans. “When families have the freedom to choose the best education for their children, then kids have the greatest opportunity for success.”

The issue of school choice and charter schools is likely to be a centerpiece issue in next year’s elections, with both statewide and midterm races already heating up.

In the legislature this year, lawmakers battled over the issue of equal funding for charter schools, with opinions crossing political lines. A last-minute compromise to fund charter schools crossed the finish line after days of back-and-forth negotiations.

Conversations became so complicated in the legislature this year that, at one point, the annual School Finance Act was put in jeopardy, as charter school proponents attempted to amend it to add equal funding for charters. The School Finance Act funds K-12 education in Colorado.

A bipartisan compromise that was reached in a separate bill requires school districts to develop a plan before the 2019-2020 school year to equitably share mill levy revenue in a given district. It also requires transparency in terms of charter school financials.

The idea is to eventually distribute revenue from local property taxes equally to charters on a per-pupil basis. It would address revenue from additional property taxes that are used to pay for operations.

Districts that charters are tied to have been known to withhold from charters the additional tax money, which comes from mill levy overrides.

A separate, more controversial legislative effort to fund charter schools equally failed in the legislature this year.

“All schools receiving taxpayer money need to show they are upholding strong standards of transparency, but this bill only rewarded for-profit charter interests while failing to hold their schools accountable to parents and community stakeholders,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, which represents teachers.

The AFP campaign is expected to highlight the “success of charter schools,” as well as education savings accounts, which allow parents to withdraw their children from public or charter schools and receive a deposit of public funds to cover private education.

But AFP is likely to face blowback from traditional public schools and teachers, many of which opposed efforts to share funding with charter schools until the compromise this year was reached.

The Colorado Education Association called AFP’s campaign the “DeVos-Trump” agenda, pointing to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an advocate of charter schools and voucher programs. They pointed out that AFP is funded by the powerful conservative Koch brothers, suggesting that the organization is trying to “weaken public education.”

“We need more transparency and accountability from charter schools, not less,” Dallman said. “We should be promoting opportunity for our students and teachers instead of pitting them in competition with each other for limited state dollars.”

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus is senior statehouse reporter for Colorado Politics. He covers the legislature and previously covered politics, the governor’s office, the legislature and Congress for The Durango Herald. He joined The Herald in 2014 from The Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the nation’s top state-based political and legislative reporters.


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