THANK YOU, D’s – and a question
Whither the Democratic Party in Colorado?
On public education reform and choice and charters, a party that seeks to unify – or divide?
“After defeating Trump, Biden faces a Democratic Party straining at the seams,” Boston Globe, Nov. 16, 2020
Since Election Day, the reckoning between the two wings of the party has taken place in contentious conference calls, dueling memos, and pointed media interviews.
President-elect Joe Biden stresses his goal, to unify a divided country. Are Democrats in our state eager to unify their own party around a more inclusive and expansive view of public education, one which includes support for a governance model that today has over a 25-year history and now serves more than 125,000 students in over 260 public schools across Colorado?
Or, instead, to borrow the phrase often used to lambaste our current President, are Democrats determined to build a wall? To limit or shut down this new option for families and for educators? To go so far as to boo your fellow Democrat off the stage, apparently for supporting charters? This is the party of Inclusion?
But to return to my larger theme – here on Thanksgiving week, a sincere THANK YOU!
Thank you to the many Democrats who have been key figures in the creation and implementation of the charter school law and the option it has provided so many families these past 27 years.
1) Thank you to the Democrats who supported expanding public school options in the early 1990’s.
Thank you to the late Rep. Peggy Kerns, the Aurora Democrat who so-sponsored Senate Bill 183, the Charter School Act of 1993, along with then Senator Bill Owens.
A – Former Senate President Peter Groff
B – Former House Speaker Terrance Carroll
C – Former Superintendent Michael Bennet
D – Governor Jared Polis
E – Which Democratic Party? Colorado
F – Which Democratic Party? Nationally
Thank you to State Senators Larry Trujillo (Pueblo) and Mike Johnson (Denver) and State Representatives Jim Dyer, Bob Hagedorn, and Peggy Reeves for joining their fellow Democrat Kerns in sponsoring the Charter School Act of 1993.
Thank you to Barbara O’Brien (then head of the Colorado Children’s Campaign) and to the late Royce Forsyth (then a member of the Colorado State Board of Education) for providing testimony in support of SB 183.
Thank you to Gov. Roy Romer, who advocated for the Charter School Act and then signed it into law.
Thank you to Gov. Romer’s aides, Bill Porter and Joy Fitzgerald, for all the behind-the-scenes work to help with the passage of SB 183.
2) Thank you to Democrats who played a central role in supporting this option in the 2000’s
Their words in support of charter schools follow in the Addenda.
Thank you to former Colorado Senate President Peter Groff (first elected to the House in 2000, and then to the Senate in 2003, representing District 33 until 2009) for supporting charter schools in the Colorado legislature and then on the national scene. In 2010 Groff became the head of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In 2011 he became a senior adviser with the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Groff is Principal and Chief Strategist at MCG2 Consulting, LLC. (See Addendum A)
Thank you to former Colorado Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll (Representative of Denver’s 7th district from 2003-2011) for his leadership and support of charter schools during his eight years at the Colorado legislature, including his sponsorship of the Colorado Charter School Institute, which currently serves as the authorizer of 42 charter schools enrolling over 18,000 students. (See Addendum B)
Thank you to Senator Michael Bennet, who, during his three-plus years as Superintendent of the Denver Pubic Schools, set a new direction for the district on charter schools. (See Addendum C)
Thank you to members of the
And thank you to Gov. Jared Polis, who helped start the New America School in 2004, which opened and still runs three charter schools in Colorado “dedicated to serving a unique population – recent immigrants and their families and children who want to learn or perfect English and earn a high school diploma, non-traditional students, and traditional students seeking a more personal atmosphere that fits their learning needs” (https://www.newamericaschool.org/). As a member of the Colorado State Board of Education, as a Congressman, and as Governor, he has continued to articulate a position shared by many Democrats about the potential of charter schools. When he ran for Governor, he expressed his continued support of the charter option. “Parents value choice in public education.” (See Addendum D)
Is AV #219 merely a (nostalgic) thank you to the Democratic Party that was? I hope not. As the Addenda will show, we hear mixed messages from Democrats these days. Are those Democrats winning races of late for the state and local school boards, well-aligned with the teachers’ union in their negative view charters (see AV #215), the voice of the Democratic Party today? Are they willing to divide the party on this issue?
NOTE to Colorado Democrats. Independent voters are the largest “bloc” of voters in our purple state. Which is why the intolerance shown by some Democrats towards charter school advocates, within their own party—booing off the stage? (Addendum E)—is so mean-spirited and self-defeating.… But again, to return…
It is Thanksgiving. I am trying to be grateful. Over 260 new choices today. More every year. My sincere thanks to all, whatever your party, who have expanded the options for K-12 public education in our state.
