Full-Day Kindergarten: A Rebuttal

Former Colorado Sen. Dave Schultheis of Colorado Springs regularly made headlines during his time in office in the finest blowhard tradition since upheld by such intellectual successors as Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt, pistol-packing Rep. Lori Saine, and don’t even get Sen. Vicki Marble started! It was Sen. Schultheis who warned darkly back in 2009 that President Barack Obama was “flying the U.S. plane into the ground at full speed” 9/11 style, invoking the Flight 93 battle cry “Let’s Roll”–not long after he said he hoped babies would get AIDS to teach their slutty moms a lesson.

Anyway, former Sen. Schultheis has views about this year’s priority funding for full-day kindergarten, a campaign promise by Gov. Jared Polis that in the end passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. And the bipartisan full-day-K kumbaya isn’t fooling Dave Schultheis, indeed not patriots:

That’s right, moms! The fact is that you have too much “free time” already and really should be spending it at home taking care of children instead. After all they’re just going to get “indoctrinated,” you know, in kindergarten. Though apparently half-day “indoctrination” is okay? It’s not the most coherent argument but it’s clear he’s really suspicious of what they teach kids in kindergarten and wants to minimize exposure.

You’re laughing, but you probably shouldn’t. Instead, consider how much of the Republican base Schultheis speaks for. From vaccines to the unhinged misinformation that circulated freely about the sex ed bill–here’s looking at you, Anus Fisting Granny–there’s a whole Dave Schultheis wing of today’s Republican party. And although Schultheis himself is in retirement, their influence within the GOP coalition has only grown in the Trump years. It is not a stretch to suggest that the co-occurrence of people who want to recall Democrats from Gov. Polis on down over their “perverted” sex ed bill and those who agree (or at least would agree) with Dave Schultheis about the threat of “indoctrination” posed by full-day kindergarten is very high or even total.

It’s all fun and games until the fringe gathers enough signatures.

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Mark Kennedy’s Slow-Motion CU Train Wreck Nears End

UPDATE #2: Congressman Joe Neguse, whose district includes CU-Boulder (Neguse is a former CU Regent) joins the chorus:

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UPDATE: Denver Post editorial board weighs in strongly against Mark Kennedy:

We didn’t expect the Republican-led Board of Regents to choose a president who the Boulder campus would welcome with open arms. But we did expect them to select a finalist who could bring together the board and the diverse elements that comprise CU with a collective sense of confidence in the new president’s ability to lead.

Unfortunately, Mark Kennedy has shown over the past two weeks that he is not that individual. We urge the regents to not force a vote Thursday on Kennedy, which is certain to be split after two regents — Irene Griego and Linda Shoemaker — have publicly said they will not support Kennedy. If a vote must take place now, we have no option but to urge the nine regents not to support Kennedy and to begin the search for president anew.

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As the Colorado Independent’s Susan Greene reports, despite the near-universal negative response to the “sole finalist” for the next President of the University of Colorado, former Minnesota Republican congressman Mark Kennedy, the one-seat GOP majority on the CU Board of Regents means the vote tomorrow could still defy the consensus from faculty and students that Kennedy isn’t fit for the job:

CU scholars, researchers, adjunct professors, other faculty members and staffers, students and alumni immediately started voicing concerns about Kennedy on social media, on campus, in class, and on a portal the university created for public input. As of Monday morning, there were 2,812 submissions…Overall, 129 commenters gave Kennedy an “Outstanding” ranking, while 1,035 said he would have “Difficulty in most areas.”

Regent Chance Hill, a Republican from the 5th Congressional District, has dismissed Kennedy’s detractors, whom he refers to as Far Leftists, and decried what he calls a “gauntlet of unreasonable attacks, inaccurate news headlines, and slanderous smears along with a fixation over a few votes (Kennedy) cast — out of more than 4,000 — during his six years in Congress.”

“With all of their purported progressive enlightenment and so-called open-mindedness, they cannot tolerate the notion of a Republican occasionally challenging their liberal college fiefdoms where people suffer real negative consequences if they dare challenge the Leftist orthodoxy that dominates campus culture,” Hill wrote on Monday.

As of now, two of the four Democratic members of the Board of Regents, Irene Griego and Linda Shoemaker, and announced they will vote against Kennedy’s nomination. Former Senator Mark Udall called for the search to be re-opened this week, after Gov. Jared Polis made a similar call the week prior.

Although the Republican majority on the Board has been downright bellicose (see above) in their dismissal of concerns raised and not properly addressed during Kennedy’s tour, it’s not yet a foregone conclusion that Kennedy will be approved. Resistance to Kennedy is significantly greater than the opposition to outgoing President Bruce Benson, who despite his conservative political record had deep local ties. Kennedy has nothing to offer except a promise to do better than his record tells us he will.

And with that, we’ll have to wait and see how insulated the Regents are from the community they serve.

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Please Stop Coddling Dangerous Anti-Vaxxer Ignorance

Gov. Jared Polis (D).

The New York Times supplies the context for today’s bit of tough love:

The measles outbreak continues to spread in the United States, surpassing 700 cases this year, federal health officials said on Monday. The virus has now been found in 22 states.

More than 500 of the 704 cases recorded as of last Friday were in people who had not been vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Sixty-six people have been hospitalized.

About 400 of the cases have been found in New York City and its suburbs, mostly in Orthodox Jewish communities. That outbreak has spread to Detroit.

Los Angeles is now experiencing a fast-growing outbreak, and hundreds of university students who are thought to have been exposed and cannot prove that they have had their shots have been asked to quarantine themselves at home.

In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control declared the once-pandemic childhood disease measles to be entirely eradicated in the United States, after decades of consistent vaccination of the population in childhood steadily reduced outbreaks of the disease to nil. Unfortunately, since that moment of public health success a wave of misinformation about common childhood vaccines and in particular a now-discredited claim that vaccines are responsible for the rise in diagnosed cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has eroded the rate of childhood vaccinations enough for outbreaks to resume, steadily increasing in severity to the crisis presently underway.

In Colorado, where our rate of kindergarten vaccination is an embarrassing dead last in the nation, this renewed outbreak is taking place at the same time as a debate over legislation to tighten the state’s extremely permissive regulations for childhood vaccinations. Today, parents can claim a “personal belief” exemption from vaccinating their children with no restrictions on those children attending public school. The bill being debated today would not eliminate that exemption, but would require parents to take the additional step of filing in person at a state health department office to receive it.

