The Real PERA Problem is Getting Ignored

State lawmakers are rushing to finish up a number of bills before Wednesday’s final day of the 2018 legislative session. At the top of the list is legislation to make changes to PERA (the Public Employees Retirement Association), the state pension system that includes more than 500,000 Coloradans among its members. Legislators from the House and Senate are currently trying to work out a compromise on SB-200, but there are serious differences of opinion on issues such as raising contributions and limiting cost-of-living adjustments for beneficiaries.

The weakening of retirement benefits has been a significant pain point for teachers across the country, from Kentucky to Arizona and here in Colorado. Reforming PERA is also emerging as a major issue in the 2018 race for Governor, particularly on the Republican side; State Treasurer Walker Stapleton has long made PERA reform a signature issue (when he bothers to show up, of course).

“Many institutions pay substantial sums to consultants who, in turn, recommend high-fee managers. And that is a fool’s game…

…Most advisors, however, are far better at generating high fees than they are at generating high returns.”

— Warren Buffet

Most of the discussions around PERA funding have revolved around whether to increase contributions from employees and/or the state, but as David Sirota reports for Westword, there is a gigantic elephant in the room that has yet to be addressed: PERA is paying Wall Street investing firms more than a billion dollars in fees for managing portfolios that are consistently underperforming their benchmarks — which means PERA hasn’t even been keeping up with the stock market.

Sirota’s story is thick with detail but well worth the read:

Ask legislators at the Colorado State Capitol if they’ve even heard about the $1 billion of investment fees that the state’s pension system paid out to external money managers between 2009 and 2016, and you will get blank stares. Ask them if they realize those are only the fees that are disclosed — and that there are likely hundreds of millions of dollars of additional fees being paid — and they will express disbelief. Ask them if they know that state officials passed legislation — written by the financial industry — barring the details of the fee terms from being revealed to the public, and you will elicit outrage.

This is a little-discussed reality at PERA — just as it is at many retirement systems across the country. And lately PERA has moved to funnel even more money into an opaque fund that is a mishmash of exotic investments from timberland to hedge funds — and has generated ever-higher fees while trailing the broader stock market…

…In nearly every state with revenue shortfalls, the political debate over pension reform primarily revolves around proposals to cut workers’ benefits — while ever-larger payouts to financial firms are considered sacrosanct and kept hidden from view.

As Sirota explains, PERA’s problem isn’t just that it holds underperforming “alternative” investments (including private equity, real estate, and hedge funds), but that hundreds of millions of dollars are being paid in “fees” to Wall Street brokers to manage these middling returns. We don’t know exact numbers on how much money is being paid in fees because an obscure piece of legislation from 2004k keeps everything hidden:

Colorado’s two-paragraph legislation gave PERA the right to hide all information about private equity, debt and timber investments if pension trustees determined that “disclosure of such information would jeopardize the value of the investment.”

Detailed financial information on management fees is not, and cannot, be disclosed by PERA. What we know about these fees is based only on a snapshot of data provided by PERA. For example:

Between 2009 and 2016, PERA disclosed spending roughly $1.2 billion to manage all of its investments. More than two-thirds of those expenses were fees paid to firms managing money in the private equity, hedge fund and Opportunity Fund portfolios, even though those managers only oversaw roughly 20 percent of the state’s overall investments. 

… In its 2016 annual report, PERA reported an 8.5 percent return over the most recent five years — but even that has trailed a traditional Vanguard fund, and it also trailed at least one of its peers in the Intermountain West. Nevada’s public pension system, which is 12 percent smaller than PERA and has far less exposure to private equity and real estate, earned a 9.1 percent return during the same five-year period. That outperformance came at a cheaper cost: Nevada paid 75 percent less in fees than did Colorado, paying half a billion dollars less to Wall Street than PERA did.

The numbers that are available from PERA don’t provide a lot of confidence. For example, take a look at PERA’s Annualized Rate of Return over the last decade (outlined in PERA’s 2016 annual report): PERA shows a return of 5.2%, while the median public pension system in the U.S. saw a return of 5.5%. During that same time period, Vanguard’s low-fee Balanced Index Fund (60% stocks and 40% bonds) generated annualized returns of 6.4%.

