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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 10, 20174min6860

Conservative blog Colorado Peak Politics buttonholed the state’s largest teachers union this week for a tweet after the election that appeared to confirm what its critics had been saying all along: the unions — rather than grass-roots parent groups — were the real prime mover behind the losses of education reformers in key school board races.

The tweet by the Colorado Education Association on Wednesday was in reply to a Colorado Public Radio tweet pointing out how, despite the high profile gains by union-supported candidates, “…most union-backed school board candidates…” lost in assorted races around the state.

Peak weighed in thusly on the a-HA! moment:

Union-led sweeps? Wait, we thought all of these races were led by “parents” and the “community.” How can that be? Is the CEA saying that parents and the community, in fact, did not lead liberal school board members to victory in Republican strongholds like Douglas and Mesa Counties and that it was a special interest group? Of course it was the union.

In Douglas County alone, the union contributed at least $315,000, and likely more, to an independent expenditure committee to elect liberal school board members, completely out of step with the values of the community they represent.

It’s an interesting point though it’s also worth considering whether the CEA as well as the Douglas County Federation and its national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, had dropped their guard even before Election Day — unlike in previous election cycles. Indeed, the AFT’s big cash dump on the Douglas County races had gotten plenty of press leading up to the election, as had union involvement in board races in other school districts this year. It seemed there was less of an effort overall to conceal the unions’ role, in contrast to their backstage approach during 2015’s Jefferson County school board recall election.

A shift in strategy? Might organized labor now reason it has less to lose and more to gain by openly flexing its muscle in the current, backlash-against-the-right political climate?

To Peak’s point about “union-led sweeps”: It almost sounds as if the CEA is bragging.


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Marianne GoodlandNovember 6, 201714min364

Unless there’s a final, major GOP rush to the ballot box, both ballot return numbers and fundraising indicate the three incumbents running for the Jefferson County school board are likely to be re-elected next Tuesday. And in the Denver Public Schools, fundraising by the 10 candidates has exceeded $641,000, with spending just shy of a half-million dollars.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchOctober 28, 20174min199
Christina Gillette Randle, a first-grade teacher at Soaring Eagles Elementary in Colorado Springs, was named the state’s top teacher in a surprise at an assembly at the school Friday. This marks the second year in a row an El Paso County teacher has won the award. Last year’s winner was Sean Wybrant, a career and […]

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Marianne GoodlandOctober 18, 201711min654
The first fundraising numbers from school board candidates are in, and there are some lopsided races, at least in terms of the money, in two hotly-watched school board races. JEFFERSON COUNTY In Jeffco, school board candidate fundraising appears to be a tale of the haves and have nots.  Two of the three incumbents on the school […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 20, 20173min966

A mass-email from the Colorado Education Association Wednesday included a play-by-play account of that morning’s protest and rally at the Capitol denouncing Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s visit to Denver. So, even those who weren’t able to attend still got a feel for the event. And one of the feelings that was easy to pick up was that the overwhelmingly Democratic rally participants had little love for members of their own party who had embraced school choice and other education reforms.

A substantial slice of Democrats has done so, of course. There’s even a prominent national group, well represented in Colorado, called Democrats for Education Reform. Like-minded Dems include no less than the two most recent Democratic presidents, who supported charter schools, and closer to home, the current Denver Public Schools board. It has implemented a wide range of reforms including charters and innovation schools.

As we noted earlier this week, that probably explains why one of the Denver school board’s members, prominent Democrat and former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, was turned down when she asked to address Wednesday’s rally.

That privilege evidently was reserved for Democrats more in sync with the CEA — the event’s principal organizer — and its opposition to the reform movement. Democrats like state Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton, who didn’t mince words about who he sees as the enemy. As recounted in the CEA press release:

“Once public education is taken from you, you no longer have power and that is what is happening here,” said State Rep. Joe Salazar, who spoke at the rally with State Sens. Andy Kerr and Michael Merrifield. “Betsy DeVos and Democrats for Education Reform and the charter school movement are stripping power from you, and they are doing it knowingly.”

Barbara O’Brien, that means you — among others.

 


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 14, 20174min1091

To (very) loosely paraphrase von Clausewitz in advance of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos’s anticipated visit to Denver next week: Just about everything nowadays is the continuation of politics by other means. At least, as far as “The Resistance” to the Trump administration is concerned.

OK, so the von Clausewitz reference was a bit clunky, but the point here is that the superheated, super-motivated opposition to all things Trump is not about to pass up any opportunity to publicly protest the administration’s agenda. The appearance of DeVos — much derided by the left for her embrace of conservative doctrine as well as her billionaire status — provides as good an opening as any.

DeVos is expected to address fellow conservatives at the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council July 19-21 at the Hyatt Regency Denver. But according to a report this week by Chalkbeat Colorado, the secretary — narrowly confirmed by the U.S. Senate amid heated debate earlier this year — first will have to run a gantlet of unfriendlies:

A “Denver RESISTS DeVos” protest, meanwhile, is planned for 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday outside the state Capitol involving multiple groups. The protest is being promoted on a Facebook page hosted by Tay Anderson, a 2017 Manual High School graduate who is running for a Denver school board seat. It’s part of a broader “ALEC resistance” effort that includes a “teach-in.”

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is planning to make signs that morning, take part in the protest and then march to the ALEC meeting at a downtown hotel, according to its Facebook event page.

John Ford, president of Jefferson County Education Association and a scheduled speaker at Wednesday’s protest, said in a statement via email that “voucher schemes and other failed reforms” DeVos will promote are not welcome in Colorado.

