Promising “a well-rounded six-figure campaign,” pro-education reform behemoth Americans for Prosperity-Colorado announced it is launching a sweeping outreach effort to parents in the Douglas County School District, the state’s third-largest school system, to warn them “educational opportunity is in jeopardy.” The digital and direct-mail campaign, touted in a press release from the group this week, directs parents to sign an online petition calling on the Douglas County School Board “to preserve educational freedom.”
The pitch appears intended to rebuild support for the district’s dormant school-voucher program — which would help parents pay tuition at parochial and private schools of their choosing — though there’s no explicit mention of the program itself in the group’s announcement. A reform-minded DougCo school board, elected in 2009, adopted the much-debated policy but was never able to implement it in the face of a court challenge.
AFP’s campaign is launching on the heels of two major developments — renewed action in the long-idled court case, which halted the program in 2015, and the approach of the November school board election, which could shift the DougCo board away from its current, pro-reform tilt. Both developments could determine whether the voucher program ever takes effect. Meaning, the stakes are high, as AFP-Colorado must have noticed; by the way, it recently mounted a broader, statewide campaign advocating for school choice.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June ordered Colorado’s Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling two years ago striking down the 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.” However, the new ruling by the nation’s top court, following its decision on a related case, sets the stage for a do-over ruling by the state Supreme Court that could reopen the door to vouchers in DougCo.
Meanwhile, the school board is sharply divided, 4-3, between pro- and anti-voucher factions. The upcoming races promise a rematch between the two sides albeit with largely new slates of candidates. If the current majority loses just one seat, the new board could pull the plug on the program and moot any action by the state Supreme Court.
So AFP-Colorado’s new campaign comes at a critical juncture (though of course it makes no reference to the races).
The four-candidate, pro-voucher slate, which bills itself as “Elevate Douglas County,” will face off with the anti-voucher, four-candidate “Dream Team.” Voters can expect a lot of campaign money to pour in on both sides in the coming showdown, as has been the case in past elections; there are no contribution limits for school board candidates.
Prominent, well-heeled school-choice advocates like Alex Cranberg, Ed McVaney and Ralph Nagel have funded previous pro-voucher slates and probably will be back at bat for Elevate Douglas County. The state’s teacher unions — adamant foes of vouchers as well as charter schools and backers of the ongoing court challenge — likely will step up to the plate for the Dream Team.
As for AFP-Colorado’s campaign, State Director Jesse Mallory had this to say in this week’s press announcement:
“We should be doing everything possible to ensure that families have the ability to select the best educational options for their children. Kids enrolled in educational opportunity programs have shown increased graduation rates, are more likely to enroll in college, and ultimately are better prepared for the jobs of the future. We’re calling on parents to sign our petition calling on the Douglas County School Board to ensure that a child’s future shouldn’t be decided by their zip code or family income.”