Again, you really should read the entire Westword story in order to understand the full depth of the problem here. It would appear that PERA can make great strides in its bottom line by changing its investments andaddressing the hundreds of millions in fees being paid out to Wall Street for what seems to be pretty terrible advice. This probably won’t be enough to fix PERA’s financial problems entirely, but the burden for reform shouldn’t be felt by PERA members alone.

Bob Gardner Junks Optically Horrible Teacher Jailing Bill

Sen. Bob Gardner (R).

Denver7 reporting on the demise of a bill that many Republicans in the Colorado General Assembly wanted to die–even if they’d rather not admit it, or for that matter talk about it at all:

The sponsor of a bill that aimed to punish Colorado teachers that went on strike pulled the bill ahead of a Senate committee hearing Monday.

Senate Bill 264 was pulled by sponsor Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, ahead of a hearing Monday in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee.

The bill would have prohibited public school teachers from striking by allowing districts to seek injunctions blocking a planned strike.

Should an injunction have been granted under the now-dead measure, teachers could have faced contempt of court charges, which could have led to fines or jail time upon conviction.

With all of the attention focused on teachers in recent weeks as they demonstrate across the nation for better education funding, Sen. Bob Gardner’s bill received national exposure as an example of the kind of legislative malice being proposed against teachers–helping justify the teachers’ protests everywhere in national roundup stories. For a bill that had no realistic chance of passing through the split Colorado legislature, this was a significant public relations backfire. It represents a major misreading of the electorate, whose support for teachers is being reaffirmed in polls as the protests go on:

Just 1 in 4 Americans believe teachers in this country are paid fairly. Nearly two-thirds approve of national teachers’ unions, and three-quarters agree teachers have the right to strike. That last figure includes two-thirds of Republicans, three-quarters of independents and nearly 9 in 10 Democrats. [Pols emphasis]

In 2018, Colorado Republican Senate had made enough political missteps to fill a warehouse–missteps we expect Democrats to utilize to devastating effect in the upcoming elections. Without a doubt this was one of them, perhaps the worst possible answer to teacher rallies that enjoy overwhelming popular support. The 2015 school board recalls in Jefferson County and subsequent swing to the left in school board elections demonstrates clearly the vulnerability of conservative hard-liners on education issues.

This bill is dead, but its mean spirit will live on in infamy.

Massive Capitol Rally For #RedforEd Day 2

UPDATE: Denver7’s Blair Miller:

Thousands of Colorado teachers gathered at the Capitol building in Denver on Friday for the second day of walkouts and rallies calling for better pay, more school funding and pension reform…

Gov. John Hickenlooper addressed the teachers shortly after 11:30 p.m. and tried to explain what his administration has done to try and pay down the so-called “negative factor” in school funding, which currently sits around $670 million, Hickenlooper said.

“When the state went through the recession…in essence, the state borrowed over $1 billion for education. I know it’s not enough. We share that frustration,” Hickenlooper said, but he added that he wanted lawmakers to pass plans to pay the negative factor down to zero over the next few years.

Denver Post:

State troopers declined to give a crowd estimate, but observers put it at least 6,000, nearly all of whom yelled and challenged lawmakers for more school money. At one point, they collectively pointed to the Capitol and chanted to legislators, “Come on down! Come on down!”

t was the second rally in as many days as more than 30 school districts — including those covering Denver, Aurora, Cherry Creek, and Douglas and Jefferson counties — canceled classes because of a lack of teachers. The districts serve hundreds of thousands of students, who got the days off. Many teachers used their personal days off to attend the rallies.

—–


Image courtesy Rep. Mike Foote

We’ll update with coverage of today’s massive rally at the state capitol to support public education, the second day of such protests and by all accounts a much larger turnout than Thursday’s gathering:

Support or oppose them, it’s the most color-coordinated crowd in Denver since the Broncos won Super Bowl 50.

Get More Smarter on Friday (April 27)

The Denver Broncos did not select a quarterback with their first round pick on Thursday, but that might be a good thing. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY… 

► Teachers from across Colorado are rallying at the State Capitol for a second day. As the Denver Post reports:

Hundreds of thousands of Colorado students stayed home from school on Friday while teachers from dozens of districts — including Denver, Aurora and Cherry Creek — descended on the state Capitol to demand an increase in state funding for public education.