Meaning, she will encounter two cross-currents of anti-Trump activists during her visit — those union-backed opposition to her position on education issues, and critics of ALEC. Quite a welcome wagon.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 7, 20175min296313

A whole new cast of candidates aims to take the baton from the current crop of reformers leading Douglas County schools. They’re calling their four-person slate Elevate Douglas County, and a lot is riding on whether they can carry the day in the upcoming school board election this fall — and restart momentum for change.

Public schools in fast-growing Douglas County have been on the leading edge of education reform for years — for better or for worse, depending on whom you ask. Successive iterations of reform-minded boards elected to lead the Douglas County School District since 2009 have implemented a host of far-reaching changes. That includes effectively ending collective bargaining in 2012 with a local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which long represented DougCo district faculty and staff, and establishing a groundbreaking but controversial school-voucher program to help pay tuition at private schools of parents’ choosing. That program has been stalled by a court challenge.

The county’s decidedly Republican skew has fostered a fertile climate for such policies, which are crowd pleasers in GOP ranks. Yet, the changes also set off a tug-of-war, even among some Republicans, over just how far the reforms should go. Opponents — supported at times by the state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, which wouldn’t mind bringing the county’s educators into its own fold — have pushed back.

As a result, the DougCo school board now is split 4-3 in favor of the ongoing reforms — it’s a thin margin on which to continue that mandate — and losing just one more seat likely would result in an outright about-face by the board. That could happen in the board election this November.

Elevate Douglas County would bring all fresh faces to the board: Randy Mills, Debora Scheffel, Grant Nelson and Ryan Abresch. Scheffel, who is the sister of Republican former state Sen. Mark Scheffel, is well-known as a former member of the State Board of Education. The four are seeking the seats of current reformers James Geddes, Steven Peck, Judith Reynolds and Meghann Silverthorn — the four members whose terms expire this fall. No word yet on their intentions and whether they’ll stand aside for the new wave of change agents.

The Elevate slate announced in a press statement today that all four have filed their paperwork as candidates for the November face-off, and they touted these objectives:

The slate is focused on quelling the discord and division in the district while renewing the tradition of excellence in Douglas County Schools, empowering parents to be partners in their children’s education, fostering an environment that supports and respects educators, and expanding educational options, such as career and technical training, for students.

The slate’s announcement closely follows last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering Colorado’s Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling two years ago barring DougCo from implementing its voucher program. The state’s highest court had ruled at the time that Colorado’s constitution included, “broad, unequivocal language forbidding the State from using public money to fund religious schools.” Last week’s ruling by the nation’s top court, following its decision on a related case, sets the stage for a potentially landmark ruling by the state Supreme Court — that could reopen the door to vouchers in DougCo.

Given its overall trajectory, the Elevate slate presumably would stand by the previous board majority’s support for the idled voucher program, though that does not so far seem to be a big part of the slate’s campaign platform.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 26, 20175min1570

Following an apparent trend nationwide, the Colorado Education Association’s membership declined again last year compared with the year before and dropped even more markedly since five years earlier.

According to numbers obtained by longtime union watchdog and critic Mike Antonucci — whose Education Intelligence Service is a go-to source for union data across the country — Colorado’s largest teachers union lost just under 1 percent of its active membership from the 2014-15 to 2015-16 school years (the latest data Antonucci has available). More alarming for the union is it has lost nearly 8 percent of its active membership since the 2010-11 school year. That leaves the CEA with an active membership roster of 32,674 — paradoxically in a state whose school enrollment and overall population have been surging for decades.

If that’s the wave of the future, it calls into question the long-term clout of one of the heaviest hitters in Colorado politics. The union is a major source of support — financial and otherwise — for Democratic candidates in Colorado legislative and statewide races.

At the same time, though, Colorado’s union can’t come close to matching the woes of its counterparts in some other states. The North Carolina affiliate of the National Education Association, for instance, lost nearly 50 percent of its active membership in the same five-year period, and Wisconsin lost a devastating 60 percent.

The national association itself lost a net 8,063 members after accounting for and culling out retiree and student members as well as the members added from the merger of the NEA’s rolls with the American Federation of Teachers. Concludes Antonucci: “…its active membership numbers are lower than they were 20 years ago …”

What’s behind the trend? A lot of factors, and they vary from state to state. In the case of Wisconsin, it was an act of the state government, which barred the deduction of “agency fees” in lieu of union dues from the paychecks of public schoolteachers who choose not to join the union. The fees are collected on the premise that all teachers benefit from the collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the unions, so even non-union members should pay the piper. But not anymore in the Badger State.

Agency fees are also the subject of a pending Supreme Court challenge in a case from California, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Colorado school districts also collect agency fees but, depending on the district and collective-bargaining agreement in place, generally let non-union teachers file for a reimbursement.

The challenge for any union that can’t piggyback on payroll administrators to withhold the fees from employees’ paychecks is that plenty of employees don’t actually want to pay them in the first place and won’t do so without being compelled to do so.

As Antonucci concluded on his own blog:

The National Education Association may soon find itself in a world where it has to recruit and enlist every one of its new members. It does not seem well-suited to the task …

We’ve reached out to the Colorado Education Association for more perspective on its membership and will update accordingly when we hear back from the union.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningJune 26, 20178min94

A group of liberal advocacy organizations for the first time released combined legislative scorecards this week, conglomerating assessments of the 100 Colorado lawmakers’ votes last session on key legislation the organizations said they plan to present to voters next year. A Republican who received among the lowest overall scores, however, dismissed the endeavor as a “political stunt” and told Colorado Politics he doubts the predictable rankings — Democrats good, Republicans bad — give voters any meaningful information.