Addendum A – Peter Groff
“The Progressive Choice: Creating 21st Century School Systems,” by Peter Groff, 9/11/2018
Public charter schools, innovation schools and innovation zones, and public school choice are deeply rooted in, and reflective of, progressive values. Twenty-first century school systems inspired by the success of chartering and innovation schools will change the trajectory of millions of children. For the past 25 years, our nation’s most progressive leaders have whole-heartedly endorsed this movement, because at the heart of these reforms are longstanding liberal ideas: empowering educators and creating equal opportunity for all of America’s children.
COLORADO POLITICS: You were a big champion of school choice and education reform in the General Assembly. It’s a set of issues that has been known to divide your party. How did you come to be such a vocal advocate of charter schools in particular, and why is there still pushback against charters within some segments of the Democratic spectrum?
Carroll: I remain a champion of education reform and suspect that I always will be. I came to my position on education reform as a result of my life experience. I was born to a single mother and raised in a very poor Washington, D.C., neighborhood. My educational options were very limited. Thankfully, my mother, although a domestic worker lacking a formal education, understood the inherent value of quality education and sacrificed to provide me the educational opportunities I needed to be successful. My commitment to education reform is a direct result of my mother’s sacrifice and advocacy. She not only fought for me but she also fought for every kid in my neighborhood to have access to quality public schools. I do my best to honor my mother through my commitment to ensuring that all our children have the same access to opportunities that I had. Unfortunately, some in the Democratic Party portray advocacy for education reform as anti-public school. That is simply not true. Education reformers are dedicated to improving educational outcomes by expanding access to high quality public schools, whether they be traditional or charter schools.
Addendum C – Michael Bennet
Addendum D - Jared Polis
Interview: Colorado Rep. (and Gov. Hopeful) Jared Polis on Denver Schools, ESSA
& Special Education,* June 12, 2017
From “Colorado 2018 election: Where Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton stand on education,” by Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat Colorado, July 11, 2018
Should Colorado expand school choice further or do more to restrict it – and how would either be accomplished? Should Colorado use public money for private school vouchers? Should any new restrictions or rules be placed on charter schools?
Jared Polis (D) - Parents value choice in public education, and districts and charter schools offer a variety of options. What I care about is quality. I do not support vouchers going to unaccountable private schools and have opposed for-profit education throughout my entire career. I believe that public charter schools should be held accountable to the same budgetary, academic, and financial transparency as neighborhood public schools. Our top priority must be providing all of our public schools with the resources they need to provide every single Colorado child with a great education.
Which Democratic Party? Colorado
Delegates at the Colorado Democratic state assembly Saturday sent a clear message to the state chapter of Democrats for Education Reform: You don’t have a place in our party.
After booing down the head of the education reform organization, who described herself as a lifelong Democrat, delegates voted overwhelmingly Saturday to call for the organization to no longer use “Democrats” in its name. While it’s unclear how that would be enforced, the vote means a rejection of DFER is now part of the Colorado Democratic Party platform.
The one-sided platform fight revealed a growing divide among party activists and establishment politicians on education policy …
The advisory committee of the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform like a “who’s who” of prominent party members and includes former speaker of the state House Mark Ferrandino, who now works for Denver Public Schools, and former state Sen. Mike Johnston, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate and the author of several key education reform bills in Colorado. https://co.chalkbeat.org/2018/4/14/21104748/colorado-democrats-overwhelmingly-reject-democrats-for-education-reform-at-state-assembly
2. From “DFER Says Its Causes are 'Progressive,' Is Pouring $4 Million Into State Races,” by Daarel Burnette II, Education Week, August 7, 2018
At a raucous statewide convention in April, members of Colorado's Democratic Party booed the state's DFER president Jennifer Walmer as she spoke in favor of charter schools. The convention then approved an amendment to the party's state platform that says, in part, "We oppose making Colorado's public schools private or run by private corporations or becoming segregated again through lobbying and campaigning efforts of the organization called Democrats for Education Reform and demand that they immediately stop using the party's name Democrat in their name."
Nevertheless, to the Colorado's teacher union's dismay, U.S. House member Jared Polis, who has pushed for charter schools and vouchers in the past, won the Democratic nomination for governor in this year's Colorado contest.
3. “Tapia fed up with fight over charters,” by Charles Ashby, Pueblo Chieftain, March 21, 2007
DENVER - State Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, criticized the Pueblo City Schools Board of Education on Monday, complaining that the board was spending money suing a local charter school that could be better used for education.
Senator Abel Tapia
“I told her that as far as I knew, charter schools were part of public education.”
Tapia, who said there’s no reason why charter schools and traditional public schools can’t co-exist, scolded the Pueblo district for trying to squelch the academy as if they were competing for students, rather than to trying to improve its own students’ academic performance.
Tapia also expressed anger with several school district educators who have said that some students aren’t smart enough to go to college and should be taught to their level.
