Brian Watson, GOP Treasurer candidate: “Teachers just collect government checks.”

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Brian Watson, candidate for Treasurer of Colorado, is kind of a jerk. He demonstrated that recently in a Club 20 debate with his Democratic opponent, Dave Young,  captured on video by Colorado Education Association. Dave called out Brian Watson for owing nearly a million dollars in unpaid taxes and loans for seven years: “How can you manage our state’s finances if you cannot manage your own?,” Dave Young asked.

Watson replied, ” I’m so glad you asked that question. Because while you were a junior high math teacher, collecting a check from the government, which you have done your entire career, <snip>, we job creators were on the front line.”

Watson is a “job creator”? He’s a real estate developer, and pledges that he won’t take a salary if elected to the Legislature. (Hint: he plans to moonlight at Northstar Commercial Partners, the company he founded, which owns buildings all over Colorado. Watson doesn’t need a treasurer’s $68K a year salary )

Watson, like Trump, loves debt, and spins his deadbeat history as a net positive:

I’ve restructured complex debt….I’m battle – tested

But since Watson has a history of unpaid taxes and liens, Watson has been a net drain on the economy. He finally paid off his business debts right before the Republican primary in 2012. The contractors who had to wait for payment, or had to write off debts, were probably unimpressed by Watson’s “battle testing”.

Can you say, “Conflict of interest”?

As Treasurer, Watson would be making decisions and helping to make policy that would directly impact his company’s bottom line. For example, included in Northstar’s portfolio of buildings are several renting to charter schools in Colorado. As Treasurer, Watson’s business stands to profit by renting to charter schools, which are generally taxpayer-supported public schools, while he continues to work at his real estate investment company – just like the current Treasurer, Walker Stapleton, who continued to collect a $150,000 salary consulting  at Sonomawest , / Stapleton Acquisitions), all while “moonlighting” as Colorado’s Treasurer.

At least, if elected, Watson could take a lunch break at one of the buildings his company owns near the Capitol.

For a longer , higher quality video of the two Treasurer candidates debating, see the Aaron Harber show, Parts 1 and 2.   I’ve highlighted their statements about PERA below.

(more…)

Ain’t No Bar High Enough For Colorado Schools? We’ll See

A press release from Great Schools, Thriving Communities announces the approval this week of Amendment 73, a constitutional ballot measure to raise state income taxes on high-income earners as well as the corporate income tax to fund Colorado’s perennially underfunded public schools:

“Amendment 73 is set up so local school districts decide where resources are most needed,” said Buffalo School District Superintendent Rob Sanders. “It isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It recognizes the values and priorities of unique communities across the state.”

Although Colorado has one of the fastest growing economies in the nation, the state spends $2,000 less per student on average, compared with the rest of the country. Teacher pay is rated well below the national average, and schools struggle to recruit and retain qualified teachers. Many districts are forced to start off the school year with unfilled positions.

“This will help us address critical needs and offer educational opportunities to all our students,” Sanders added. “We can address the growing teacher shortage crisis, fund programs for students with special needs, provide career and technical training to make high school graduates career-ready, and keep students safe.”

Amendment 73 would raise $1.6 billion a year in additional, sustainable revenue for Colorado’s public schools, bringing them closer to the national average in school funding. Revenue will be deposited in the Quality Public Education Fund, a new, dedicated state education fund that will allocate revenue equitably to every Colorado school district.

“This initiative helps every community throughout Colorado, no matter the size — no one is left behind,” said Martha Olson, one of the proponents of the initiative.

The message of relief for every Colorado public school district is underscored by the qualification of this initiative, despite the onerous requirements imposed on constitutional ballot measures under the 2016 “Raise The Bar” amendment requiring measures to obtain support from all 35 Colorado Senate districts. This provision essentially gives any one region of the state veto power over constitutional changes, one of the more controversial aspects of Amendment 71. On the flip side, as the Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins explains usefully, achieving this higher benchmark shows this is an initiative with real potential after years of disappointments on education funding at the ballot box:

One of the aims of “Raise the Bar” was to ensure ballot measure campaigns would have to earn buy-in from voters in rural parts of the state. Supporters of the education ballot measure campaign were able to do that. In the sprawling, rural Senate District 35, represented by Republican Sen. Larry Crowder and stretching 300 miles across 16 counties from Wolf Creek Pass to the Kansas border, the campaign needed to find 1,844 people willing to sign for the measure — and was able to get 2,416.