And as the Denver Post’s Anna Staver reports, that’s where Gov. Jared Polis draws the line–and it’s creating significant blue-on-blue controversy in this fraught final week of the legislative session:

The Colorado Hospital Association and other health care experts across Colorado also responded strongly Friday to comments from the governor — first reported by Colorado Public Radio — that he didn’t support the current bill, House Bill 1312, to make some vaccination exemptions more difficult for parents to get.

“On behalf of Children’s Hospital Colorado, I was disappointed to see the governor’s comments this morning,” said Jessica Cataldi, a pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases. “The multiple measles outbreaks across the country represent a public health crisis that must be addressed. I hope the governor will reconsider his position.”

[Rep. Kyle] Mullica’s bill would require parents to visit a state health department office and fill out a form in person the first time they request a personal or religious vaccine exemption for a child entering public school. Currently they need only provide written notice to the school district upon registration.

Early this year, Gov. Polis scuttled much stronger legislation also sponsored by Rep. Kyle Mullica that would have eliminated the personal exemption entirely. House Bill 19-1312, the current bill to make it moderately more difficult but not impossible to claim that exemption, was criticized by Polis Friday over requiring parents seeking a personal belief exemption from vaccinating their kids to apply in person with the state health department.

Like we said in February, no one can accuse Gov. Polis of being a so-called “anti-vaxxer,” meaning someone who actually believes these discredited theories about vaccine safety. Polis has had his own children vaccinated and makes clear that everyone needs to do so. There’s a world of difference between Polis’ concern about not being overly punitive in government’s approach to this public health problem versus Republicans in the state legislature who have openly supported anti-vaccine pseudoscience in their opposition to the bill. We believe that Polis means well in trying to strike a balance.

Unfortunately, the timing of this intransigence could not be worse–and after already lowering the expectations of what is signable legislation even in the midst of a nationwide measles outbreak, Polis risks energizing the side of the vaccine debate he claims and we believe he doesn’t side with. The resurgence of preventable disease attributable to ignorance and misinformation–no matter how well intentioned or sacred–is a greater threat than the inconvenience of applying in person for an exemption.

The 11% of Coloradans who don’t vaccinate their kids make more noise than the 89% who do.

But politically, siding with the 89% should be an easy choice.

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Holy Crap, Mark Kennedy is a Disaster

Former Rep. Mark Kennedy (R).

Yesterday, the newly-minted “sole finalist” for the position of President of the University of Colorado, former GOP Rep. Mark Kennedy of Minnesota, began his tour of the CU system’s four campuses–a crucial opportunity for Kennedy to ingratiate himself with students and faculty, and address the many questions about Kennedy’s anti-LGBT, anti-reproductive choice record in Congress that have resulted in angry protests over his selection to lead Colorado’s flagship public university.

As FOX 31’s Evan Kruegel reports, yesterday’s introduction did not go well:

“Mark Kennedy as a leader is problematic, and he’s unqualified,” said CU Law Student Perdeep Singh-Badhesha. “I think this is going to be the easiest of all the forums he goes to. These were softball questions, and I think he still did a very poor job.”

Singh-Badhesha says he’s concerned with Kennedy’s political views, at a school system known for welcoming and promoting LGBTQ rights…

Kennedy fielded numerous questions from the crowd, saying his political past won’t have an impact on how he handles businesses as president.

“None of those votes are going to come into play, they’re just not going to come into play. [Pols emphasis] The real question is, how good are you at running a university? That’s the question we really ought to be focusing on.”

The Denver Post’s Elizabeth Hernandez:

“None of the beliefs that have caused much of the controversy are going to have any impact,” [Pols emphasis] said Kennedy, whose votes against gay marriage and in favor of abortion restrictions as a Minnesota congressman in the early 2000s have drawn protest in some quarters.

“And (those beliefs) are largely irrelevant to what the president does. … I would hope I could gain your trust, respect and support and have that strong working relationship because faculty are the heart of any university.”

Here’s the deal: if you do not think the President of the University of Colorado’s voting record in Congress against LGBT and abortion rights is relevant to his duties, you are probably not a member of those two classes of people. If you are an LGBT student, staff, or faculty member, having a President of your university who has proven himself inimical to your rights is a huge problem. It’s worse than the present example of Bruce Benson, who although certainly a conservative Republican does not have a voting record as a lawmaker openly hostile to LGBT rights.

To us, this statement perfectly captures the disconnect between a man who cast his lot long ago, and present ambitions that simply don’t fit with his record. Mark Kennedy may not be “running for Congress,” but it’s absurd to suggest that his record in Congress is not germane to the decision of whether he is appropriate to serve as President of the University of Colorado. Perhaps most damning, there’s no evidence of contrition over these votes against the rights of large portions of the CU community at all, only the insistence that “the beliefs”–meaning Kennedy’s beliefs–are “largely irrelevant to what the President does.”

In short, everyone who imagined this guy would make a good President of the University of Colorado, including his partisan Republican supporters on the Board of Regents, made a mistake that invites fundamental questions about their own competence. Not only is it time to start over with the search for a new CU President, but the next candidate(s) need first and foremost to not insult the CU community’s intelligence like Mark Kennedy did.

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GOP CU Prez Finalist Blows Basic Diversity Question

UPDATE: Gov. Jared Polis weighs in, and while he doesn’t name Mark Kennedy specifically the message is clear:

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Former Rep. Mark Kennedy (R).

As the Denver Post’s Elizabeth Hernandez reports, an interview at Colorado Public Radio with the controversial sole finalist to be the next President of the University of Colorado, former GOP Rep. Mark Kennedy, took a turn for the embarrassing when he flubbed a basic and essential question about the role of affirmative action in university admissions:

Host Ryan Warner referenced the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights requiring Texas Tech University’s medical school to stop considering race in admissions. Warner asked Kennedy what his thoughts were, in general, on affirmative action in Colorado college admissions.

Kennedy stumbled.

“I have not wrestled with that at a university yet, in that restrictions have not been as — let me go back,” Kennedy told Warner. “Can I just not answer that question?” [Pols emphasis]

No, as the sole finalist for President of the state’s flagship public university, you have to answer that question.

So Mark Kennedy did. And it was not a good answer:

Kennedy told Warner the question caught him off guard and followed up with: “I think however we do admissions, it has to be done in a way to recognize that diversity provides a benefit to all and there are many ways of doing that.”