“I take exception to that. I think it’s terrific to try to get the kids to do just as much as they possibly can and push them to a higher level,” Tapia said. “The district in my (region) has spent about $500,000 fighting charter schools. This is $500,000 that could have been spent on kids. I think they’ve wasted $500,000. Instead of doing what they’re supposed to do and learn what is actually making this (academy) succeed.
“Instead of fighting, we ought to adjust our normal public schools . . . and change the way we’re doing things,” Tapia added. “I keep on saying, if we don’t change the way we’re doing public education, we can’t expect the results to be any different.”
“What I ended up telling my school board is, you’re going to have to start competing for these children,” Tapia said. “You’re going to have to offer a better product. You have to offer a product much like what the charters are doing so (students) stay in your school.”
Which Democratic Party? Nationally
1. “Biden team to reverse policies quickly,” by Erica L. Green,
The New York Times Co., Nov. 13, 2019
WASHINGTON - Unions were not seen as key players in the — the National Education Association called for the resignation of Mr. Obama’s first education secretary, Arne Duncan — and have been at odds with centrist Democrats on some policy issues, such as charter schools, . Mr. Biden this summer reshaped the Democratic platform to embrace a ban on federal funding for for-profit charters, and to call for cutting funding to underperforming charters run by nonprofit organizations.
“He’s coming in saying he wants to unify people, and it’ll be interesting to see whether that holds for education policy,” said Charles Barone, the director of policy at Democrats for Education Reform. “If you really respect the role of people who got you elected, are you going to come in and attack the choices they make for their children?”
2. Open letter to President-Elect Biden (Nov. 12, 2020)
CHRIS STEWART: Driven by an entrenched sense of scarcity, we have seen the powerful lobbies representing public education systems position themselves as the victims of much smaller players in education. They have wrongfully labeled charter schools, private schools and home schools enemies of the common good. Education has become so divisive that many families who choose alternative learning programs for their children fear talking openly about their choices. I hope you live up to your promise of being a president for all Americans, even as national education leaders fail to include families who educate their children outside of the traditional system. Be a leader who heals divisions and brings people together even when the politics make that a challenging goal to achieve.
One major first step is ending the narrow view of how we educate children, how and what we teach and where education occurs. For example, instead of stoking ill will between district schools and charters and pitting parents in those schools against each other, we should find every opportunity to develop collaboration between the best of each of these school models.
The point here is that To date, you have mostly put teachers’ unions and their policy agenda first.
3. Joe Biden – “Education in the 2020 Presidential Race,” Education Week, Candidates View, Fall 2020
Biden did not stand out among Democrats or in general for his views about charter schools and school choice during his time as a senator or as vice president. The Obama administration was generally supportive of charter schools. However, during his 2020 bid for the presidency, Biden has adopted much of the platform favored by teachers' unions and other skeptics of charters and various forms of choice. During the campaign, he has come out against charters operated by for-profit entities and criticized the approach to choice taken by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. He's also said charter schools "siphon off" money from public schools. (However, charter schools are legally considered to be public schools.) However, he's also said that some charter schools do work. The Democratic Party Platform, which drew on recommendations from a task force assembled by Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, calls for significant new restrictions of how charters operate and are held accountable. The party platform also expresses strong opposition to vouchers. Quote: "I do not support any federal money for for-profit charter schools, period." (AFT Event, May 28, 2019) https://www.edweek.org/ew/projects/education2020/index.html
4. “Teachers unions will have newfound influence in a Biden administration. Here’s how they might use it,” Chalkbeat, by Kalyn Belsha, Nov. 17, 2020
No matter who ends up in the top job, teachers and their unions are poised to help shape the Biden administration’s approach to federal education policy.
“Joe and I will never forget what you did for us,” Jill Biden told the heads of the NEA and the AFT on Monday as she thanked them for their members’ support during the election. “Joe and Kamala will not only listen to you, they’re going to make sure that your voices are leading this movement. Educators, this is our moment.”
What that moment looks like, and where that influence might be felt most clearly, are the key questions now.
Had the pandemic not upended this last school year, the answer might have been on issues like big funding boosts for public schools serving low-income students and a tougher stance on charter schools. Those union-aligned promises were a part of Biden’s campaign platform.
Charter schools are likely to be another pressure point, though many observers agree that issue is likely to go on the back burner for now. On the campaign trail, Biden said he would seek to prevent federal funds from going to for-profit operators, but he hasn’t said what he intends to do with the federal grant program that funds charter school expansion.
Charter schools are still popular within parts of the Democratic party, especially among Black and Latino parents. Teachers unions may press Biden to spend less on the expansion of charter schools, or to put stipulations on how that money can be spent, but the administration may want to avoid a contentious fight on that front.
