For DPS to serve Denver’s kids, reform campaign finance
Author: Nicky Yollick - November 13, 2017 - Updated: November 13, 2017
Over the last several years, a massive influx of funding from individuals and groups outside of Colorado has transformed the school board, restricting parents and teachers from having a reasonable say in which direction the Denver Public Schools board goes. Oftentimes, these organizations prioritize advancing a national “reform” ideology over the needs of Denver’s students. All of this has resulted in a deterioration of our public schools in favor of semi-private options which are not financially feasible for the general populace.
As the law currently stands, a wealthy individual can donate unlimited portions of their fortune to any number of school board candidates. All elections from the local to the federal level must, and virtually always do, have limits on individual contributions to allow our elections to fairly serve the Denver community and our Democratic system, or this country will move toward oligarchy and increasingly limited social mobility.
The current situation limits influence in these elections to a select group of people who can afford to pay to play, which is antithetical to democracy. To make matters even worse, many school board candidates rely on independent expenditure committees, which can spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing candidates, and are only required to disclose donors who contribute over $250 (for reference, candidate committees in Colorado must disclose all donors of $20 or more).
Over-reliance on ideology leads to a cookie-cutter approach to policy implementation. Denver is not New York City, Birmingham, Alabama, or Salt Lake City, Utah, each of which has vastly different community needs and interests.
Under DPS’s reform efforts, our traditional public schools have been allowed to deteriorate in favor of charter schools and a “choice” system, which segregate and disproportionately negatively impact communities of color. Given that DPS has one of the highest achievement gaps in the country, and loses almost a quarter of its teachers each year, one could say these reform efforts have not positively impacted Denver’s students. With a 49 percent remediation rate, they’ve lowered the bar to graduate more students. Additionally, to help implement these reform policies, millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on for-profit education management organizations and consultants, siphoning finite resources away from the classroom.
Denver is a city filled with involved parents and students, competent teachers, and community members who care about the direction the youth community goes and who know that direction leads to results which impact everyone in our society. It is time to return Denver Public School decision-making power to the people of Denver.
The Colorado legislature must pass a bill limiting individual contributions and increasing transparency in the use of “dark money” to influence school board campaigns across the state.