Joey BunchJoey BunchFebruary 1, 20182min484

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is one of the 11 Senate Democrats calling on a federal agencies to ensure harassment has no place in the federal workplace.

They signed letters to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar citing recent complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about their respective agencies.

“We write to you with deep concern regarding harassment in the workplace and to obtain information on what you are doing to address the issue within your agency,” the letter states. “As you are well aware, workplace harassment is not a new issue that workers face; it is pervasive, systemic, and unacceptable.

“Recently, many brave women and men have spoken out to shed light on sexual harassment across the country. Women, in particular, have answered the call and their voices are leading the way in demanding change and equality—often taking great risk to speak out for the first time, and their voices are making a difference. As the head of a federal agency employing thousands of people, you can play a critical role in establishing and modeling safe work environments for all workers, and we hope you will do so.”

Last week Bennet and other Democrats sent a letter to leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee seeking a hearing on workplace harassment.

The Senate committee has oversight over the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the primary federal agency over enforcing laws against workplace discrimination, including harassment.


Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 14, 20175min546
The U.S. secretary of education toured the Air Force Academy campus, chatted with cadets over lunch and even hopped into the cockpit of a T-53 aircraft training simulator during a visit to the school on Wednesday. But if Betsy DeVos shared any ideas about her vision for America’s education system, it wasn’t apparent. The academy […]

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Hugh JohnsonSeptember 12, 20171min588

United States Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will visit the Air Force Academy Wednesday as part of her “Rethink School” tour, the department announced Tuesday.

DeVos will visit the Academy from 11:15 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. as part of a three-stop trip in Colorado and Nebraska. She will visit the Firefly Autism House in Denver Wednesday morning, then travel to the Academy. Afterward, DeVos will head to Midland University in Omaha.

DeVos’ “Rethink School” tour is designed to showcase “creative ways education leaders are meeting the needs of students in K-12 and higher education,” according to a Department of Education press release. The tour began Tuesday and will last through Friday. Stops will be made in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Indiana.

“There are so many new and exciting ways state-based education leaders and advocates are truly rethinking education,” DeVos said in a release. “It is our goal with this tour to highlight what’s working. We want to encourage local education leaders to continue to be creative, to empower parents with options and to expand student-centered education opportunities.”


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 25, 201710min396

Coming to a Democratic primary near you: a clash over education issues.

In several big states, governors who have supported charter schools are on their way out or facing a re-election fight in 2018. And while the party is united in its distaste for President Donald Trump, candidates vying for state leadership from California to Georgia are split on key education issues.

To simplify: In one camp are those who favor charter schools and accountability policies based in part on test scores, exemplified by the group Democrats for Education Reform. In the other camp are those — most prominently teachers unions — who emphasize greater investment in schools and are skeptical of solutions that focus on charters and choice.

Those tensions are growing, as the current president and his unpopular Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos make education reform a tougher sell than it was under President Obama, who supported charter schools.

“I do expect this fight to play out to some degree in Democratic primaries up and down the ballot,” said Shavar Jeffries, the DFER president. “The old-line forces see an opportunity to use the historically toxic Trump-DeVos brand to reverse progress we’ve made under Presidents Clinton and Obama.”

The National Education Association did not respond to a request for comment and a spokesperson for the American Federation for Teachers declined to comment on Democratic primaries.

So far, few candidates are publicly hashing out differences on education, and Jeffries said it’s too early to discuss specific races. But candidates’ past records and recent statements suggest that education will play an important role, particularly in the jockeying for endorsements from monied players like DFER and local unions. Meanwhile, Democratic supporters of charter schools are increasingly being linked to DeVos.

Here are five upcoming governors’ races where education could be a key issue in the Democratic primary.

Colorado candidates tote hefty education résumés

In John Hickenlooper, Democratic advocates of charter schools have had a staunch ally in the Denver statehouse. They’re hoping to keep it that way, as Hickenlooper exits and a number of prominent Democrats, all with extensive education backgrounds, vie to replace him.

The field includes two long-time supporters of charter schools.

One is Jared Polis, a congressman who helped start a network of charter schools (and who once got into a Twitter spat with education reform critic Diane Ravitch). Then there’s Michael Johnston, a former state senator and school principal who authored the state’s controversial teacher evaluation law, which relies heavily on student test scores. Johnston, who spearheaded a failed statewide ballot initiative to increase school spending, has already drawn significant support from the education reform world, inside and outside Colorado.