5. From – “2020 NEA Policy Playbook for Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration,” Priorities for the significant work ahead, by National Education Association, 11/12/2020
Public education should be our first priority. Any program that diverts resources from the traditional public schools that 90 percent of American students attend by definition undermines the promise of public education. The NEA is dedicated to addressing the inequalities our students and communities face, and most charter schools do not contribute to the systemic framework that ensures all students have access to a more equitable, safe, and dynamic learning environment.
Where they operate, charter schools should be authorized and held accountable by the same agency that monitors and evaluates other schools in a public school district. They should be held to the same open meetings and public records requirements; federal, state, and local civil rights laws and regulations; and health and safety codes as traditional public schools.
The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:
- Oppose all charter school expansion that undermines traditional public schools.
- Bar federal funding to charter schools, charter school authorizers, and charter school management companies not authorized or operated by local school districts.
- Require charter schools, charter school authorizers, and charter school management companies to abide by the same laws and regulations applicable to traditional public schools.
6. Biden’s education transition team gets California leader: Linda Darling-Hammond,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 11, 2020.
Linda Darling-Hammond, a leading figure in California education policy, is heading the education transition team for President-elect Joe Biden, where she is expected to emphasize support for teachers and traditional public schools. One closely watched area in the Biden administration will be the growth of charter schools, which are privately operated, government-funded public schools. Most are nonunion. While not vocally opposed to charters, Darling-Hammond is generally considered to be an ally of teachers unions.
7. “Jury split on whether Biden will benefit or harm school choice,” by Naaz Modan, Education Dive, Nov.11, 2020
Although some have said Biden was “aggressively” against school choice, others disagree on what exactly his win means for education reformers.
Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said in a statement the organization is “counting on the incoming Biden-Harris administration” to support public charter schools and provide parents with flexibility following “significant enrollment spikes” in light of the pandemic.
But American Federation for Children President John Schilling said in an email to Education Dive that while the Trump administration increased federal charter school spending by over $100 million, that will likely not be the case in a Biden White House, which may only show “modest charter school support.”
8. From “A DEMOCRATIC GUIDE TO PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOLS 2nd EDITION,” by Democrats for Education Reform, May 2019
From the Executive Summary
FROM THEIR ORIGINS IN THE 1980s up until the present day, public charter schools have enjoyed strong bipartisan support, including from many prominent Democrats. Some of the most notable Democratic and progressive public charter school champions include:
• Ember Reichgott Junge, a Democratic State Senator from Minnesota, who authored the nation’s first charter school law along with her Democratic colleagues Representatives Ken Nelson and Becky Kelso;
• Al Shanker, former President of the American Federation of Teachers, who was one of the earliest proponents of the public charter school model;
• President Bill Clinton, who spearheaded passage of the first federal law designed specifically to support charter school start-ups;
• President Barack Obama, who spurred states to lift caps on new charter schools and created the first-ever federal funding stream dedicated to replicating and expanding high-performing public charter schools;
• Democratic Governors such as Phil Bredesen, Jerry Brown, Andrew Cuomo, John Hickenlooper, Dannel Malloy, Gina Raimondo, and Jared Polis;
• Urban Mayors like Karl Dean, Rahm Emanuel, Vincent Gray, Michael Hancock, Mitch Landrieu, Tom Menino, and Antonio Villaraigosa; and
• Members of Congress, including Senators Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Chris Coons, Dianne Feinstein, and Mazie Hirono and Representatives Hakeem Jeffries, Cedric Richmond, Zoe Lofgren, André Carson, John Delaney, and Adriano Espaillat.
In undertaking this important work, these and other leaders understand that high-quality public charter schools embody bedrock progressive principles of opportunity and equity. They accept that pursuing those principles is never without adversity and struggle. And they exemplify the ideal of fighting on behalf of our nation’s most vulnerable individuals, which has always been one of the Democratic Party’s core missions.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON
President Bill Clinton was one of the earliest proponents of charter schools from either political party. During his time in the White House, he spearheaded passage of the first federal charter school law in 1994 when there were charter school laws in just two states (Minnesota and California). The federal Charter School Program remains a major source of funding for charter start-ups and for replicating and expanding high-performing schools. “The idea behind charter schools is that not all kids are the same—they have different needs; they have different environments—but there is a certain common level of education that all kids need, no matter how different they are, and that it would be a good thing to allow schools to be developed which had a clear mission, which could reach out to kids who wanted to be a part of that mission, who could achieve educational excellence for children who otherwise might be left behind.” — Remarks at the City Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, May 3, 2013
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
As president, Barack Obama led a new generation of Democrats to realize the value in the charter school model. “Charter schools play an important role in our country’s education system. Supporting some of our nation’s underserved communities, they can ignite imagination and nourish the minds of America’s young people while finding new ways of educating them and equipping them with the knowledge they need to succeed.” — Presidential Proclamation, National Charter Schools Week, April 14, 2016