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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 6, 20182min2138

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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Joey BunchJoey BunchJanuary 21, 20185min523

Sen. Mike Merrifield, in his last session before retiring from the legislature, is more hopeful than ever about securing an optional accreditation point for Colorado schools that offer arts programs.

He tried and failed last year, but this session Senate Bill 8 has an influential co-sponsor among Republicans, Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker.

Merrifield, a Democrat from Colorado Springs, said no school would be punished if it didn’t offer theater, band, visual arts or some other sanctioned creative outlet their students, but those that do would recognized and rewarded at the state level.

Accreditation is the yardstick the state Department of Education uses to grade schools, from the accredited with a turnaround plan to accredited with distinction.

“This is my attempt to maintain what every scientific study has shown gives children an opportunity to have greater success in school and later in life,” Merrifield said.

On the Senate floor, assuming, Merrifield can deliver all the Democratic votes and independent Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge, Holbert could provide the swing vote to bounce the bill to the Democratic-led House. His influence would likely attract more support than that, however.

“As a person who struggles with dyslexia, I know how empowering it can be for students to have opportunities to learn by seeing, doing and hearing,” Holbert said. “I’m proud to work with Sen. Merrifield to encourage such opportunities for students throughout Colorado.”

But the legislation first will have to clear the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, next Thursday afternoon. Hill opposed the bill last year.

Merrifield said some critics in both parties might have motives they don’t like to specify, namely that testing in public schools discourages attention to the arts. He opposed Senate Bill 191 in 2010, which called for newer testing standards by 2013.

“For those opposed, I think they’re basically saying, ‘We don’t want to distract concentration from the subject areas that are tested by having any opportunity for schools and students to emphasize or be evaluated in the arts,'” Merrifield said. “It’s a frill, when what’s important to them is what gets tested.

“They won’t say it that way, but that’s what it’s about.”

Merrifield said he understands that poor districts have “only a very limited pot of money” and across the state lots of schools have had to cut back funding. He wants to provide some incentive to bring them back.

But many rural schools and charter schools simply can’t keep up, said Luke Ragland, the president of the conservative school-choice advocacy group ReadyCO. He said he loves the promise of more arts education in all schools, and he sees the benefits an arts curriculum provides students.

Ragland is concerned that it’s an unrealistic measurement for some schools that will naturally favor large, wealthy schools. Rural and small charter schools have a hard enough time attracting and retaining students.

Setting a state standard for what art courses should look like is rife with unintended consequences, he said.

Those charter and rural schools offering some arts courses now might be less likely to offer them, if the state standard suggests they need to hire a drama teacher or buy band instruments they can’t afford to qualify for a credit that’s easily in reach of larger schools.

“It would potentially lead to a narrowing of the arts curriculum in smaller schools, not expand it,” Ragland said. “It’s a tricky issue.”


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 2, 201710min1552

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.