Neither has emphasized traditional education reform issues so far, though: Polis has focused on expanding pre-K; Johnston has emphasized tuition-free college.

Another prominent Democrat, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy, also seems likely to focus on education issues besides charter schools, including increasing teacher pay and reducing the number of standardized tests.

“I want all our kids to be thinkers and creative problem-solvers, not just good test-takers,” said Kennedy, who wrote a 2000 state constitutional amendment that required regular education funding increases.

Lt. Governor Donna Lynne is also considering jumping in, and businessman Noel Ginsburg, who founded a youth apprenticeship organization, is running.

Whoever wins will likely face a hard-fought general election in this perennial swing state.

In California, Newsom knocks Villaraigosa on schools

It’s southern versus northern California: former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is facing former San Francisco Mayor (and current lieutenant governor) Gavin Newsom in the race for governor of the country’s most populous state.

Villaraigosa has been a staunch supporter of charter schools and a frequent critic of teachers unions. Newsom has less of a record on education, but has hinted at differences between the two.

“I believe in public education and will fight like mad for our public schools,” Newsom said earlier this year. “This is not the case of every Democrat running for governor.”

California’s unusual primary system — in which all candidates, regardless of party, run on the same ticket and the top two vote-getters face each other in the general election — means it’s possible Villaraigosa and Newsom will face each other in the November 2018 general election.

California state treasurer John Chiang and former state schools superintendent Delaine Eastin are also running for the Democrats, though they trail in recent polls.

The next governor will replace Jerry Brown, who had started two charters of his own before taking office and has been a strong supporter of the privately managed, publicly funded schools. Brown even recently vetoed a bill to ban for-profit charters, though many charter school advocates have supported such a change.

Georgia candidate linked to DeVos at progressive conference

Term limits mean that Georgia’s Republican Governor Nathan Deal, a big charter-school supporter, will leave office next year. Two Democrats are running to replace him: Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans, both state representatives.

Evans recently came in for criticism at a progressive conference for her support of charter schools and a tax-credit scholarship program, which functions like a school voucher program. Some attendees held up signs that read “Evans = DeVos.”

Abrams, who is vying to be the nation’s first black female governor, responded with an implicit jab. “Activists in Atlanta peacefully protested this morning on the critical issue of preserving public education for every family in our state,” she said.

The nominee will likely face an uphill battle in this red state.

New York’s Cuomo under pressure on charters, education funding

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is planning to run for a third term, but his record on education has left some progressives wary.

He has been a key ally of the state’s charter lobby, put in place teacher evaluations based heavily on student test scores (a stance he has since backed away from), and supported school-spending increases substantially lower than what funding advocacy groups like the Alliance for Quality Education have called for.

Cynthia Nixon, the prominent actress and long-time spokesperson for the union-backed Alliance, has said she’s considering a run. She has said her campaign would focus on education issues, particularly school funding. Cuomo also risks a challenge from a more conventional candidate: Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner, who has polled within striking distance of the incumbent.

That said, a primary against the powerful and well-financed Cuomo is far from guaranteed and if it happens, is likely a long shot.

Tennessee candidates may differ on charters

Tennessee Democrats haven’t won a statewide office in over a decade, but that hasn’t deterred two Democrats from running for the state’s top office.

One is Karl Dean, who pushed to expand charter schools as the mayor of Nashville. But local charter advocates have faced a number of setbacks, including the defeat of several favored school board candidates. Dean has said charter schools will not be the centerpiece of his education agenda, though his record on education has already come under criticism from charter school critics.

Opposing Dean in the primary will be Craig Fitzhugh, the minority leader in the Tennessee house of representatives. He has generally been more skeptical of charter schools and drawn more support from unions than Dean.

The winner will likely be an underdog in the general election battle to replace Bill Haslam, the current Republican governor, who has strongly backed the expansion of charter schools.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.


Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJuly 19, 20174min423
Several hundred protesters rally against ‘school choice’ policies pushed by the conservative ALEC organization ahead of ALEC’s meeting in Denver on Wednesday July 19, 2017. (Peter Marcus/

A few hundred protesters gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday to protest school choice policies pushed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

Standing on the west steps of the Capitol, activists – led by teachers’ unions – held signs that read, “Vouchers = Theft,” with anti-U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos photos on them.

Some also held large cutout headshots of Republican state lawmakers who support charter schools and voucher programs, despite some pieces of legislation in the Colorado legislature this year around equal funding for charter schools being bipartisan efforts.