While it’s true that diversity among student bodies is beneficial to everyone, affirmative action is most certainly and foremost meant to benefit the minority groups who have been historically underrepresented in higher education. To inartfully dance around this central fact, especially after trying to avoid the question entirely, is problematic to say the least–you might call it the college admissions equivalent of “all lives matter.”

Kennedy later told the Post that the reason for these troubling answers to a very straightforward question were the result of him worrying about being late to his next appointment, and “clarified” that affirmative action should result in neither “undue benefit or undue penalty.” Unfortunately that clarification doesn’t clarify much of anything–and honestly sounds more like a swipe against what affirmative action is, you know, all about.

Fair to say that if you’re one of the CU students protesting your new “sole finalist,” your concerns were not allayed.

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Meet The Next Republican Who Wants To Run CU

Former Rep. Mark Kennedy (R).

The campuses–Rush Limbaugh likes to call them “campii”–of the University of Colorado are alight with controversy this weekend over the selection by the Board of Regents of a ready-made controversy–in the form of a “sole finalist” to succeed retiring CU President and Republican kingpin Bruce Benson, who looks to be at least the polarizing figure that Benson represented if not much, much more. CU Independent:

The University of Colorado Board of Regents have selected Mark Kennedy as the finalist to replace Bruce Benson as CU president, citing his commitment to bipartisanship and diversity. But since the announcement, community members have raised concerns about Kennedy’s civil rights record as a politician…

Late-breaking news Thursday night from The Denver Post revealed that a Tuesday article from the Grand Forks Herald rumoring Kennedy’s move caused the board to push up the date of their announcement.

Regent Linda Shoemaker (D-Boulder) told the Post that because of this, Kennedy was not fully vetted before being announced as a finalist to the public.

“We need the press and the public to do the job in vetting him,” Shoemaker told the Post.

More from the Denver Post’s Elizabeth Hernandez:

After the announcement, public backlash from CU students, parents, alumni, faculty and the local community surfaced surrounding Kennedy’s voting record during his time representing Minnesota in Congress from 2001 to 2007, and other past actions.

Kennedy voted in favor of restrictions on abortion and against gay marriage. He was one of 236 members of the House to vote for the Marriage Protection Amendment in July 2006, which would have amended the Constitution to say that marriage consists only of one man and one woman. The vote fell short of the 290 votes required for passage in the House.

The CU Independent’s story goes deeper into ex-GOP Rep. Mark Kennedy’s voting record in the U.S. House, with a voluminous record of votes against LGBT and abortion rights. In addition the American Civil Liberties Union rated Rep. Kennedy at a dismal 7% against their scorecard.

While in Congress, Kennedy voted in support of several anti-civil rights bills, demonstrating an anti-LGBT and pro-life life stance. Kennedy also voted against support for college programs geared towards minorities and bears an unfavorable track record when it comes to higher education…

Representatives for Governor Jared Polis, Colorado’s first openly LGBT governor, declined to comment on Kennedy’s selection. Kennedy has said that his first phone call as CU president would be to Polis.

During Bruce Benson’s decade-long term as President of the University of Colorado, the institution has steadily pushed its public-facing brand toward the political right. Benson was personally consumed with the idea of “ideological balance” in the University’s faculty and curriculum, and did everything he could to promote this idea without setting off outright rebellion. The position of “visiting professor of conservative thought” was created so conservative think-piecers like Stephen Hayward could offend the student body from a position of scholarly authority. Meanwhile CU’s Leeds School of Business morphed into a white paper mill for Republican talking points on a range of economic issues.

Kennedy responded to the growing anger over his hastily announced selection as sole finalist with an open letter to the CU community, insisting that personal his views on issues like abortion and LGBT rights have changed along with the evolving “societal consensus” on these issues–consensus that’s hard to see in Mark Kennedy’s Republican colleagues today. That dryly-worded letter has by most accounts done little or nothing to ease concerns about his selection. Kennedy’s opponents on the Boulder CU campus are organizing a major protest for Monday at noon expected to be attended by hundreds if not thousands of students and faculty.

For a proud institution that has suffered from decades of fiscal neglect, followed by a period of improved solvency in exchange for corporate dependency and dubious politics under Benson, the choice of the next President is extremely important with profound implications for the future of the state’s flagship “public” university.

At first glance–which is all anybody has had–this choice doesn’t look good.

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Stop This Now: Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg Incites Violence

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

Much discussion at the Colorado Capitol today about an email blast sent out yesterday afternoon by Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling. Sonnenberg’s well-earned reputation as a safe-seat blowhard nevertheless left recipients unprepared for the over-the-top vitriol exhibited in this shocking stream of consciousness decrying the “evil” playing out at the hands of majority Democrats in the 2019 legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly.

It gets a little…unfocused at times, but here are some key points:

The evil seems to be a continued agenda with absolutely no desire to reach across the aisle to form good policy. From the introduction of bills which would create safe places to inject illegal drugs with new needles given by government to giving our Presidential votes away to the populated states, this governor and lawmakers are taking Colorado down a path of destruction and socialism…

Introduced legislation that would continue Denver’s safe injection sites perpetuates the evil nature of this legislature. For lawmakers to try and provide safe areas and provide tools for drug addicts to shoot up with illegal drugs that we know are bad for them only adds to the destruction of a society.

…The attempt to make sure sex-education and health classes are taught with a specific agenda is a true overreach and are one of the responsibilities of parents. It has never been, nor should it be, a schools responsibility to teach an agenda that is more appropriately taught at home.

The agenda continues with the absence of due-process in legislation that allows an upset family member to have law enforcement remove a law-abiding citizen’s guns. A court could order the removal of firearms without hearing the other side, and then when your guns are removed, you are guilty until you can prove yourself innocent of being mentally unstable. The unintended consequence here is this: folks that are currently talking to counselors may no longer do so if they think that it may be used against them in taking their firearms away.

These are all reasons that the second amendment was adopted – to allow the people to defend themselves against a tyrannical government. The Nazi regime used gun control to disarm its enemies. We know it was evil then, and it continues to be evil today. [Pols emphasis]

The new war on rural Colorado and on its values and traditions has reached a new low and we will continue to see the wedge grow larger under the new state leadership. This capitol is an evil place these days, and constituents are correct to assume that the dysfunction in D.C. has infiltrated the state of Colorado.

