Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 15, 20184min1009


Colorado Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston introduces himself to a caucus precinct at Denver’s McAuliffe International School during Colorado’s 2018 caucuses on March 8. (Photo by Andy Colwell for the Gazette)

As reported by Chalkbeat Colorado and other media this week, the Colorado Supreme Court on Monday upheld a much-debated 2010 state law that lets school districts place veteran teachers on unpaid leave if they are underperforming. Meaning, tenure won’t shield teachers from dismissal.

The ruling drew accolades from education reformers, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michael Johnston, who as a state senator had sponsored the law when it was still a bill in the legislature.

As expected, the state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, denounced the ruling — tenure being a cornerstone of collective bargaining agreements. (The union’s attorneys had represented the plaintiffs in the suit that led to the court decision.)

The face-off between those two takes on the subject has riven the Democratic Party for years. Following Monday’s ruling, it spilled over onto the pages of Colorado’s unofficial Democratic barometer, Colorado Pols.

The blog took note of the development — and zeroed in on Johnston’s praise of the court action as well as the fact his position was in sync with that of the conservative Republican education-reform group Ready Colorado. (For the record, the longtime liberal advocacy shop Colorado Children’s Campaign also welcomed the ruling.)

That prompted a flurry of comments posted by readers who heaped scorn on Johnston — and in some cases questioned whether he belonged in the Democratic Party:

“He and Lebsock…”? Ouch.

Johnston — a onetime teacher who has proven to be a champion fund-raiser so far in the governor’s race — did draw some support:

One alert contributor to the comment thread pointed out Johnston isn’t alone on the campaign trail in his support of the state law that was reaffirmed Monday: Rival Democratic gubernatorial contender and 2nd Congressional District U.S. Rep. Jared Polis also embraced the policy. Polis, an education reformer and charter school champion in his own right, reiterated his support for the law in an op-ed he penned for Politico in 2013.

It’s also worth noting that as of 2012, the Colorado School Finance Partnership — which was co-chaired by another of the current Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls, Cary Kennedy — was on record lauding that same law.


Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandOctober 24, 20173min359
A new report that looked at the progress of Colorado children on education, health and economic milestones found that while children of color are making progress, it isn’t enough. The Colorado Children’s Campaign Tuesday released that national report, known as Race for Results, which was conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropy that […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 18, 20175min711

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.



Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 19, 20174min280

Despite narrowing the gap on children without health coverage, Colorado continues to lag behind most states in overall children’s health. That’s one of the noteworthy conclusions of a report issued last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and touted by the mainstay Colorado kids’ advocacy, the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

The 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book also found that Colorado slid from 12th place among the states last year to 16th place this year for the general economic welfare of children. The report attributed Colorado’s lost ground in that regard to little improvement compared with other states in child poverty, the burden of housing costs on families and the percentage of teens not in school and not working.

The Children’s Campaign issued a press release summarizing the report’s findings and zeroing in on the state’s dismal performance in overall children’s health by the lights of the Casey Foundation:

Colorado ranks among the bottom 10 states for the health of its children, holding steady at 43rd in the health category. However, the state has seen one of the largest declines of any state in the percentage of children without health insurance. Despite ranking highly for children’s health insurance coverage, Colorado’s percentages of low-birthweight babies and teen drug and alcohol abuse contribute to its low overall health ranking. Altitude is one contributor to low birthweight, but factors such as smoking during pregnancy, poor prenatal nutrition, poverty and stress also increase the risk of low birthweight.

The group’s president, Kelly Causey, is quoted:

“An economy as strong as ours should advance the well-being of us all — especially our children … However, too many children and families aren’t benefiting from one of the hottest economies in the nation. Imagine the prosperity Colorado would enjoy if we invested equally in the health and education of our children as we do in growing our economy.”

The campaign noted some good news in the report, as well, including that Colorado rose from 22nd to 19th among all states for what the report calls family and community well-being.  It includes factors like lower-than-average rate of births to teen mothers as well as lower-than-average percentages of children living in single-parent families and children living in high-poverty neighborhoods.

For that, Causey praised Colorado policy makers:

“The impact public policy has on the well-being of kids is clear … Colorado’s innovative approaches to comprehensive family planning are showing immediate and sustained impacts on our families with the greatest obstacles to self-sufficiency. When women are able to determine their futures, we all benefit.”

You can read the full report linked above; here’s the link again to the Children’s Campaign’s press statement, which offers an extensive summary of the findings.


Mike McKibbinMike McKibbinJanuary 23, 201711min631

Colorado would become the 32nd state in America to outlaw corporal punishment in public schools under a bill approved by the House Education Committee, after lengthy discussion and questions about disputed data about the number of such incidents in the Sheridan School District No. 2 and other districts. State Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, sponsors House Bill 17-1038 and told the committee Monday, Jan. 23, that studies and research has long found the use of corporal punishment - especially spanking - does not work and is harmful to a young child's learning and social development.