“It’s called ‘Raise the Bar,’ it definitely raised the bar,” says Lisa Weil, director of Great Education Colorado. “I think that probably the conventional wisdom was that it would be impossible.”

…Weil credits a few factors in successfully getting the measure on the ballot beyond a sales pitch centered on improving public schools in a state where teachers walked out of classrooms to rally for more funding and where about half of the school districts have cut back to four-day weeks. The campaign also was made up of a coalition of 20 different organizations including unions who had been working on the issue for two years and relied on a massive volunteer mobilization.

After stinging defeats in several recent elections for ballot measures to boost education funding, Amendment 73 offers some key differences: a tax increase only on high-earners and corporations instead of regressively targeting the middle class, a midterm electoral climate strongly favoring progressive policy measures in addition to Democratic candidates–and to that, add a demonstrable base of support in every corner of the state by meeting the higher test post-“Raise The Bar.”

From here, there’s only one more test, and the bar is higher at the polls too. It’s a cynical reality that the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which hamstrung the legislature’s ability to respond to the state’s evolving needs including education, would have failed had Amendment 71’s 55% threshold been the law of the land back in 1992. But today, we have a measure that has passed all our state’s self-imposed hurdles. Amendment 73 satisfies TABOR in letter and spirit, and made the ballot despite the higher standard required under Amendment 71.

All of which should count in its favor with voters.

So Long, Bruce Ben$on

CU President Bruce Ben$on.

We would be remiss if we failed to note yesterday’s announcement that University of Colorado President Bruce Benson, a former Republican candidate for governor and top-tier GOP financier/kingmaker for many years, will retire at the end of the 2018-19 academic year. Denver7 reports:

Benson, 80, has served as president of the university system since March 2008. A CU graduate himself, Benson’s tenure as president was the longest at the university in decades. He is the former chairman of the state Republican party and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1994…

In a statement Wednesday, Benson said he made the announcement this week so the board of regents can have enough time to find his successor.

“It has been my honor and privilege to serve as president of the University of Colorado for the past decade,” Benson said in a statement.

In the statement, he said the university has a “bright future” ahead of it and praised the CU system’s four campuses, students, alumni, employees and his wife, Marcy. He also touted the system’s contributions to the state economy and health care systems, and its work with state lawmakers to pass higher education changes.

Appointed under Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter on a party-line vote of the Board of Regents, Benson earned credit from lawmakers and administration of the state’s flagship university for stabilizing the school’s shaky finances–a considerable feat of both philanthropy and statecraft given Colorado’s notoriously stingy budgeting that frequently left higher education to fend for itself over the past two decades.

In terms of the university’s reputation for academic leadership, however, that has suffered considerably under Benson’s political agenda to impose greater “ideological diversity” on campus. Benson and the conservative members of the CU Board of Regents have made “conservative affirmative action” a central plank in their agenda, and the results haven’t been pretty–from the “visiting scholar in conservative thought” who insulted LGBTQ people and to the PR debacle of a Republican presidential debate in October 2016 before a mostly empty stadium while protests raged outside. And today, the conservative majority on the Board of Regents remains as focused as ever on this highly questionable objective:

During their annual summer retreat in Tabernash, several of the Republican regents gave impassioned speeches about the need to prioritize encouraging diversity of political thought and measuring how each campus does so. Some said increased support for conservative perspective programs was a critical issue that would also help the university raise money.

As much as the shiny new buildings on the University of Colorado’s four campuses, Benson’s political quest to shoehorn more “conservative thought” into the academic programs of the university is a major and controversial part of Benson’s legacy. If you believe, as Benson and the GOP majority on the Board of Regents does, that conservatives need affirmative action to be better represented among university faculty, you’ll love what he’s done. If you believe that scholarship should not be tainted by political trends at all, in either direction, ever, you’re in agreement with the overwhelming majority of actual scholars–as opposed to politician university presidents of elected board members.

The reality is, Benson’s campaign for “ideological diversity” on the CU campuses, backed by the Republican majority on the Board of Regents has become a grave threat to the integrity of the University of Colorado’s scholarship. While it’s maybe not as important as choosing a Supreme Court Justice, Benson’s successor next summer needs to be part of the debate over who will be Colorado’s next governor–not to mention the three Regent seats up for election in 2018.

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…

(more…)

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…

(more…)

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….