Yesterday, we wrote about GOP state lawmakers openly encouraging county governments to declare that they will disregard a law that hasn’t even passed yet–condemned by the sheriff of one of the state’s largest counties as an unconstitutional abuse of power. Today we have a senior Colorado Republican Senator calling the Democratic majority and governor “evil,” likening them by name with “the Nazi regime,” and not-very-subtly suggesting that an armed rebellion would be an appropriate response to a sex ed bill–or a bill to align the state’s presidential votes with the popular vote, or a gun bill supported by over 80% of the public.

We understand that losing the Senate majority in 2018 along with the historic sweep of elected offices in Colorado at every level by Democratic candidates was not a pleasant experience for Republicans. But rationally looking at the bills under debate this year, or simply approaching this from a goal of not encouraging political violence, Sonnenberg’s rhetoric is unbelievably irresponsible. This is not how you rekindle the politically advantageous conservative grassroots outrage of 2013, which is every Republicans’ underlying wish today whether or not there is any objective justification for it.

It’s how you incite angry low-information people to do bad things. And it needs to stop right now.

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“Real History” With Rep. Lori Saine


Yes, you know where this is going–from today’s floor debate on House Bill 19-1185, a bill to replace the controversial Columbus Day holiday with a generic “Colorado Day” honoring the state’s history and accomplishments. And as with any culture-warry hot button issue before the Colorado House, the most infamous House Republican since Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt went into retirement, Rep. Lori Saine, had a thing or two too much to say:

It’s not just about Italian Americans. I think a lot of times the sentiment is anti-Western Civilization. And I just want it to be known that while Columbus wasn’t a perfect man, he certainly didn’t do all the things that his detractors claim that he did. In fact, he was blamed for many crimes that were committed by men who disobeyed his commands. They did things he expressly condemned.

But we don’t apparently bring that up in public schools if that’s what one of the representatives have said. We need to take this opportunity if we think this holiday creates division, maybe we should teach the real history of Columbus with real history books.

Rep. Saine’s choice of words in reference to “real history” and “real history books” is particularly amusing after Saine became a nationwide laughingstock for claiming that blacks and whites were lynched “in nearly equal numbers” for “the crime of being Republican,” assertions that came as a big surprise to anybody who knows the history of either lynching or Republicans. Despite numerous attempts by friendly fellow Republicans to guide Rep. Saine back toward the remotest degree of historical accuracy, she steadfastly refused to do so, doubling down over the course of multiple subsequent interviews.

As for Christopher Columbus, well…safe to say opinions vary! Whatever version of Columbus’ biography you subscribe to, we should all be able to agree that the subjugation of the New World by Western civilization is both much a larger subject than Columbus personally, who died not actually knowing what he had “discovered”–and without a doubt, very difficult to justify commemorating by today’s moral standards. Columbus has become a metaphor for a genocidal event in history that he personally could not have understood and went on long after the man himself was dead.

Either way, we know who we won’t be asking for a history lesson. And that’s Rep. Lori Saine.

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CU Conservatives Turn On Candace Owens

Erik Maulbetsch at the Colorado Times Recorder took note of a controversy early this month after prominent African-American conservative activist Candace Owens headlined a fundraiser for the Boulder County Republican Party. Just prior to Owens’ appearance, video surfaced of Owens making decidedly questionable statements the prior December about Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany during an impromptu defense of the world “nationalism.”

Whenever we say nationalism, the first thing people think about, at least in America, is Hitler. He was a national socialist. But if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. [Pols emphasis] The problem is that he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize…

Needless to say, or at least it should be, the assertion that Hitler’s policies would have been “fine” if he had kept them within Germany’s borders is extremely problematic–not least considering the fate of the 160-180,000 German Jews who died during the Holocaust or hundreds of thousands more forced to emigrate. Despite this, Boulder Republicans saw no need to rescind their invitation for Owens to speak at their fundraiser, going so far as to defend her remarks–as the Boulder Daily Camera reported February 8th:

Boulder County Republicans are not making changes to a planned event featuring conservative provocateur Candace Owens, whose comments regarding nationalism and referencing Adolf Hitler resurfaced Friday and prompted controversy…

Her comments received criticism and condemnation, including by Colorado’s Democratic leaders. However, Boulder County Republicans said her comments were misinterpreted.

“Yes, I’ve heard about the uproar about Ms. Owens’ comments,” Boulder County Republicans vice chairman Charlie Danaher said in an email, which was also signed by chairman Peg Cage. “But I’m not sure what to make of it. Nothing that she said in any way offered any support of Hitler’s actions. And, from my reading of her comments, any interpretation that her comments were sympathetic of Hitler are off base.”

Candace Owens.

And despite a reportedly small band of protesters outside the event, that was that.

Until late last week! Cassa Niedringhaus at the Daily Camera follows up:

The University of Colorado chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative organization that has chapters at high schools and colleges across the country, joined several other chapters on Thursday in calling for the resignation of the organization’s communications director…

Although she has the right to express her own thoughts and opinions, the statement said, her comments have been interpreted by others as a reflection on the organization.

“Most recently, her comments about Hitler and nationalism caused a stir,” the statement read. “Was the video cut to make her look like a Hitler supporter? Yes. Do we believe Candace Owens supports the actions of Hitler at home or abroad? No. But this case serves as the perfect demonstration of how simple messages she means to convey become controversial headlining news within a matter of minutes. Again, as the Communications Director, she must know how to communicate professionally and effectively. Understand that when she speaks, Turning Point USA is associated with these comments.”

It’s a remarkable turnabout that we didn’t want to escape mention. After being vociferously defended by local Republicans and even some reporters who bought into the idea that Candace Owens was being “taken out of context,” the student membership of Owens’ own right-wing organization Turning Point USA at the University of Colorado at Boulder took it upon themselves to call for Owens to resign. As of this writing we haven’t seen the end result of this move by several TP-USA affiliates, which presumably means it has created significant turmoil within the organization.

We’d say it ought to provoke some soul-searching among Boulder Republicans, too.

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Fistingpalooza: Stomachs Gird For Senate Sex Ed Hearing

Not in the curriculum.

The Denver Post’s Anna Staver reports on the next steps for House Bill 19-1032, the somewhat-unexpectedly controversial bill clarifying regulations on sex education in public schools, which remains an optional curriculum, to ensure what’s taught is accurate and (oh wait here’s the controversy) unbiased:

A 10-hour House committee hearing on the bill stretched late into the night and included hours of heated, sometimes graphic allegations that the language of the legislation promoted abortion, banned religious viewpoints and allowed for the teaching of sexual positions to children as young as 9 years old.

After passing the Democrat-controlled House on a series of party-line votes, the bill faces its next test this week in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrower majority.

