Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 6, 20182min1511

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.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 19, 20173min4233

Douglas County Republicans have come out swinging following news this week that a national teachers union has contributed $300,000 to an independent expenditure committee supporting a union-friendly slate of school board candidates in the upcoming election. The cash windfall comes from the American Federation of Teachers, whose local affiliate Douglas County Federation of Teachers lost its power to collectively bargain with the Douglas County School District in 2012.

The county GOP announced today it is endorsing the race’s other slate of DougCo school board candidates, who support the district’s current education-reform agenda and are opposed by the union. The DougCo GOP posted a statement from county Chair Tanne Blackburn on its website and Facebook page:

“Today, the Douglas County Republican Party endorsed Randy Mills, Ryan Abresch, Debora Scheffel, and Grant Nelson for the 2017 Douglas County School Board Election. Initially, the candidates requested that the party not become involved because they did not want the race to be about politics. However, after learning of $300,000 in spending on out-of-state political consultants by the DC-based American Federation of Teachers on behalf of the Kevin Leung, Krista Holtzmann, Chris Schor and Anthony Graziano, it appears that the CommUnity Slate/Dream Team is determined to bring big politics into this race.

“We are endorsing to help level the playing field and to expose Leung, Holtzmann, Schor, and Graziano’s deception to our community. They are not conservatives and do not hold Republican values. If you typically check the R box on the ballot, you should vote for Mills, Abresch, Scheffel, and Nelson. We hope all Republicans in Douglas County will join us in support of these four…”

Blackburn added, ““Make no mistake, voting for Leung, Schor, Holtzmann, and Graziano will usher a new wave of radical liberal agenda into our schools. Don’t let our county get shAFTed.” (The upper-case AFT is a reference to the union’s acronym — in case that wasn’t clear.)

The GOP-endorsed slate, which is calling itself Elevate Douglas County, is among other things in favor of implementing the district’s as-yet unimplemented school voucher program, which has been tied up by court challenges for several years.

The union-supported slate, known as the Dream Team, is thought likely to nix the program if elected, mooting the court battle.


Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandSeptember 14, 201710min5356

What a different two years makes.

The first forum for the five candidates vying for three seats on the Jefferson County Board of Education took place Wednesday night. Everyone was polite and civil and agreed more than they disagreed. But the lines were clearly drawn on several issues, most notably transparency around the district’s budget, school choice and accountability for charter schools.

One of the candidates, Matt Van Gieson, who lives in Arvada and is challenging incumbent Brad Rupert, pointed out that he had brought two of his children to watch the event, something he said he would not have done two years ago. Van Gieson was referring to the previous Jeffco board that was sharply divided between conservative education reformers and pro-teacher members, and prior to the 2015 election those board meetings sometimes turned into shouting matches among board members and between board members and the public.

A coalition of parent and teacher groups, backed with funding from local, state and national teachers’ unions,  launched a recall of the three conservatives. With the other two members choosing not to run for re-election, it meant the five-member board had five new members after the November 2015 election to run the state’s second largest school district.

The three who replaced the recalled board members are now running for their first full four-year terms. That includes board President Ron Mitchell, who is running unopposed. Incumbent Susan Harmon is running against Erica Shields. Even though candidates represent specific areas, the election is district-wide, meaning voters will vote for candidates for all three seats. Both Van Gieson and Shields got into the race at the last possible moment, filing candidacy paperwork on September 1.

Van Gieson and Shields both said they are running to provide balance to the board and to be the voice for those who they said are not being heard. Harmon, Rupert and Mitchell pointed to the transition of the board from one that is “drama-riven” to a more civil group, hiring a new superintendent and improving teacher compensation that they said cut back on the hemorrhaging of teachers to districts where they were better paid.

The Wednesday night forum, held at Wheat Ridge High School, allowed candidates to express their views on everything from post-high school career pathways, the budget, policies to prevent suicide and bullying, personal definitions of school choice, and whether the candidates support the Dreamers, undocumented minors who are facing deportation under the Trump administration’s decision to cancel the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program instituted by the Obama administration in 2012. All five said they supported DACA students.

There was much to agree on, according to the candidates, including the importance of arts and humanities education in the public schools and the need for as much community engagement as possible.

Where they were most divided is on the issue of school choice. Van Gieson is affiliated with the Golden View Classical Academy, which he didn’t mention during the evening. Academy teachers receive training from Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian college in Michigan that has ties to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who visited Denver earlier in the day.

Among the questions: how do you define school choice? Van Gieson referred to the Douglas County School District Choice Scholarship program, which has been declared unconstitutional by the Colorado Supreme Court. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered another review of that decision, which is pending in the trial court. Van Gieson said Jeffco students have many choices, such as STEM schools, Montessori and “core knowledge” schools, and that he didn’t support vouchers because they have been declared unconstitutional. Shields echoed Van Gieson’s views on vouchers, saying that Colorado voters had rejected them and she supported the voters. But “parents know what’s best for their children. I advocate for school choice because it gives opportunities for all children.”

The incumbents responded that they did not support privatization of public schools or vouchers. “We live in a ‘choice’ district” that allows parents to choose which schools their children attend, said Harmon. “School choice is making sure the choices out there are sustainable and providing a quality education for all students.”

“I’m absolutely opposed to vouchers,” said Mitchell, which he called a “tax break for the wealthy.” He added that recent studies have shown that school choice doesn’t necessarily equal quality. “I’m more interested in making sure the choices we have are quality choices,” he said.

Another question touched on the topic of charter schools and the waivers they obtain from the state board of education and the district, and whether the candidates supported accountability for all schools.