Teachers and their supporters — many of them decked out in red — began streaming toward the Capitol before 9 a.m. Friday, carrying signs, banners and a message. Bands were playing to show support for the teachers.

Retired teacher Marianne Scott said she’s proud that teachers are finally standing up and fighting for better funding.

“Is Colorado a ‘backwater’ state or a state focused on prosperity for all?” he asked.

Teacher walkouts are bringing new attention to the issue of poor education funding and dismal salaries. Proponents of a ballot measure to increase school funding in Colorado are using the momentum to push for change in November.

 

► The New York Times reports on encouraging news about easing tensions between North and South Korea:

The leaders of North and South Korea agreed on Friday to work to remove all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and, within the year, pursue talks with the United States to declare an official end to the Korean War, which ravaged the peninsula from 1950 to 1953.

At a historic summit meeting, the first time a North Korean leader had ever set foot in the South, the leaders vowed to negotiate a treaty to replace a truce that has kept an uneasy peace on the divided Korean Peninsula for more than six decades, while ridding it of nuclear weapons. A peace treaty has been one of the incentives North Korea has demanded in return for dismantling its nuclear program.

“South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” read a statement signed by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, after their meeting at the border village of Panmunjom.

 

► Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs) may be finishing out his political career in 2018 after a Colorado State Supreme Court ruling tossed his name off of the June Primary ballot this week. Lamborn may find out on Monday if his lawsuit in federal court will be successful in allowing him to officially run for re-election. State Sen. Owen Hill, who is running for Lamborn’s seat in CD-5, is getting more involved in the federal case.

 

► Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee insist that everything is fine regarding allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. From the Washington Post:

House Intelligence Committee Republicans released a redacted version of their final reportfrom a year-long probe into Russia’s “multifaceted” influence operation, generally clearing President Trump and his associates of wrongdoing while accusing the intelligence community and the FBI of failures in how they assessed and responded to the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election.

The report accuses the intelligence community of “significant intelligence tradecraft failings,” suggesting that Russia’s main goal was to sow discord in the United States and not to help Trump win the election. It says investigators found “no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government” — even as it details contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians or Russian intermediaries.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Dr. Karen McCormick: Standing in Solidarity with Colorado Teachers

Today I joined teachers from Douglas County in our district and from other counties and school districts from across Colorado at the state capitol in Denver to rally in support of our state’s public education system.

The teachers I met and listened to today want to see better funding for public education in our state, and I’m proud to support their cause.

Public education is the bedrock of our Democracy, but Colorado’s schools are severely underfunded and it hurts teachers and students alike. Colorado students deserve a high quality public education – no matter their zip code or background.

I didn’t see any of my opponents – Democrat or Republican – there to support teachers today, and that’s part of what makes me different. Coloradans are facing tough challenges, but my dad Rear Admiral Dan McCormick taught me to never back down from a fight and I’ll lead from the trenches as your next Congresswoman.

My votes in Congress will always be guided by Colorado teachers like the ones I met today – not special interests with their own agenda.

Teachers Besiege Colorado Capitol

As the Denver Post’s Monte Whaley reports, Colorado public school teachers are out in force at the Capitol today and tomorrow, joining teachers in other states in calling for better funding for education and a better deal for themselves, too:

Thousands of teachers and their supporters on Thursday morning poured into downtown Denver for two days of protesting the state of education funding in Colorado…

Teachers from two of the state’s largest school districts — Jefferson and Douglas County — did not report to their classrooms, but instead went to the Capitol to pressure lawmakers into boosting funding for Colorado’s schools and improving the fund teachers depend on for secure retirements.

Cary Kennedy, a Democratic candidate for governor, told the teachers that GOP lawmakers “want to silence your voice,” but instead “You need a raise!”

Denver7’s Blair Miller explains what they’re asking for in detail:

Among those requests, according to the [Colorado Education Association], are that the state make down payments of at least $150 million this year on the so-called “negative factor” and to pay it off by 2022. State public schools are underfunded by $822 million, according to the CEA.

The teachers’ union is also calling for the reduction or freezing of corporate tax breaks until lawmakers restore school funding, and are pushing a ballot initiative to raise taxes on some Coloradans. Proponents say if the initiative is passed, it would raise more than $1 billion each year for public education.