Its first Senate hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the Health and Human Services Committee.

We suggest taking a moment to thoroughly digest Staver’s detailed explanation of what House Bill 19-1032 does and does not do, because as our readers know the gap between fiction and reality on this particular piece of legislation is extremely wide. The legislation does not direct teachers to “explain sexual positions to children,” does not take away parental rights to opt kids out of sex ed, and does not ban the teaching of religious doctrine on sexuality–only that they don’t endorse a religious position.

At this point, however, the benign facts of the bill have been completely buried in an avalanche of misinformation–which prompted the spectacle of last month’s hearing in the House in which all present received an unsolicited education in the mechanical fine points of anal fisting (sadly, that is no joke). Tomorrow’s hearing is expected to be every bit as luridly descriptive, being far more entertaining to the crowd of tittering opponents than any factual discussion.

What we’ll learn by the end, when legislation that was not intended to be a radical change to existing policy at all is in the books, is that there are a lot of Coloradans out there who didn’t get very good sex ed in school themselves. We can only hope their kids are educated better.

In hope of achieving that, we can pass this bill.

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GOP Just Can’t Help But Lose Their Minds Over Sex Ed Bill

Rep. Perry Buck (R-Ludicrous)

More or less the whole day Friday in the Colorado House of Representatives was wasted on a marathon and factually-challenged debate over House Bill 19-1032, legislation to requiring that if sex ed courses in Colorado are taught, which is not mandatory, that they provide medically accurate and nondiscriminatory information.

As we saw previously in debate over this bill in the House Health and Insurance Committee, there was very little connection between the reality of what this legislation would do and the views of its opponents–who turned public testimony on the bill into a lurid freakshow of ill-informed homophobia. And as 9NEWS’ Marshall Zelinger reported last night, Republican House lawmakers proved every bit as unhinged as the public witnesses–if perhaps a bit less outright vulgar for decorum’s sake.

“House Bill 19-1032 requires schools that provide comprehensive sex education to teach pro-LGBTQ sex education while banning the teaching of religious or values-based sex education,” [Rep. Steve] Humphrey read from the email.

He didn’t say if he corrected the constituent with accurate information, but here it is: sex education classes in Colorado have been required to include conversations on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities since the 2013 version of this bill was signed into law by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The current sex ed bill doesn’t add that. It already exists. And it doesn’t ban religious sex education discussion.

Erik Maulbetsch at the Colorado Times Recorder took a look recently at the kind of messaging used to draw out citizen opponents to flood the state capitol on January 30th for the bill’s House committee hearing, and found they were chock full of exactly the same misinformation that witnesses spewed forth in testimony. A persistent theme among these witnesses, best exemplified by the extremely graphic testimony of Joan “Anal Fisting Granny” Poston, has been to describe in smut-novel detail various sex acts under the false pretense that these details would be taught to children in sex ed class.

After hours of gratuitous offense from literally hundreds of such witnesses, many of whom were there only to log their dislike for LGBT people in the permanent record, the bill passed committee–and local media spent the next two weeks unpacking the falsehoods told during this hearing as best they could. But as we saw from House Republicans yesterday, no amount of fact-checking has been able to penetrate the intense misinformation about the bill among its opponents, and at this point the legislation’s “credible” foes at the Centennial Institute simply have no incentive to disabuse their flock of these lies.

And as Zelinger continues, the floor debate took an outlandish twist of its own when:

Rep. Perry Buck (R-Windsor) took issue with teaching consent.

“You cannot do a one-size-fits-all. My district, the unincorporated God bless them all, don’t want to be told what they think is consent, what they think is their curriculum, everybody has different degrees,” said Buck. [Pols emphasis]

We’re not sure exactly where to start unpacking this, so we’ll just lay the facts out for you like Zelinger did. House Bill 19-1032 defines “consent” as “the affirmative, unambiguous, voluntary, knowing agreement between all participants in each physical act within the course of a sexual encounter or interpersonal relationship.” This definition is legally consistent with the behavior anyone who wants to avoid being charged with the crime of sexual assault must adhere to. To the extent that such a foundational concept in a relationship might be negotiable or variable between…oh wait, consenting adults! There’s that word again. It’s as if there’s no getting away from it…

In truth, no matter which of the Fifty Shades of Gray is your particular shade–and be assured we do not ever want to know the answer, least not in the case of Rep. Perry Buck–a universally accepted definition of unambiguous consent is the place from which everybody needs to start. Not just educationally, or morally, but legally. If this isn’t obvious to you in a position of authority, you might end up like now-Congressman Ken Buck, who as Weld County DA called a 2005 alleged rape he declined to prosecute a case of “buyer’s remorse”–a decision that helped cost him a U.S. Senate seat five years later.

Without invoking a single body part, for which we are grateful, Perry Buck proved again why we need reality-based sex ed.

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Denver Teachers Win Big After Successful Strike

Vox’s Alexia Fernández Campbell reports on the developing conclusion to the three-day strike by teachers of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, ending in victory for the teachers and heralding a new ascendancy for organized labor power in Colorado under Gov. Jared Polis:

Details are not yet available, but the deal includes an average 11.7 percent pay raise and annual cost of living increases, according to the school district and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, a labor union representing more than 5,000 educators in Denver public schools. It will also include raises for school support staff. Bus drivers and cafeteria workers may also get a raise, but that’s not part of the official agreement with the teachers union.

It also addresses the teachers’ biggest concern: the need to overhaul the merit-pay system, which relies heavily on annual bonuses that fluctuate from year to year. The new system will place more emphasis on education and training when considering promotions, while keeping some bonuses in place…

Teachers did make some concessions, but the deal represents a remarkable win for Denver’s teachers, who have been picketing and rallying in the streets for the past two days, while school administrators struggled to keep classes on schedule. It’s also a sign of the overwhelming momentum teachers have on their side from months of widespread teacher strikes across the country over school funding cuts and low teacher pay.

After the DCTA voted by 93% to walk out, the state Department of Labor and Employment under the direction of Gov. Polis could have ordered a so-called “cooling off period” of up to six months, which would have deprived teachers of their power to back up their negotiations with action. There was considerable worry that Polis would do just that, especially after the governor and his staff took an active role in attempting to mediate between the sides early on.

In the end, though, the decision by Gov. Polis not to curtail the teachers’ ability to strike made it clear who would have the upper hand. In addition Denver Public Schools management did very little to ingratiate themselves with the public, after a message to visa-holding noncitizen teachers wrongly threatening to report them to immigration officials and stories of school administrators trying to censor students documenting the dysfunction on campus.

