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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 15, 20184min913

 

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.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 6, 20182min1895

Ready Colorado, the conservative champion of school choice that is growing its profile on the state’s political scene, has tapped ride-sharing giant Uber to recruit a new vice president. The education advocacy group announced Monday it has hired Craig Hulse, “a widely respected policy and legislative expert” who most recently was Uber Technologies’ public affairs manager. Hulse led Uber’s legislative efforts for western states and for its autonomous-vehicles initiatives nationwide

Says a Ready Colorado new release:

Prior to Uber, Hulse served as the Chief of Staff for the Nevada Speaker, Director of Government Affairs for the Las Vegas Sands, Director of Government Affairs for the nation’s 50th largest school district, and in leading roles in the charter school movement and StudentsFirst.

During his time as Chief of Staff in the Nevada Assembly, Hulse helped usher in a historic set of education reforms including universal education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships for private schools, creation of an achievement school district, and exempting additional education spending from collective bargaining.

Hulse holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Nevada and a J.D. from Washburn University School of Law.

Republican-leaning Ready Colorado, led by President Luke Ragland, is both a political player and a policy advocate. Spawned a few years ago by political play makers Josh Penry and Tyler Sandberg, it aims to influence policy with an education-reform agenda at the Capitol and statewide while also supporting state and local candidates who advance that agenda. Ready backs school vouchers, charter schools, enhanced accountability measures and other touchstones of the education-reform movement.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 5, 201813min689

The #MeToo movement must seem like déjà vu to Karen Middleton. The former state lawmaker, longtime education policy wonk, self-described "fierce feminist" — and nowadays, point person for abortion-rights advocacy in Colorado — took her seat in the legislature a decade ago in the wake of the Capitol's last big sexual-misconduct scandal. It was her own predecessor in her state House district who wound up resigning in the face of allegations. And while some things never seem to change, she says the response by some politicians to the latest round of harassment allegations actually has been worse than was the case in 2008. She explains how and also discusses education reform; her first forays into politics — and the therapeutic value of home renovation — in this week's Q&A.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJanuary 31, 20183min1779

He began his political career at 25, in 1987, as the youngest Coloradan ever to serve in the state Senate. A Republican and unflinching conservative, he went from the legislature to three terms in the U.S. House, representing Colorado’s 4th Congressional District. After a stint in the private sector, it was back to the campaign trail for two runs for the U.S. Senate. Next, he put in a distinguished tenure on the State Board of Education. Along the way he was one of Colorado’s most ardent advocates for education reform and a linchpin in the school choice movement. You could say it’s the résumé of a political Renaissance man.

And yet, Bob Schaffer’s most rewarding career experience may be the years he has spent at Fort Collins’s distinguished Liberty Common School. It’s one of the state’s consistently highest-performing public charter schools, and Schaffer and wife Maureen were among its founding parents. As he told us in a profile last year:

…I regard being part of this organization to be among the highest privileges I’ve ever enjoyed.  I love being around the students.  I love teaching.  I love handing out prestigious diplomas at the end of the year to college-bound students – many of whom are empowered by full-tuition scholarships and enough college credits earned in high school to enroll as college sophomores, sometimes juniors.

This week, the school announced Schaffer was being promoted from his longtime post as principal over the K-12 program’s high school to headmaster of the entire program, serving some 1,100 students. From a press announcement on the promotion:

…As headmaster, he will oversee management of the school’s overall K-12 mission, provide increased support for Liberty’s foundational philosophy and Core Knowledge curriculum, and effectively implement the Board of Directors’ strategic plan.

Patrick Albright, Chairman of Liberty Common School’s Board of Directors said, “Under Mr. Schaffer’s leadership, Liberty Common High School has become one of the very top schools in the state and the nation. Broadening Mr. Schaffer’s leadership and vision across both of our campuses will improve our tradition of providing excellence in education to all of our students.”

Said Schaffer in the school’s press release:

“…I’m excited about being able to double my interaction with local parents, over the entire primary- and secondary-school spectrum, who are empowered by choice in public education, an ambitious classical curriculum, and the highest academic expectations for their kids.”


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirDecember 24, 201714min951

For a relatively young man who went so far so fast in Colorado politics — and who developed such a high profile by the time he left office — Terrance Carroll has an almost astonishing answer when asked if he ever intends to get back in the ring. You'll have to read on to find out what he told us, but here's a hint: When asked for his bucket list, the former Colorado House speaker and Denver Democrat — a practicing attorney at a national law firm, ordained minister and champion of educational choice — says he thinks about writing a book. For at-risk kids.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 15, 20173min710

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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Angela EngelAngela EngelOctober 23, 20177min2541

It’s time to vote out the Denver Public School board and vote in a new slate committed to kids and community. Since 2005, the DPS leadership has adopted a free-market business model in governing public education. Under the guise of quality control, neighborhood schools serving the most vulnerable populations have been closed, veteran educators have been replaced, and students have been exploited and displaced.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 2, 201710min1455