The pushback against these protests seems to consist of the fact that the situation in Colorado for education funding is not quite as dire as in some other state, such as Oklahoma where teachers recently went on strike for an extended period. Teachers and families with public school students find little comfort in being positioned slightly better in a race to the bottom than Oklahoma, and Colorado’s failure to adequately fund public schools despite statewide votes and broad public support have created intense frustration over a period of years. Lawmakers in both parties grow accustomed to this broken status quo, but for the public witnessing the end result it just looks ridiculous. What do you mean we can’t properly fund schools, even when the economy is booming?

So the teachers are protesting in the streets. They’ll be voting too.

George Brauchler, Magnificent Putz (Episode 2)

George Brauchler and his political strategist.

George Brauchler has the political instincts of a carrot.

Last month, the Arapahoe County District Attorney and Republican candidate for Attorney General made the bizarre decision to publicly attack a potential witness in an execution case after a woman refused to participate in the trial due to her religious beliefs. Brauchler was so caught up in his bloodlust over death penalty cases that he was oblivious to the fact that the entire episode just made him look like a Republican opposing religious freedom.

Yesterday, Brauchler decided he needed to speak out against Colorado teachers who are marching on the State Capitol this week over concerns about poor education funding and some of the lowest wages for teachers in the entire country. It did not go well:

Brauchler was quickly attacked on social media for his idiotic Tweet — a problem he then compounded by getting into heated discussions with people responding to his message. It is particularly absurd for Brauchler to question the timing of teacher complaints about low wages; after all, this is the same guy who used to talk about how he once asked for a pay cut without bothering to mention that he had later requested — and received — a huge salary increase.

We can’t understand Brauchler’s thought process here, because this is fundamentally a very simple thing: If you are trying to win a statewide race for any office, attacking teachers is about the last thing you want to do. Ever. 

Brauchler was once thought to be a potential candidate for U.S. Senate, but he skipped that opportunity in order to make a run for Governor in 2018. Brauchler’s gubernatorial hopes fizzled out in a matter of months after it became clear that he had absolutely no idea how to mount an effective statewide campaign; when Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced her own no-hope bid for Governor in November, Brauchler quickly changed trains to run for AG himself.

In his brief run for Governor, Brauchler showed that he couldn’t raise money and had no grasp of how to talk about issues (Brauchler was famously surprised to find out that water was a big issue in Colorado). While he has been running for various statewide offices, Brauchler has also proven to be pretty terrible at his current gig, which doesn’t help his argument that he should become Colorado’s chief law enforcement officer.

Some politicians just can’t ever seem to get out of their own way. George Brauchler is exactly that kind of politician.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (April 24)

Tomorrow is Administrative Professionals Day, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY… 

► Colorado Republicans are getting (rightfully) blasted for proposing legislation that would jail Colorado teachers for escalating their push to increase education funding. Mother Jones is just one of numerous national news outlets to pick up this story:

The bill, which is seen as a long shot to make it through the state Legislature, came just days after hundreds of Colorado educators rallied in Denver, joining educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona in protesting for better pay and funding for public schools. Gardner told the Denver Post on Monday that the idea for the proposed legislation emerged after the strike in West Virginia, and he noted he was open to changes in the penalty for teachers who strike, adding it was “probably most important” that unions are penalized for sponsoring a strike.

“It’s a wise thing to do, in some shape or form, in the state of Colorado because we have one district that’s already voted to strike. We have others discussing a strike,” Gardner told the Post. “Strikes are not good for children.” On Twitter, Colorado Senate Democrats slammed the bill as “anti-worker trash.”

Colorado teachers are among the lowest-paid in the entire country. 9News has a list of school districts that will be closed for students at the end of this week because of planned teacher protests.

 

► The White House is defending President Trump’s nominee for VA Secretary amid what looks to be an uphill battle for confirmation. From the Washington Post:

Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician and a former combat surgeon, was scheduled to testify before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Wednesday. But the hearing has been delayed because of concerns about his qualifications and oversight of the White House medical staff, as well as other allegations about Jackson’s conduct that have been shared with the committee.