The proposed new contract, which still needs to be ratified by the teachers, gives the teachers much more than they were offered before the strike–which is, of course, the most important measurement of success. And for Gov. Polis, his campaign promise to be an advocate for working people and organized labor in particular is looking well-kept as of now.

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Industrial Schoolhouse Action: Denver Teachers On Strike

Striking teachers in Los Angeles, 12/2018.

Colorado Public Radio reports on the final breakdown of negotiations last night between Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, ending with teachers heading for the picket lines for tomorrow morning–the first strike by DCTA in a quarter century that has seen enormous change in the operating philosophy of DPS, and a “reform” agenda that has delivered much more controversy than increased achievement:

Tensions boiled over Saturday night as several hours of discussion between the teachers union and Denver Public Schools aimed at averting a strike came to a halt and a Monday walkout appeared inevitable.

Exasperated negotiators for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association ended talks after they asked whether or not Superintendent Susana Cordova would agree to their concept of a salary schedule that gives teachers more opportunities to advance and rewards them for professional development classes.

Cordova wouldn’t give a specific answer and asked for time to consider their counter-proposal. DCTA lead negotiator Rob Gould tersely responded that they “can have some time, they can have until Tuesday!”

What does this mean for almost 80,000 kids who attends Denver Public Schools, not to mention their working parents? Without those thousands of hard-working long-suffering and no matter what they’re getting not paid nearly enough teachers, the district is doing whatever it can to provide a suitable warehouse educational setting–Denver7:

Denver Public School Superintendent Susan Cordova reassured parents in late January that the district is committed to keeping schools open during the strike and said an announcement would be sent Sunday notifying parents whether their child’s school would be open the next day.

That will not be the case for all early childhood education classes, which will be canceled due to the district’s inability to meet the rigorous requirements for licensed staff in those classrooms, Cordova said, adding they would try to provide opportunities for the 4,714 children currently enrolled in the district’s early childhood education programs.

Additionally, a DPS spokesperson said a daily assessment would be made as to whether there is an adequate number of teachers and substitute teachers — as well as supervisors from the central office — to keep schools in the district open during the strike.

The school district is expected to have every nonunion employee with a college degree serving as a substitute teacher tomorrow, with an unknown number of temporary teachers hired on the promise of a large daily rate to cover the indignity of crossing a picket line. Obviously, the educational value of the substitutes is going to vary widely, and in many cases it’s reasonable to expect to see whole student bodies watching movies in the gym Monday.

The breakdown between the sides continues to be over the district’s bonus system to achieve staffing goals versus the teachers’ demand for broadly higher pay to offset the growing shortage of teachers and Denver’s skyrocketing cost of living. Underlying this standoff is a larger philosophical disagreement over reforming public education, with the DPS “ProComp” compensation plan and the later “teacher effectiveness” law SB-191 passed in 2010 representing a controversial shift toward blaming teachers for the whole range of aggregate social and economic factors that affect student achievement. Without a positive correlation of better educational outcomes for students to justify this approach, and with a demonstrable and growing shortage of qualified college graduates willing to take on the challenge of a career in public education…what are we doing?

Look, folks, we have no idea how deeply this is going to be reckoned with in the current standoff at Denver Public Schools. But it’s critical to understand–on both sides–that this is much more than an argument over a few percentage points more or less in a contract. This is about a fundamental disagreement over the hardships teachers face in their jobs, and how their work should be both valued and evaluated by society.

If you think you have a slogan that answers all these weighty questions, you don’t.

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Focus on the Fearmongers

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Nearly three hundred people showed up at the Capitol last week to speak against a relatively narrow bill concerning sex education. Many of them were passionate in their opposition; some were outright angry.

One woman gave a graphic description of fringe sex acts that drew audible gasps from the room. Another brandished a condom and talked about pedophiles grooming children.

Why were so many people so upset about a bill clarifying relatively obscure state regulations that have mostly been on the books for five years?

Quite simply, they were lied to.

Religious right advocacy groups blasted out “Action Alert” emails to their followers claiming that this bill would “require children in local public and charter schools to learn the explicit sexual techniques of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.”

The email sent on January 25, five days before the hearing, was signed by “The Family Policy Alliance Team (in association with our state ally, Colorado Family Action)”

The “Team” comprising the Family Policy Alliance includes Colorado’s own Focus on the Family and two out-of-state anti-LGBT hate groups: Alliance Defending Freedom and Family Research Council.

On the day before the hearing, another out-of-state hate group called the American Family Association sent portions of the FPA email to its followers and asked them to contact their legislators.

Hours later, the Lakewood-based Centennial Institute blasted its list with a very similar message under the headline: “No on Banning Traditional Family Values from Colorado’s Schools.”

(more…)

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BREAKING: Polis Will Not Intervene, DPS Strikes Next Week

UPDATE: The Denver Post’s Elizabeth Hernandez:

Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday declined to intervene in the impending Denver teacher strike, which could have delayed a teacher walkout by up to 180 days…

At the heart of the disagreement is Denver’s teacher compensation plan ProComp. Both sides have proposals they claim improve the pay scale that determines how and what teachers get paid. DCTA’s proposal kicks in about $28.5 million toward teacher compensation, while the district’s is about $20.8 million.

In addition to the $8 million difference in teachers pay plans, the district and union disagree on how educators should advance along their proposed compensation schedules. The union’s plan allows for more opportunities for teachers to bump up in pay as they accrue credits toward advancing their education.

—–

That’s the breaking word from the first floor of the state capitol, Gov. Jared Polis will NOT order a 180-day cooling-off period via the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, returning power to the Denver Classroom Teachers Association to commence a strike if a deal isn’t reached by Monday, February 11th.

We’ll update with coverage and statements, but this is a big win for teachers that will shore up Polis’ left flank on the hot-button issue of public education–and puts teeth in Polis’ campaign pledge to help organized workers flex their muscles.

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Will Polis Let ‘Em Strike?

Gov. Jared Polis (D).

Colorado Public Radio’s Jenny Brundin reports as the standoff between the Denver Public Schools management and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) grinds on with no sign of rapprochement between the sides:

Gov. Jared Polis is making one last attempt to meet with both sides in Denver’s contentious teacher labor dispute and broker an agreement before the state decides whether it will intervene…

Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment will decide whether or not to step in by Feb. 11. In the meantime the strike teachers voted for is on hold. If the state decides to intervene, it could postpone a strike for up to 180 days.