Whatever the future looks like for public education in our state, it’s a safe bet Ready Colorado will help shape that vision. The politically engaged, formidably funded, philosophically conservative advocacy group — spawned a couple of years ago by political play makers Josh Penry and Tyler Sandberg — has been aggressively positioning itself to be more than just a voice at the table. It aims to influence policy by championing its education-reform agenda up front at the Capitol and statewide, as well as by supporting state and local candidates who advance that agenda. At the helm is Luke Ragland, a Colorado native, Colorado State University grad and holder of a law degree from the University of Colorado. Ragland took the reins at Ready Colorado earlier this year after a stint as policy VP at nonprofit Colorado Succeeds. In today’s Q&A, Ragland fills us in on his organization’s political strategy; on the legal hurdles facing school vouchers; on the outlook for teacher unions — his group’s adversary — and more. Colorado Politics: You previously helped shape policy at another education advocacy group, Colorado Succeeds; in your college days you organized and led the fight against a tuition hike at Colorado State.  Why your involvement in education reform? What first inspired you? Luke Ragland: I come from a modest background in rural southwest Colorado and was a first-generation college student. Hard-working teachers changed the trajectory of my life and opened a world of opportunity for me. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality for a lot of kids in Colorado.  I work in education reform because I want to make sure that every student has the opportunity to reach their full potential — and that starts with a good education. CP: Some other prominent center-right groups aggressively promote school choice in the state.  And there’s no shortage of political money that is raised every election cycle by various groups and individuals, and spend directly and indirectly on behalf of conservative candidates who inevitable support your same causes. Were does Ready Colorado fit in? What’s the perceived need?  How would you define your organization? LR: Ready Colorado is state's leading conservative voice for education reform. There are a lot of center-right groups that support school choice, but none that have education reform as their sole focus. I want Ready Colorado to help amplify the great work being done to promote school choice by other organizations and policymakers. Republicans shouldn’t merely be supportive of education reform; they should be driving the conversation about how we can improve schools.  And I don’t think it’s inevitable that Republicans will always support conservative education policies. Over the last few years we’ve seen several examples of Republicans siding with the status quo by voting against school choice and taxpayer accountability.  The bottom line is that I support policymakers who work for students and families, not systems and government. CP: Ready Colorado openly leans Republican and has spent generously from its sizable campaign war chest on partisan legislative races as well as nonpartisan school board races. Yet education reform, including some school choice endeavors like charter schools, increasingly is championed on both sides of the aisle. Are you more about electing Republicans or electing supporters of education reform? Do you work with Democrats? LR: We are laser-focused on improving Colorado’s schools and believe that our conservative vision for Colorado’s education system is the best way to make that happen.  I am a conservative Republican, but this isn’t about partisanship.  I’ll work with anyone who wants to help make things better for Colorado’s kids. CP: Charter schools have proven immensely popular in Colorado, and the movement has grown by leaps and bounds.  Yet, various hurdles remain at both the state and local levels, ranging from arguable funding inequities to local school boards that simply don’t look favorably upon charters.  Ready Colorado already helped lower one of those hurdles last spring in advancing a funding equalization measure for charter schools via the legislature.  What more has to be done to assist charter schools, and what role will you play? LR: The largest barrier to expanding quality school choice in Colorado is the monopoly that school districts have over opening charter schools. Each school district has the ability to block charter schools from opening in their district, regardless of how many parents want the school to open or the applicant’s track record for success.  This is a top priority and we are exploring a variety of ways to eliminate this monopoly. CP: You’re a lawyer, too.  Give us your best, educated guess as to what’s next for Douglas County School District’s much-debated, still-unimplemented school voucher program—now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered Colorado’s Courts to reconsider their ruling two years ago that the program was unconstitutional. LR: The provision in Colorado’s Constitution—often called a Blaine Amendment—that blocked the voucher program is on very thin ice.  The US Supreme Court recently sent a clear signal that it is ready to strike down Blaine Amendments across the country when it ruled that a similar Missouri law was unconstitutional.  Blaine Amendments have a nasty origin story of discrimination against religious minorities and should be erased from Colorado’s foundational document. The main snag here is whether the Douglas County School District will keep the program going after this fall’s election.  There are several people running who want to end the program and moot the case.  If just one of these people win, the anti-school choice slate will have the majority. CP: What will the public education landscape in Colorado look like in 25 years? Will vouchers be a part of it?  How about online learning? Other policies now considered novel or that aren’t yet even off the drawing board? LR: I think that the main trend you will see in education is decentralization.  The old top-down, command-and-control models of education simply cannot adapt fast enough to meet the needs of a future where artificial intelligence disrupts every aspect of our lives.  I predict (and hope) that parents will gain more and more control over their child’s education, choosing not only the right school for their child, but also the specific courses and educators.  Traditional schools will still exist and thrive, but parents will have alternative options as well. CP: Among your most formidable adversaries, publicly speaking, are public teacher unions.  Yet, their membership has been in decline across the country. Are they on the wane, and will that make your job easier?  At the same time, are there ways in which teachers unions contribute positively to public education in your estimation? LR: Teachers are the most important component of any education system.  They work hard for little pay and create incredible value for society.  Teacher’s unions, on the other hand, are trapped in an old-school labor mentality that fails to serve the needs of their members and act as the main impediment to improvement.  I think union membership is dropping because teachers recognize this fact. The mandatory public retirement program for teachers (PERA) is the perfect example:  The union defends PERA at all costs, even though it fails to put the vast majority of teachers on the path to a secure retirement.  Teachers are starting to ask their union tough questions and they don’t like what they are hearing back.