“We’re gonna have a hearing at some time in the future, but not Wednesday,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), the chairman of the panel.

Should Jackson’s nomination fail, perhaps Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman can be a nominee so that he can later call on himself to resign. In the meantime, perhaps Trump’s administration can come up with some sort of vetting process.

 

If you’re having a difficult time keeping track of the number of sexual harassment allegations now levied against Sen. Randy Baumgardner, you are not alone. If you believe that Senate President Kevin Grantham or Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert are ever going to actually do something about these allegations…well, you might be on your own there.

 

► Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs) may be finishing out his political career in 2018 after a Colorado State Supreme Court ruling tossed his name off of the June Primary ballot. Lamborn is apparently appealing the decision to a federal court, but it is unclear whether a higher court will consider his arguments. The Colorado Secretary of State’s office is supposed to finalize the Primary ballot by Friday, April 27.

This is a complete embarrassment for Lamborn even if he ultimately makes it onto the Primary ballot. Lamborn is a six-term Congressman, yet his re-election campaign struggled to collect 1,000 valid petition signatures.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Republican Lawmakers Threaten Jail Time for Underpaid Teachers

Two Colorado Springs Republicans, Rep. Paul Lundeen and Sen. Bob Gardner, are sponsoring a ridiculously tone-deaf piece of legislation targeting teachers.

The plight of underfunded schools and underpaid teachers has become a national story, with educators walking off the job in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona.

Here in Colorado, teachers have been marching on the State Capitol to demand higher wages and better school funding. Those protests will grow louder this week when teachers from three of the largest school districts in the state — Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson counties — descend on the State Capitol on Thursday and Friday. Teachers from multiple other school districts throughout Colorado are participating in various rallies this week, and while there are no indications that educators might go on strike, Republican lawmakers are doing their best to threaten them anyway.

Denver7 reports on a new GOP-sponsored bill in the Colorado legislature designed to have a chilling effect on the free speech rights of teachers:

The bill, SB18-264, would prohibit public school teacher strikes by authorizing school districts to seek an injunction from district court. A failure to comply with the injunction would “constitute contempt of court” and teachers could face not only fines but up to six months in county jail, the bill language reads. 

The bill also directs school districts to fire teachers on the spot without a proper hearing if they’re found in contempt of court and also bans public school teachers from getting paid “for any day which the public school teacher participates in a strike.” [Pols emphasis]

The bill, which was introduced this past Friday, is sponsored by State Rep. Paul Lundeen and Sen. Bob Gardner, both Republicans.

The story of this new legislation from Republicans is already being picked up nationally (see The Hill and Vox.com for two examples), and we would expect that you’ll be hearing about this soon from every major media outlet in the country. Colorado teachers are among the lowest paid in the country — our state ranks 46th in average teacher pay nationwide.

Administrators in Colorado have tried threatening teachers in the past, and it has usually failed spectacularly (see: McMinimee, Dan). We wouldn’t expect this move by Republicans to do any better. Colorado teachers are not promoting a strike, and those that are walking out in places like Jefferson County are taking personal days off to attend the rallies; it’s not like they are just refusing to work for the day.

Aside from the issue itself, the political ramifications here are plainly obvious. With this legislation, Republican lawmakers are publicly lining up in opposition to Colorado teachers in a manner that is absolutely unnecessary. Instead of listening to teacher arguments and nodding politely — and then doing nothing — the GOP has decided to stake out a position as a villain. And make no mistake about which side is the bad guy here; a recent poll shows that 78% of Americans believe teachers are underpaid, and half of those respondents say they would support a tax increase in order to raise teacher salaries.

With Democrats in control of the State House, there’s no way SB18-264 is going to pass anyway. Republicans are inflicting a significant political wound on themselves for no practical reason.

Johnston, Right-Wing Ed “Reform” Groups Celebrate Ruling

Michael Johnston.

Chalkbeat Colorado’s Melanie Asmar reports on a court ruling this week that went against public school teachers and in favor of Denver Public Schools administrators enforcing a landmark 2010 “teacher effectiveness” law that has split Democrats for years–and remains a thorny issue during the ongoing Democratic gubernatorial primary:

The Denver teachers who challenged a landmark state law that allows school districts to put certain experienced educators on unpaid leave lost their cases Monday.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the educators, who sued Denver Public Schools in 2014 alleging that the state’s largest district violated their rights to due process. Some of the teachers had lost their positions in schools and failed to get re-hired by a principal within a set period of time, which led the district to put them on unpaid leave — a move the teachers argued amounted to getting rid of them without cause or a hearing.