In a letter, the agency said a lack of meaningful dialogue, a fundamental disagreement over the facts and costs of competing proposals, and the reopening of negotiations last week that turned into “political theater at its worst,” all weigh heavily on the state’s decision.

In response, the teacher’s union insisted the state not get involved.

With negotiations between DPS management and the DCTA effectively stalled and teachers itching to get out on the picket line, there is undeniable pushback building over Gov. Jared Polis’ attempt to informally broker a compromise. The real deadline now is the one observed by the Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), who will soon decide whether or not to order a six-month “cooling off period”–a decision that would buoy management’s negotiating position but greatly increase tensions between the teachers and the governor’s office.

As we said last week, all parties are watching closely to see how Gov. Polis navigates this situation, the first real political controversy of his brand-new administration. Polis campaigned with the strong support of organized labor in this state, but also has been a supporter of the sometimes-divisive education “reform” agenda that underlies the dispute between teachers and Denver Public Schools officials.

The only thing we can say for sure is that kids won’t get to play hooky either way.

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Move Over, “Anus Granny”–Meet “Anus FISTING Granny”


Joan Poston.

The big if not altogether expected show this week in the Colorado legislature was Wednesday’s hearing in the House Health and Insurance Committee for House Bill 19-1032: a sex ed bill that requires schools who provide sex ed do so comprehensively and without discrimination. As we discussed on Thursday the testimony in this hearing went freakishly beyond the scope of the legislation, and descended into a 10-hour ordeal consisting mostly of homophobic churchgoers trying their darndest to gross each other out.

For many years, testimony on bills of this kind was highlighted by Rosina Kovar, who earned the nickname “Anus Granny” for her reliably over-the-top explicit characterizations of gay sex entered into the permanent legislative record. This year, although Kovar reportedly showed up to testify, by the time they called her name she had gone home for the night. But she needn’t have worried–in Kovar’s stead we have the testimony of Joan Poston, a defeated Republican House candidate who ran against Rep. Chris Kennedy in 2018. Poston’s three minutes of fame, moderated by the extremely patient committee chair Rep. Janet Buckner, were sufficiently non compos mentis that they deserve special recognition. Transcript of the above clip:

POSTON: Hello, my name is Joan Poston. I represent myself. I am a, um, scientist and I was a healthcare professional for 20 years with um, the city of Denver. I am, um, now retired. I um, when I saw this bill and I looked to see exactly what they were talking about when they said something was comprehensive and I said, I don’t know like I guess I’m going to have to go check my notes that I had when I went and had, um, training and when I worked at Eastside Health Center about um, sexually transmitted diseases, so I’m about to give you a couple of definitions.

Fisting. Fisting is when you take your fist and you shove it up somebody’s anus up to your wrist. But if you have somebody who is [UNINTELLIGIBLE] you can go up to your elbow. This is not a healthy and and it…

REP. BUCKNER: Um, Ma’am?

POSTON: Yes?

REP. BUCKNER: I can’t quite figure out where this is going…

POSTON: This is not a healthy relationship. This is actually…

REP. BUCKNER: Is this to the bill?

POSTON: Yes, because you are wanting comprehensive fact-based…

REP. BUCKNER: Experiential…

POSTON: Experiential. Yes. Um, I’ve got another one on rimming and I’ve got another one on golden showers, but I can actually move on to another topic if you’d like me to.

REP. BUCKNER: Um, I’ve read the bill and I’m not, I do not think this fits into the bill because we’re talking about comprehensive sex. Um…

POSTON: This is comprehensive sex…

REP. BUCKNER: Experiences.

POSTON: …And experiences with gay people.

[FAINT APPLAUSE, “Amen”]

REP. BUCKNER: Um…

POSTON: You know what, if you give me another minute…

REP. BUCKNER: I think, I think…in all…

POSTON: I will change the subject…

REP. BUCKNER: Well, in all…

POSTON: I will change out the subject and tell you that…

REP. BUCKNER: Um, wait a minute. Ms. Ms., uh…

POSTON: Ms. Poston.

REP. BUCKNER: I’m just trying to keep all the comments to the bill.

POSTON: Okay, so this next comment is to the bill and it is in a different form. So let’s redo this: the population of the gay lesbian and bisexual from the Center of Disease Control in 2014, 26.6% of adults identify as straight. 1.6% and identify as gay or lesbian. 0.7% identify as bisexual and 1.1 or something else. Not sure what but something else. So in Jeffco we have about, um, 64,500 children that are between the ages of, uh fourth grade and 12th. And That means that there are 2,000 students that would be identifying with this kind of sexual education and that is one student per 30.

REP. BUCKNER: Ms., Ms. Poston…

POSTON: Based on how, just one more thing–based on how much money is not in the school’s right now and how we have Denver public school teachers who are going to go out on strike…

REP. BUCKNER: Okay. This is not to the bill. I’m sorry. And your time is up.

POSTON: Thank you.

REP. BUCKNER: Next witness, please.

And with that, dear reader, “Anus Granny” has been dethroned! The transcript spells out Poston’s words, but it’s the glee in Poston’s voice that really tells the story. Suffice to say that proponents of accurate and non-biased sex ed are not the problem here, and there may be…an unmet need in the lives of its imaginative opponents.

That’s as much as we care to speculate, thanks.

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DPS Management Strike PR Off To Really Horrible Start

Are you SURE you want to strike?

Denver7’s Oscar Contreras reports on a nasty little “misunderstanding” this week between Denver Public Schools officials and Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) teachers who voted overwhelmingly this week to strike for better pay:

Denver Public School officials are apologizing after a notice went out to teachers warning those on working visas that they would be reported to immigration officials should they participate in a district-wide strike voted on earlier this week .

The letter, obtained by Denver7, states the district needs to be informed of the decision of teachers on H or J visas to go on strike “as soon as possible as we are required to report that to immigration and the US Department of State.”

That letter, however, was the result of “misrepresentation” of information received by the district’s immigration firm and an incorrect communication, according to DPS spokesman Will Jones.

“The communication was in no way intended to cause fear for our educators on visas,” Jones said in the prepared statement sent to Denver7 Thursday evening.

First of all, and this needs to be bold faced in every single story about this incident, we are not talking about undocumented immigrants. Teachers from abroad in Denver Public Schools have work visas and fully legal status to do their jobs. According to DPS officials doing damage control after reporters contacted them about these letters sent to teachers, the individual names of noncitizen teachers would not be reported to ICE–just the fact that a strike is taking place, and presumably ICE can…take it from there?

