Politics in the Schools

I started this entry right before our elections this past Tuesday. It’s now Friday, and the results are finally conclusive.

One of the conclusions we can draw from this year’s “off-year” elections is that people don’t like taxes. They most definitely don’t like tax increases, and they don’t like to pay for things that a tax increase will allow you to have. Like, for example, a functioning public school system.

On the other hand, a sales tax increase? Hugely popular, even though the sales tax should have been included in the amendment passed last year as was intended. But anyway.

There was another series of elections this year. Every two years, there are elections for local school boards all across the state. This is the story of what happened (and what is still happening) in Douglas County. Colorado.

4 years ago, a change began to happen in the makeup of the school board. It began in 2009 with an election consisting of 2 different slates of 4 candidates each. One was backed by the local and state teacher’s union, and the other was backed by the county Republican Party. Interestingly, almost all of the candidates were in fact Republicans. This happened again in 2011. By the time 2012 rolled around, the intent of the school board was becoming quite clear. First there were the openings of charter school “academies” in a big way. There have been a couple of charter schools in the district for years now, but there has been a marked increase both in the number of schools and the number of students leaving their neighborhood schools for these.

There also came the introduction of school vouchers. They are unconstitutional in the state of Colorado as of now, but that is being decided in the court system.

Next, a change in the way that teachers are evaluated as to their effectiveness. The “not effective”, “effective” and “highly effective” scale now used has been rightly criticized as arbitrary and vague. Last spring, the announcement was made that the school board would no longer recognize the local teacher’s union as a bargaining entity (meaning that there would be no contract negotiations with them).

Not long after, there was an announcement that there would be no real “neighborhood schools” as they are currently known. Instead, each school will be its own “magnet” school with its own curriculum concentration. If a student wasn’t comfortable or interested in the curriculum offered in their neighborhood school, they would be free to go elsewhere in the district. Because freedom.

There were four candidates that were interested in making sure that the whole idea of neighborhood schools remained. That their children could go back to the schools that were second to none in the state of Colorado. Simply put, they lost on Tuesday.

There was an overwhelming amount of outside money being spend on a little county school board race. Money from the Koch Brothers and their Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, the Independence Institute, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education to name a few. Despite that, the race was close. Much closer than, say, Amendment 66. There were less than 10 percentage points separating the candidates on either side.

I do wish that certain news outlets wouldn’t use the word “reform”, even though the new school boards are clearly intent on quite literally re-forming their school districts.

For more information on what’s happening with the Douglas County, CO school board, please go visit Douglas County Parents.com.

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