The district argued it was simply following a 2010 state law, known as Senate Bill 191, that changed the rules for teacher evaluations and assignments. The law allows teachers who lose their positions because of circumstances such as student enrollment declines to be put on unpaid leave if they don’t find new positions within 12 months or two hiring cycles.

The Colorado Education Association voiced its displeasure in a strongly-worded statement:

Colorado educators are very disappointed by this pair of unreasonable decisions that strip away rights of experienced educators at the expense of our students’ success. It’s baffling that during a time of teacher shortage, when we know teacher pay and working conditions do not stack up to the demands of the profession, that our courts would discard employee due process rights that provide teachers a small measure of protection against arbitrary actions. Today’s decisions sweeps those protections away to the detriment of our schools and the students they serve.

The proponents of Senate Bill 191 explicitly asserted that they were not repealing the due process rights of experienced teachers, yet that is what the Court decided to do today. The CEA will take our fight for teachers due process rights back to the legislature to fix an education system that continues to operate with serious flaws to the detriment of our schools and students. We need to keep the focus of evaluation where it belongs – improving the professional practice of teachers and the public education experience for Colorado children. Colorado’s well-documented teacher shortage has causes rooted in economics; however, we can’t ignore the consequences of SB-191 in draining teacher morale and agitating career dissatisfaction. [Pols emphasis]

But who else had something to say about yesterday’s ruling, you ask?

Gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston, a former educator and state senator who sponsored Senate Bill 191, said in a statement that “we all share the same goal: to do what’s right for Colorado’s kids.”

“With today’s decision,” Johnston said, “we can move forward in that spirit and work together to improve achievement for students across the state.”

Mike Johnston was backed up in Asmar’s story by Ready Colorado, a conservative education policy organization described as “small group of well-established Colorado Republicans…aiming to make education reform a top priority for the GOP again.” While the chicken/egg order of origination isn’t clear, Johnston’s “teacher effectiveness” bill is now model language at the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for use by conservative lawmakers in other states. At the same time, SB-191 has been widely blamed for contributing the shortage of teachers in Colorado–and also for driving out qualified instructors who simply don’t want to have their intelligence insulted.

With all of this in mind, what you have here is a “victory” that Johnston won’t be celebrating–at least not during a Democratic primary. Arguably Johnston’s biggest achievement in the Colorado General Assembly, there’s little to suggest eight years later that this legislation has done anything other than increase enmity between teachers and administrators and turn qualified candidates away from the profession.

Congratulations, Mike.

Uh Oh, Betsy DeVos

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

As CNN reports, the White House is not at all pleased with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos following a disastrous series of television interviews:

White House officials were alarmed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ struggle to answer basic questions about the nation’s schools and failure to defend the administration’s newly proposed school safety measures during a tour of television interviews Sunday and Monday, according to two sources familiar with their reaction.

Though DeVos was sworn in to her Cabinet position 13 months ago, she stumbled her way through a pointed “60 Minutes” interview with CBS’ Lesley Stahl Sunday night and was unable to defend her belief that public schools can perform better when funding is diverted to the expansion of public charter schools and private school vouchers. At one point, she admitted she hasn’t “intentionally” visited underperforming schools.

“I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them,” DeVos said, as Stahl suggested that DeVos visit those underperforming schools.

Things worsened as DeVos continued her cable television tour Monday morning. The White House released its proposals for school safety measures after a shooting in Florida killed 17 people. Part of the proposal includes a task force to examine ways to prevent future mass shootings, headed by DeVos. Though the proposals don’t include raising the age limit to purchase firearms from 18 to 21 — as President Donald Trump once suggested — DeVos told Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “Today” show that “everything is on the table.”

DeVos is no stranger to mucking up interviews, either with reporters or Members of Congress. DeVos’ confirmation as Secretary of Education was nearly derailed early last year after she appeared to be unable to answer some fairly basic questions and infamously said that guns in schools were a good deterrent for grizzly bears. DeVos ultimately made it through her confirmation hearings thanks in part to the support of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) and a tie-breaking vote from the Vice President.

