IN RESPONSE | Education reformers tried to hold Democrats hostage

Author: Colorado Politics - May 7, 2018 - Updated: May 7, 2018

pensionColorado teachers line dance in Civic Center park during a protest over teacher pay, their pension and K-12 funding. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

On April 14, 3,400 leaders and activists from across Colorado came together to proudly proclaim our long-held beliefs that all children in Colorado deserve an equitable public education.

I am proud to have been the lead organizer for the state-level push and the author of the equivalent resolution passed at the Denver County Democratic Assembly on March 24.

What made writing each resolution so easy was that several local and state Democratic Party platforms going back for several years directly object to the operations and goals of Democrats for Education Reform, and in considerable detail without directly mentioning the group.

Any claim that last Saturday’s vote represents a far-left shift in the Democratic Party’s platform can only exist through a lens of misunderstanding at best, and manipulation at worst.

John Harpole’s piece represents an attempt to create an entirely alternate narrative from what actually occurred at the Colorado Democratic Party’s State Assembly on April14.

He criticizes unions for refusing to engage in discussion over the right kind of reform. What he leaves out is that reformers, those who identify with the “reform” movement and the false promise of “choice” (a euphemism for privatization), start from a position that significantly weakens unions without negotiation on that point. Colorado’s Senate Bill 10-191, which has decimated the ability of educators to bargain collectively, thereby severely weakening their affiliated unions, has become standard operating procedure across the country in the reformers’ handbook. Under constant assault from reformers who continuously mislead the public regarding their real intentions, how can educators expect reform leaders to interact in good faith?

Harpole cherry-picks facts when discussing education savings accounts (ESAs). Educators and those in favor of equitable public education oppose ESAs because they are essentially vouchers by another name. Vouchers are one of the most extreme and direct existing forms of privatizing public education.

Vouchers pull money directly from traditional public education to allow wealthy kids to attend private schools with non-licensed teachers (also forgotten is that unions protect kids and families by requiring that their members attain certain certifications and licenses). Meanwhile, traditional public schools continue to degrade due to reductions in funding coupled with inconsistently applied testing standards. This is essentially the cycle that reform seeks to pursue throughout the country to put forth a false claim that public schools are failing kids when it is actually our lack of commitment to provide needed funding and empower communities that is failing kids of color, indigenous communities, and special needs youths.

Harpole criticizes workers for walking out over unfair conditions. Let’s review the situation on the ground in the Denver metro area right now. Educators in the far northeast portion of Denver have been forced to set up GoFundMe pages to pay for basic school supplies like paper and writing utensils. Teachers at Abraham Lincoln High School have no dedicated classrooms and are forced to push their supplies around on carts from one period to another. Paying for new technology and under-qualified administrators has, absurdly, taken precedent over adequately compensating teachers, the soldiers that actually impart the face-to-face education that effective schooling is all about.

In protesting both the conditions for teachers and concerns over PERA, educators were acting on behalf not just of themselves, not just of kids, parents, families, and communities, but also of all of the employees of the state of Colorado who depend on PERA to remain solvent for their retirement security. The state made a promise to them for their public service which we must keep.

The most shocking omission in Harpole’s piece is that it leaves out how the unions truly played into the April 14 vote at the CDP Assembly. As Marianne Goodland recently detailed in her article for Colorado Politics, Democrats for Education Reform were aggressively threatening the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund as well as individual Democratic senators that if they sided with educators in this discussion, they would pull funding and jeopardize the potential for Democrats to retake the state Senate.

DFER, which is allied with the Koch brothers and the Walton family and others interested only in corporatizing education and pulling as much money from the process as possible regardless of resulting re-segregation and inequity, attempted to hold our party hostage a few weeks ago.

You’re damn right we told DFER to go to hell, and I couldn’t have been more proud to see my party hold true to the ideals its spent decades fighting for.

Nicky Yollick

Colorado Politics

Colorado Politics

Colorado Politics, formerly The Colorado Statesman, is the state's premier political news publication, renowned for its award-winning journalism. The publication is also the oldest political news outlet in the state, in continuous publication since 1898. Colorado Politics covers the stories behind the stories in Colorado's state Capitol and across the Centennial State, focusing on politics, public policy and elections with in-depth reporting on the people behind the campaigns — from grassroots supporters to campaign managers and the candidates and issues themselves.