Van Gieson didn’t address the accountability question, saying only that waivers are available for both traditional public and charter schools, and that “we should be okay” if that’s what the parents and community want for their schools. Last year, The Colorado Independent reported on a lack of oversight by both school districts and the State Board of Education on charter school waivers; Golden View Classical was among the examples cited.

Shields said that all charter schools should be held accountable, and that those that are not high performing shouldn’t be funded. Rupert added that parents are not the only stakeholders when it comes to charter schools, that charters should be accountable to the entire community, including businesses and taxpayers. “We need to treat them more like public schools,” he added.

Waivers granted by the state are “unfortunate because I believe in local control,” added Mitchell. It is the board’s responsibility to make sure all schools are accountable, and if charter schools receive equal funding they should provide equal services.

The Colorado General Assembly in May approved a bill, signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper, that would equalize funding for charter schools around the state, ensuring for the first time in some districts that charters receive a share of property tax revenues.

The budget, and a claim that the budget process is not as transparent as it should be, also came up. Van Gieson said the district should have a line item budget so that everyone can see how the money is spent. Shields compared the district budget to her own family’s budget, stating that her husband wants to know line by line how the money is being spent. “As taxpayers, it’s not that different. Don’t you want to know exactly where [the money] is going?”

Rupert pointed out that the board has tried for the past two years to engage the public as much as possible, with public forums, call-ins and questionnaires. But the budget is very complicated, he said. Presenting it as a line item is “unrealistic.” Mitchell noted the budget book is about two inches thick, and that 80 percent of the district’s funding goes to personnel. How those dollars are allocated once it reaches a school is a school’s decision, he added.

“The transparency is there,” said Harmon. “The difference is communication and you can never communicate enough so that people know we are being transparent.” She pledged to work with the district’s new superintendent, Jason Glass, to do a better job.

The forum was sponsored by the pro-teacher Support Jeffco Kids and Arvadans for Progressive Action.  


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 28, 20173min272

Upscale and conservative Douglas County’s public schools have set the pace for education reform in recent years, developing a homegrown school-voucher program (stalled by an ongoing court challenge) and ending collective bargaining with the local teachers union.

Reform of course is in the eye of the beholder, and the changes haven’t sat well with a contingent of parents, educators and others — the unions, too, of course — who have been challenging the DougCo school district for years. That includes in school board races, and the upcoming fall election promises to be another contentious one. Things are heating up already.

Complete Colorado’s Sherrie Peif reports that a group of parents critical of the reforms and supportive of a slate of teachers union-backed school board candidates was placing leaflets on parents’ cars at a back-to-school night at elementary schools. That led to standoff with school officials:

According to Douglas County School District (DCSD) representatives, principals at two elementary schools had to call police after the political activist committee, Douglas County Parents, refused to leave the property.

The group supports the local teachers union-backed slate of Board of Education candidates.

In at least one instance, parents became hostile with the principal, officials said.

Peif notes:

School policies prohibit the distribution of non-school sponsored material without permission of the building administrator during school hours (which includes 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after start and end times) and school-sponsored events, such as back-to-school nights.

District officials said the group did not seek approval to put fliers out during the events.

The parents’ group later shot back via social media. Peif writes that one district critic posted on the Facebook page of the group Speak for DCSD:

“Principals at Sage Canyon and Flagstone called the police on parents flyering (sic) cars and exercising their constitutional rights when no educational activities were taking place and in the evening. Flyers (sic) from “both sides” have been put on cars this week at various schools with no hassle or problems. If you think Reformers are just on the board of education, think again. Some principals also support the reform agenda and will do all they can to silence parents.”

Supporters of the current board’s policies, meanwhile, have fielded their own slate of candidates. We reported on that in July.


Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJuly 19, 20174min256
Several hundred protesters rally against ‘school choice’ policies pushed by the conservative ALEC organization ahead of ALEC’s meeting in Denver on Wednesday July 19, 2017. (Peter Marcus/ColoradoPolitics.com)

A few hundred protesters gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday to protest school choice policies pushed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

Standing on the west steps of the Capitol, activists – led by teachers’ unions – held signs that read, “Vouchers = Theft,” with anti-U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos photos on them.

Some also held large cutout headshots of Republican state lawmakers who support charter schools and voucher programs, despite some pieces of legislation in the Colorado legislature this year around equal funding for charter schools being bipartisan efforts.

The rally came ahead of an annual ALEC meeting in Denver, where DeVos is scheduled to speak along with other conservative leaders, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. DeVos and Zinke are scheduled for Thursday.

“Why would you take money from the less affluent to give to those who can already afford to buy their education in their positions,” said JoZi Martinez, a Denver Public Schools teacher and local activist. “Leave public education to the experts, we the teachers and the administrators.

“This is not a monarchy and you clearly are not a queen, Ms. DeVos.”

Several state Democratic elected officials also spoke at the rally, including those who are running for higher office. State Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, who is running for attorney general, has become a well-known figure in the activist community.

“Once it’s taken from you, then you no longer have power, and that is what’s happening here,” Salazar said, suggesting that there is a push to deny public education to low-income and minority communities.

“What you need to do is not just resit but become the opposition to what is happening,” Salazar continued. “Don’t just rally – vote!”

Also speaking at the rally was state Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, who is one of three Democrats hoping to replace U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada, in the 7th Congressional District. Following the rally, Kerr marched with protesters to a hotel in downtown Denver where the ALEC conference was taking place.

“My position as a state senator is what gives me the opportunity to address you here today, but my opposition to Betsy DeVos has little to do with being a state senator, and has everything to do with being a dad and a teacher,” Kerr said, who taught social studies.

“I know that Donald Trump and Secretary DeVos are a disaster for our schools.”