The rally came ahead of an annual ALEC meeting in Denver, where DeVos is scheduled to speak along with other conservative leaders, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. DeVos and Zinke are scheduled for Thursday.

“Why would you take money from the less affluent to give to those who can already afford to buy their education in their positions,” said JoZi Martinez, a Denver Public Schools teacher and local activist. “Leave public education to the experts, we the teachers and the administrators.

“This is not a monarchy and you clearly are not a queen, Ms. DeVos.”

Several state Democratic elected officials also spoke at the rally, including those who are running for higher office. State Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, who is running for attorney general, has become a well-known figure in the activist community.

“Once it’s taken from you, then you no longer have power, and that is what’s happening here,” Salazar said, suggesting that there is a push to deny public education to low-income and minority communities.

“What you need to do is not just resit but become the opposition to what is happening,” Salazar continued. “Don’t just rally – vote!”

Also speaking at the rally was state Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, who is one of three Democrats hoping to replace U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada, in the 7th Congressional District. Following the rally, Kerr marched with protesters to a hotel in downtown Denver where the ALEC conference was taking place.

“My position as a state senator is what gives me the opportunity to address you here today, but my opposition to Betsy DeVos has little to do with being a state senator, and has everything to do with being a dad and a teacher,” Kerr said, who taught social studies.

“I know that Donald Trump and Secretary DeVos are a disaster for our schools.”


Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 19, 20173min294
The American Legislative Exchange Council kicks off its three-day annual gathering in Denver Wednesday to tilt state legislators from across the country toward the industry-friendly principles of free markets and limited government. Moreover, the business-supported nonprofit best known by its acronym, ALEC, helps them draft pro-business legislation to fight a ground war of sorts in […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 18, 20175min673

Her name is almost synonymous with “liberal” in Colorado political circles. The indelibly Democratic Barbara O’Brien has served in many capacities over the years, including as Colorado’s 47 lieutenant governor with Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, 2007-2011.

The onetime calling with which she is still most identified, of course, is as longtime director of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, the unapologetically left-ish children’s-advocacy mega-group whose for-the-kids appeals on assorted policy initiatives over the decades have been music to the ears of legislative Democrats and cause for tooth grinding among Republicans.

Now the vice president of the Denver Public Schools board, she’s still advocating for kids, still doing so in the midst of Colorado’s lopsidedly Democratic capital city, and she is taking plenty of shots at a Trump administration — and particularly its polarizing education secretary — of whom she is no fan.

So, when she asked to address a rally planned for Wednesday morning at the Capitol in protest of an anticipated visit to Denver Thursday by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, O’Brien was, as one would expect … turned down?

Her campaign (she’s running for re-election to the DPS board) confirmed it. Attempts to get the organizers of tomorrow’s rally to comment have been unsuccessful so far.

So, what gives? Maybe it’s that O’Brien, as reliably left of center as she always has been in general, is not in sync with an influential faction of her tribe when it comes to one of her own touchstone causes: education reform. She and her fellow DPS board members have championed a range of innovations over the years, including “innovation” schools and charter schools, which have rankled teachers unions.

Organized labor and especially public-sector employee unions like the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the Colorado Education Association, comprise a cornerstone of the Democratic Party’s power base. The unions are also helping run the Wednesday rally.

Which translates to, “No podium for you!” It wasn’t put that way, of course; an O’Brien campaign staffer said the rejection was vague; something about the roster being full.

The speakers list on the event’s Facebook page includes a number of union reps and teachers in the union. It also includes another candidate for the Denver Public Schools board — Tay Anderson, the precocious 18-year-old student body president at Denver’s Manual High School, who drew media attention when he announced his run this spring.

Anderson, whom we were unable to reach, is the lead organizer of the Wednesday protest, and he set up its Facebook page. The youthful candidate also is, by all indicators, running against the prevailing reformist agenda on the school board.

O’Brien shared her thoughts on the affair via a campaign staffer who texted her comments to us:

“One of the most frustrating things about politics is when all candidates agree on the same thing but won’t embrace each other in the shared mission … It is always disappointing to be excluded because of politics, but I won’t be excluded from standing up and fighting against this administration’s harmful policies. This is about kids, and I will do everything to fight for their rights and equal treatment.”

UPDATE FRIDAY JULY 21: A Facebook post this morning by Anderson clarifies that O’Brien was welcome to attend the rally even if she wouldn’t be able to address it.