On second thought, that’s not very comforting either, is it?

It should go without saying that DPS management should be extremely careful and diplomatic with their communications with teachers ahead of a strike, and in this case their comms carelessness just happened to come down on the side of intimidating legal immigrant teachers with the specter of Donald Trump’s immigration enforcers–who we’re going to go out on a limb and suggest don’t like strikes much either.

Whether an accident or, you know, not so much, we can all agree this is not the way to win hearts and minds.

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DPS Teachers Vote To Strike, Polis Wades Into The Fray

AP via Colorado Public Radio reports on a situation we’re monitoring closely in Denver, after teachers represented by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) voted overwhelmingly to strike for better across-the-board pay and other unresolved disagreements with the school board.

Into this widening divide steps Colorado’s new Gov. Jared Polis, hoping to bridge the impasse before the potentially disruptive strike is set to begin next Monday:

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday he is seeking to prevent Denver teachers from walking off the job next week after they overwhelmingly voted to strike over pay.

Polis, who took office this month, said he would meet with representatives of the school district and teachers’ union to see if he could “play a role in bringing them together.” But the Democrat who has vowed to increase school funding declined to elaborate…

The earliest teachers could legally walk off the job is Monday. However, the state labor department could also intervene and put the strike on hold for up to 180 days. It would be the first teacher walkout in 25 years.

Can Gov. Polis bring the sides together in a fight dripping with subtext over major philosophical differences in public education? Will the state flex its controversial muscle and impose a cooling-off period? Whatever happens next, this is the first big labor fight of a new era of full Democratic control in Colorado. The outcome here is going to, as they say, set a tone.

We’ll update with developments, and we don’t expect to wait long. Stay tuned.

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A Few Words About Polis Education Transition Heartburn

Bob Schaffer.

Gov.-elect Jared Polis is grappling with the first real controversy he’s encountered since his double-digit victory earlier this month, with a less-then-enthusiastic response to certain members of his “transition team.” As John Frank at the Colorado Sun reported last week:

The team includes prominent Democrats, such as former Gov. Bill Ritter, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, former Colorado State University President Al Yates, former Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio and two former Democratic House speakers, Crisanta Duran and Andrew Romanoff. The Keystone Center will facilitate the effort.

But Polis touted his transition effort as a bipartisan affair and pointed to one prominent Republican on the team, former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer, a charter school leader who is a member of the education effort. Schaffer served in a similar role for Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2010, a move that drew scorn from liberals for his controversial stances in the past.

Marianne Goodland of the Colorado Springs Gazette elaborated further on the education team, which has justifiably rankled public school supporters:

The Polis education team — one of seven teams whose members were announced Friday — includes Jen Walmer, director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a political group that advocates for charter schools. Some education-policy liberals accuse the group of seeking to restrict teacher unions.

Another is former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer, a Republican advocate for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools and formerly a member of the state board of education.

Schaffer also is chairman of the board of the Leadership Program of the Rockies (LPR) a Republican-leaning organization that provides training on conservative principles and leadership. Its graduates include three of the former members of the Douglas County Board of Education who approved a controversial private-school voucher program in 2011. Schaffer advocated for the state board of education to endorse the voucher program.
The Dougco program led to lawsuits, including a trip all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was dismantled last year after voters elected an anti-voucher school board.

Bob Schaffer, the failed 2008 GOP U.S. Senate turned headmaster of a politically conservative charter high school in Fort Collins, is not the only member of Polis’ education team drawing criticism. There’s also Mike Johnston, who lost to Polis in the Democratic primary largely due to his authorship of a much-reviled “teacher effectiveness” bill that since passage in 2010 has contributed directly to a shortage of teachers in Colorado with no discernible impact on student performance. For the large number of Democratic voters who think supporting public schools is predicate to “reforming” them, these people are more than bad choices: they’re the bad actors in public education base Democrats thought they were voting against. We said the same thing when John Hickenlooper appointed Schaffer to his education transition team, and it’s no less true today.

Since 2010, however, the landscape of education politics in Colorado has significantly changed. The Douglas County religious school voucher program was stymied in court and then soundly rejected by Douglas County voters who threw out the conservative board. The conservative education “reform” movement hit its zenith in 2013 after a slate of far-right school board members took power in Jefferson County, only to be overwhelmingly recalled from office two years later. Johnston’s rejection by Democratic primary voters despite massive infusions of cash from out-of-state education “reform” interests further underscores where the power has shifted on education in the last decade.

In 2004, Polis founded the New America School charter high schools with the specific purpose of “empowering new immigrants, English language learners, and academically underserved students.” Far from the predatory cherry-picking suburban charter schools (rightly) vilified by neighborhood school supporters, NAS is an example of a niche need charter schools can gainfully fill under the right circumstances. Will that experience manifest as a blind spot for Polis with regard to charter schools that aren’t so well-intentioned? That remains to be seen. But this is a charter school doing more good than harm.

With all of this in mind, and especially with Democratic majorities in both chambers of the legislature, the potential harm from appointing Schaffer and “ed reform” Democrats to Polis’ transition team is self-limiting–more so than when Hickenlooper appointed Schaffer to the same committee eight years ago. Polis himself takes pride in engaging with all sides, including those he has little to nothing in common with. The best response is for public education supporters to be loud in their opposition, and back that up with a strong presence in the legislature next year to ensure their policy goals are upheld.

And be assured, Colorado’s public schools are in better hands than the alternative.

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300, the Denver College Affordability Fund, Is a Photo Finish

As of 1pm the day after the election Initiated Ordinance 300 is behind by just 43 votes. This is out of 79,175 for and 79,218 against. With more than 6,000 undervotes and 21 overvotes (Source: DenverGov) a recount seems incredibly likely.

With four other tax increases on the ballot this effort may have just been one too many for Denver voters. Also, opponents raised the issue of if this should be a function of city government. Though language was submitted to the blue book to oppose this measure there was no organized campaign against it other than statements made by the usual suspects.

The rest of the Denver tax increases, 2A, 301, 302, and 7G passed by wide to significant margins.

Parks – 61.44% yes
Mental Health – 68.11% yes
Childhood Healthy Meals – 57.42% yes
Flood Control – 60.04% yes (Denver alone)

District Wide
Flood Control – 55.35% yes (source: Denver Post)

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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…)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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