DeVos might have reason to worry about her job if not for the fact that there is already a 43% attrition rate in the Trump administration.

Minnesota RWNJ Avoids HS Dems Club, Blames #MeToo

On Friday, December 15, 2017, the Alexandria Area High School Democrats Club invited their Minnesota State Representative Mary Franson (R)  to speak with them. Rep. Franson declined, saying first that she wouldn’t meet with a “partisan group”.

Screen cap of Rep. Franson's reply to AAHS students

The students called  ten times, tried to set up meetings at Franson’s office and elsewhere, but she kept refusing to meet with them. They were constituents, they said, who wanted to discuss issues of concern: college tuition and climate change.  Then, Franson brought a whole new level of ugly to the exchange by claiming that she could not be alone with minors because of the #metoo movement.

In the face of Franson’s increasingly snarky and contemptuous refusals, the students decided to share their exchanges on Twitter.

The exchange went viral, and is now a national story. Franson finally met with several of the students, but deleted her Tweets to AAHS from her Twitter history. However, screen captures preserved it for posterity.

Congratulations to the AAHS Dems. Your perseverance and savvy on social media paid off. Now, would you mind coming to Colorado? We have a few Senators that share Franson’s attitudes about meeting with constitutents….

CU Grad Students Ask Why GOP Wants To Screw Them Over

CU-Boulder.

As the Boulder Daily Camera’s Elizabeth Hernandez reports–yesterday on the campus of the University of Colorado, graduate students turned out to protest the Republican tax legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month. The version passed by the House includes a head-scratching provision that requires grad students who work at teaching or on research projects to offset tuition costs to declare money they never actually see as taxable income:

About 100 University of Colorado graduate students and supporters packed the University Memorial Center fountain area Wednesday morning to protest the proposed Republican tax plan that would dramatically increase taxes for many students around the nation.

Hasti Rahemi, a Ph.D. student in CU’s Leeds School of Business, was among the crowd lamenting whether she’d even be able to finish her studies if the plan passed…

Depending on a graduate student’s appointment and whether he or she qualifies for in-state or out-of-state tuition, CU graduate student advocacy group Committee on Rights and Compensation estimated impacted students would see their taxes increase between 194 percent and 2,329 percent under the GOP tax plan. [Pols emphasis]

The high cost of graduate school credit hours has long been offset by students teaching and doing other qualified work for the institution to reduce their tuition and fees. To count that as taxable income would subject students to massive tax increases on “income” that isn’t income at all. We haven’t seen an estimate for how much this change would raise in revenue, but the damage it could do to postgraduate education in the country is really quite sobering. It’s worth noting that an equivalent provision does not exist in the Senate version of the bill under debate as of this writing; we’ll have to see if it’s inserted as an amendment or perhaps during the conference committee between the House and Senate to hammer out a final version of the bill.

As the overall cost of higher education has ballooned in recent years, it’s become a common theme from conservative politicians to disparage the need for advanced degrees outside of economically vital specialties, medicine, the legal profession, and (of course) the master’s degree in business administration. But we’ve perhaps never seen that rhetorical contempt for higher education put into policy more than the House tax “reform” bill–which every Republican House member from Colorado voted for.

The far-reaching implications of this one provision in such a massive overhaul of the tax code should be enough to give anybody pause. Like eliminating the adoption tax credit or sneaking “Personhood” in with college tuition savings plans, there appear to be nasty culture war ulterior motives under the hood of this whole effort.

Who’s Afraid of Big Bad Teacher’s Unions?

Evidently Kyle Clark didn’t like his school teachers very much.

9NEWS’ Kyle Clark, that’s who!

School board candidates backed and financed by teachers unions [Pols emphasis] are in positions for convincing wins in Jefferson County and Douglas County, with strong leads on Wednesday morning.

In Douglas County, where eight candidates are running for four seats, the union-backed slate [Pols emphasis] needs to flip only one race to gain control of the school board. If that happens, the new school board majority would likely abandon its defense of a controversial voucher program instituted by conservative school reformers. A legal challenge to that program is working its way toward the Supreme Court…

The union-backed [Pols emphasis] candidates for the DougCo school board maintained double-digit leads over the so-called education reform slate into Wednesday.

