The dinosaurs of the Douglas County School Board
Author: Jesse Mallory - December 26, 2017 - Updated: December 26, 2017
Innovation in education is happening across the United States, but unfortunately there are those who want to stand in the way of progress and cling to the past here in Colorado.
And no one represents the past these days better than the Douglas County School Board, which recently voted to end a scholarship program that would have provided educational freedom to hundreds of families and enabled them to send their children to a school of their choice. It was a modest proposal that would not have affected anyone happy with their current educational choices. But it never saw the light of day because powerful special-interest groups were determined to protect an antiquated one-size-fits-all approach to education.
This backward thinking is misguided because, as any parent will tell you, no two children are the same. And when it comes to education, what works for one student may not work for another.
And for minorities and many families that aren’t wealthy, increased freedom in education is also about receiving a lifeline to escape a school that fails to provide their children with a quality education.
A recent study by the Colorado Department of Education found considerable gaps in academic proficiency among white, black and Hispanic students. In Denver County alone, the numbers revealed that while fourth-grade white students scored a 60 percent proficiency level in math — meaning they meet or exceed expectations — black students only scored a 16 percent level proficiency level, and Hispanic students scored an 18 percent proficiency.
Outside of Colorado, the situation is just as bleak, with large numbers of students failing to keep pace.
But if there is one silver lining to these discouraging numbers it’s that more and more policy makers, educators and parents are demanding change and new ways to help students do better. This means instead of simply throwing more money at our educational system in the hope it will improve, more Americans are asking for bold and innovative education solutions.
This is what led to Colorado to create charter schools — public schools that operate with greater autonomy and flexibility in exchange for higher accountability standards — in 1993. Over the years, opponents have tried to limit their expansion, but as more and more families learn about these innovative schools, demand has soared — particularly among minority students, who are outperforming their peers in district-run schools on state tests.
Other states, including neighboring Nevada and Utah, are experimenting with education saving accounts (ESAs), which allow students to use a portion of the public funding earmarked for their education to pay for a variety of education-related costs. The money follows the child rather than the child following the money.
A number of recent polls confirm that parents are supportive of this type of freedom, including one that found six out of 10 Colorado voters support education scholarships — much like the type the Douglas County School Board recently voted to end.
Educational choice opponents know this, which is why they are resorting to baseless and misleading attacks to slow down and snuff out even the most modest reform proposals.
They’re succeeding here in Colorado, in part by relying on the Blaine amendment — a controversial state constitutional provision rooted in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry that prohibit public dollars from funding religious schools. And even though the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year overruled the Colorado Supreme Court’s reliance on the Blaine amendment, it proved to be a short-lived win. Eventually, the Choice Scholarship came to an end at the hands of the newly elected Douglas County School Board, which thinks one size can fit all and families should have no choice when it comes to their children’s education.
Make no mistake: The opponents of educational freedom are emboldened. These are special-interest groups that appear to care more about protecting their zip code school turf in order to maintain the power to collect union dues, than they do about kids’ success. They are elated to have ended the Choice Scholarship program in Douglas County and have their eyes set on rolling back choice and innovation in education elsewhere in Colorado.
The Douglas County School Board may have prevailed this time, but polling suggests a public opinion meteor is headed their way. As more and more Colorado families become knowledgeable about the exciting educational options popping up outside the state, it is going to become increasingly difficult defend an educational system that is leaving too many of our children behind.