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Berrick AbramsonBerrick AbramsonDecember 22, 20175min844

Colorado’s recent elections have ushered in new school board members and, in some cases, new majorities. From Aurora and Douglas County this year to JeffCo before them, new boards are calling for new directions and priorities. These new leaders were, in part, elected because families felt ignored or that school boards were forging ahead in spite of — and not because of — their constituents’ concerns.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 15, 20173min743

Chalkbeat Colorado's Nic Garcia offers a post-game analysis of last week's school board elections that serves as a primer for political junkies and campaign tacticians of every stripe. Garcia dissects the highly successful efforts of teachers unions to regain ground they had lost to education reformers in three high-profile school districts — Denver's, Aurora's and Douglas County's — and the big takeaway is go hyperlocal, start early, and dig deep.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 8, 20179min4664

This turned out to be the year the teachers unions staged a comeback. Long on the defensive and losing members in Colorado and across the country amid expanding school choice and a rapidly shifting public education landscape, the unions dug in their heels. They opened their coffers and pushed back hard in Tuesday's election against proliferating reforms like charter schools, performance pay, new accountability measures and in one district, school vouchers, all of which they have bitterly opposed.


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Ross IzardRoss IzardNovember 3, 20177min1843

Debate surrounding state constitutional “Blaine Amendments,” which prohibit government aid to “sectarian” institutions, has reached a crescendo as a result of the high-profile school board race in Douglas County. As deeply consequential litigation over Blaine Amendments and parental choice hangs in the balance between two opposing slates of school board candidates, some anti-choice interest groups have sought to obscure the facts of the current legal debate on the subject and gloss over the hateful history of the language they seek to preserve. Clarity is needed.


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Jesse MalloryJesse MallorySeptember 28, 20176min1250

It’s becoming harder for opponents of education freedom to come up with legitimate reasons families should not have more options when deciding the best possible education options for their children. The U.S. Supreme Court made it more difficult with a pair of recent rulings, including one that said denying approximately 500 families in Douglas County the ability to exercise that freedom was wrong.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 8, 20175min947

At first blush, it seems like an innocuous restatement of bedrock public policy:

“No appropriation shall be made for charitable, industrial, educational or benevolent purposes to any person, corporation or community not under the absolute control of the state, nor to any denominational or sectarian institution or association.”

That’s Article V, Sec. 34 of the Colorado Constitution. The same goes for Article IX, Sec. 7:

“Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scienti c institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination …”

Separation of church and state, right? Something we all agree on.

Not so fast, say advocates of school choice and, more fundamentally, leaders of the Catholic Church in Colorado. They point out the above “Blaine amendments” were inserted in the state’s founding charter as well as in the constitutions of most U.S. states amid a wave of anti-immigrant and related anti-Roman Catholic bigotry in the late-19th century.

And they now are rallying their rank and file to speak out to federal authorities about the offending clauses, which they contend not only enshrine discrimination but also give opponents of education reform a  pretext for shutting down school-voucher programs.

Colorado’s advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a public hearing in Denver last month to discuss the constitutional language and it’s impact on Colorado. The committee now is taking public comments for use in an eventual report. The Colorado Catholic Conference — the church’s advocacy arm in the state — as well as other Christian groups are urging their members to weigh in.

Far from simply keeping church and state separate, critics of the Blaine amendments say, the policies in fact were intended to curb the proliferation of Catholic schools and the Irish and other immigrant communities they served. As recounted in the much-reported, ongoing legal battle over Douglas County’s stalled school-voucher program, Blaine amendments were the product of a time when prayer of the Protestant variety was common and accepted in Colorado public schools. So were classroom readings from the Protestant King James Bible. And members of the Protestant political establishment looked askance at attempts to establish a rival, “sectarian” — i.e., non-Protestant — school system.

There’s hope for the Blaine opponents on the legal front. After ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer in June that churches could not be excluded from a Missouri state grant program that funds playgrounds for charitable organizations, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Colorado’s highest court to take another look at the Douglas County voucher case. The Colorado Supreme had ruled against the voucher program in 2015, effectively upholding the state’s Blaine amendment.

Alongside the continuing court debate, the Catholic Conference hopes to stir popular push-back. It’s asking adherents of the faith to weigh in. From an email campaign this week:

We hope that you will join us in sending comments to the committee stating your opposition to this amendment.

Comments may be sent to: (please be sure to include your name and address)
Colorado Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
1961 Stout Street
Suite 13-201
Denver, CO  80294

 


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 27, 20174min396

It has been two years since the Colorado Supreme Court said “no” to a Douglas County School District voucher program that would have defrayed the cost of private-school tuition — including at parochial schools — for parents who sought that alternative. The court’s majority held that the state constitution included, “broad, unequivocal language forbidding the State from using public money to fund religious schools.”

In the wake of Monday’s Trinity Lutheran v. Comer decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, times could be a changin’. Maybe. After ruling in Trinity Lutheran that churches could not be excluded from a Missouri state grant program that funds playgrounds for charitable organizations, the nation’s highest court this morning ordered Colorado’s highest court to take another look at the Douglas County voucher case.

The Denver-based, libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, a longtime champion of school vouchers, explains in a press release today that the U.S. Supreme Court:

… issued a grant, vacate, and remand (GVR) order in the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program case. In essence, this order sends the case back to the Colorado Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of yesterday’s Trinity Lutheran v. Comer decision. It is not immediately clear how the new decision will alter the calculus used in the Colorado Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling against the Choice Scholarship Program. But it is clear that Colorado has a second chance to consider this important issue.

At issue in the DougCo case is a clause in the constitutions of many states including Colorado’s that explicitly bars any kind of public funding to religious schools. Commonly called Blaine Amendments after the 19th-century political figure from Maine who championed them, the provisions now are widely regarded as having been intended to target — and curb — then-proliferating Catholic schools and the immigrant communities they served. Some states have repealed their Blaine Amendments.

Of the Trinity ruling, Independence’s education policy shop notes in the press release:

… Though that ruling did not explicitly address discriminatory state constitutional Blaine clauses as they relate to private school choice programs, it did send a strong signal that the high court is not inclined to tolerate religious discrimination in the realm of public benefit programs. It was a decidedly positive step in the march to open the doors of opportunity to all American students.