…In Jefferson County, three of five Board of Education seats were up for grabs. Two of the races were contested by conservative candidates looking to unseat union-supported [Pols emphasis] board members.

Kyle Clark’s full story on the school board elections in Douglas County and Jefferson County is eleven sentences long. Four of those eleven sentences–in addition to the title of the story–contain the words “unions,” “union-backed,” or “union-supported.” Now, we’re not disputing that the Colorado Education Association and their subsidiary organizations in Jefferson and Douglas Counties played a role in these elections–certainly they did, just as they did in the historic recall elections two years ago that swept a controversial far-right school board majority in Jefferson County from power.

But here’s the thing: over 120,000 Jefferson County voters participated in the school board elections that concluded yesterday. No doubt the teacher’s union’s support was helpful to the candidates who prevailed, but it’s Jefferson County voters who made the final decision–not the teacher’s union–and the winning candidates won by a landslide. And that means to obsess over the role of the union to the absolutely ridiculous extent Kyle Clark did in this story makes what he did here something other than journalism. This is a story written by someone so steeped in the demonization pushed by conservatives of organized labor that he completely lost sight of the larger reality–which is not “the unions,” but the fact that 120,000 voters who threw far-right radicals out of power in Jefferson County two years ago reaffirmed their choice by a similarly overwhelming margin.

Much like the Denver Post’s just-plain-sad endorsements that the voters ignored, this is a local TV newsman demonstrating only one thing: that he listens to the wrong people.

Get More Smarter on Friday (September 29)

The next time you read this, it will be October. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Governor John Hickenlooper is blasting Republican lawmakers over their tantrum about a special session called by the Governor to fix an error in the “Hospital Provider Fee” legislation. As Brian Eason reports for the Denver Post:

In a fiery press briefing, an agitated Gov. John Hickenlooper took swipes at GOP leaders, saying Republican lawmakers had turned next week’s special session into a “political circus.”

Hickenlooper earlier this month took the extraordinary step of calling lawmakers back to Denver for their first special session in five years — a move he said was needed to fix a bill-drafting error that has cost special taxing districts such as the Regional Transportation District millions of dollars in marijuana revenue.

But Republicans, who control the state Senate, have balked at the need for a special session, saying there’s no emergency and the error can be fixed when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January.

Despite the GOP opposition, Hickenlooper on Friday pledged to press forward with the special session, announcing that the affected taxing districts have offered to pay for the $25,000-a-day session out of their pot sales taxes once the revenue stream is restored — a move apparently aimed at sidestepping one of the political arguments against it.

Republican lawmakers apparently had their feelings hurt because they say Hickenlooper didn’t do enough “outreach” with them before calling the special session. As we’ve written before in this space, this temper tantrum from Senate President Kevin Grantham and friends is a really bad look heading into a 2018 election cycle that already looks difficult for Republicans.

 

► Former Congressman Tom Tancredo is inching closer and closer toward running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018. Tancredo revealed on Thursday that he met this week with former Trump advisor and current Breitbart boss Steve Bannon about entering the race. Bannon is leading a national effort to push back against establishment Republicans; his cause picked up a big win this week when Roy Moore won a Republican Primary for U.S. Senate in Alabama.

For more on Tancredo, check out this interview with Stan Bush at CBS4. Tancredo tells Bush that there is polling data showing him at the top of the Republican field for Governor.

 

► Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, deserves a standing ovation for his response to racist messages found at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School this week. As CNN reports:

When someone left racist slurs on the message boards of five black cadet candidates at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School, the academy’s superintendent didn’t even try to suppress his outrage.

In a video making the rounds on social media and posted to the Air Force Academy’s Facebook page, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria ordered his cadets to line up and pull out their phones.

“If you can’t treat someone from another gender, whether that’s a man or a woman, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out,” he said. “If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race or different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”

“If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place. That kind of behavior has no place at the Prep School,” Silveria said…

…”It’s the power that we come from all walks of life, that we come from all parts of this country, that we come from all races, that we come from all backgrounds, gender, all make-up, all upbringing,” he said. “The power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful.”

Well done, sir. Well done.

 

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