They Can Run, but They Can’t Hide

Preemptive strike.  Those are words that are being heard quite frequently these days.  The Denver School Board and the superintendent have executed preemptive strikes of their own lately.  Luckily, these don’t involve war but rather only elections and privatization.

On April 20, 2017 the The Denver Public Schools Board of Education and the DPS superintendent attempted to separate themselves from the Trump/DeVos education agenda by passing two resolutions. Both tried to convey how privatizing public education in Denver differs “bigly” from the national Washington education program.

1) Resolution 3784 Regarding the 2017 Federal Education Budget Proposal with its six “WHEREAS” clauses covers everything from the need of the federal government to fund basic education needs like tutoring, wrap around services, Pell grants, professional development to a federal budget that includes health care for the uninsured, ending with

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the District respectfully urges Congress to continue its support for the vital resources in the current federal education budget and not to approve the cuts in the Trump Administration’s proposed budget.

It should be noted that this resolution does NOT decry the Trump budget as it relates to the increase in money being recommended for charters ($168 milllion) and choice ($250 million).  This is probably because it is hard to know how and where to distinguish the distinction without a difference when it comes to privatizing public education.

2) Resolution 3785 in Support of School Choice Emphasis on Equity and Accountability  tries to clarify this District’s differences between its CHOICE policy and the Trump/DeVos CHOICE policy. This resolution talks about public dollars going to only public schools, and specifically calls out district-run and charter schools, self-congratulating the District for its high standards of financial transparency and accountability as well as promoting an open and equitable CHOICE system.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Education strongly supports the work of the District to ensure we have great schools in every neighborhood and a choice system that is open, equitable and committed to promoting opportunities for all students, and especially our highest-need students;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED,that the Board of Education does not support private school vouchers,…but believes instead that public dollars should be used to support and grow public schools, both district-run and charter, that are open to and serve all students;

You see, Denver Board of Education and superintendent, once the drip of privatization as characterized particularly by choice and charters starts, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to stop.  What starts as a drip quickly becomes a flood that is almost impossible to control.  You may truly not believe in vouchers, but you have fostered an atmosphere in Denver where vouchers could be the logical outcome of Choice and Charters, intended or not. And while DFER, too, tried to separate itself from parts of the Trump/DeVos agenda, it simultaneously sent out a notice congratulating “Betsy DeVos on her appointment as Secretary of Education, and we applaud Mrs. DeVos’s commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools.”  Further, Betsy DeVos has given money to DFER which in turn has given lots of money to DPS campaigns including the Committee for Denver’s Kids cited below.  You can’t always have it both ways, and even the best public relations departments cannot always convince you of their stories.

Preceding the board’s vote on the above resolutions, the District kicked off what can only be described as its November 2017 board of election campaign.  Robo calls in mid-March to invite voters to participate in an education town hall, hosted by the at-large candidate up for re-election.  Three very slick four page 8 by 11 inch flyers sent on behalf of the same candidate and two district incumbents up for reelection, all paid for by the “Committee for Denver’s Kids. This committee was formed to support the 2016 half billion dollar bond/mill for Denver Public Schools.  If one didn’t know better, one would think it was autumn, and the race for DPS school board was well underway.  Yet it is only Spring and as this is posted the incumbents have yet to declare their candidacies.  So, why the push?

Let’s take a deeper dive into this latest DPS fundraising apparatus.  Who are the biggest contributors to this bond/mill “non-profit?”  Here are the big four:

  • Stand for Children – $200,000 – “Reform” organization founded by Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s childhood friend, Jonah Edelman which lobbies and campaigns for all things “reform;”
  • Stacy Schusterman, – $100,000- funder of the ERS report detailed in “Reform” Systems Grow, Academic Outcomes Slow;
  • Benjamin WALTON – $100,000 – nothing more to say;
  • Education Reform Now Advocacy -$120,000 from the independent expenditure arm of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) which also lobbies and campaigns for all things “reform.”

And not far behind are two real estate development companies responsible for two of the three largest housing in-fill projects in Denver.  Theses developers are also the beneficiaries of the generosity of Denver’s taxpayers regarding the building and refurbishing of DPS properties heavily weighted toward charter schools. Pat Hamill of Oakwood Homes, developer of Green Valley Ranch in the Far Northeast contributed $25,000 and something called FC Facilitator, affiliated with Forest City, real estate developer of Denver’s previous airport site, Stapleton, contributed $20,000.

The amounts then drop to $10,000 and below and contributors are financial institutions, construction companies, architecture firms and local foundations many of whom benefit directly from passage of the bond.  These contributors include First Bank, Stifel Nicolas, RBC Capital Markets, Vectra Bank, George K. Baum, Saunders Construction, Golden Triangle Construction, GE Johnson, Swinerton Builders, Continuum Partners, Eidos Architecture, CH2MHill Engineers, Gary Community Investments, and Carson Foundation.

At what point do the District’s murky associations with Choice and Charter devotees contradict its supposed outrage at the Trump/DeVos agenda?  And what is the urgency for the District to kick off the 2017 campaign so early?  Could it be the District is trying to contain reaction to its compromised position? Could it be that a 7-0 board assures unanimous approval for all things “reform,” all things being privatized?  Could it be that a 7-0 board assures few questions are raised as the “reforms” continue to be shoved through DPS even though the academic outcomes resulting from these “reforms” continue to under-perform? Could it be the District is worried that the fraud of “education reform” will be exposed with a new Board?

The Board and the superintendent most likely do not want public money going to private or religious institutions and they most likely do not want the funding cuts proposed for public education. But elections, policy decisions and listening to monied interests have consequences.  Sometimes those with whom you associate give a more accurate picture of the story than the words that come from resolutions, flyers and the best public relations departments.  The relationship the District’s decision-makers have chosen to pursue have resulted in consequences from which the District’s decision-makers cannot hide in spite of their best public relations efforts.

Post Script:  Since I started writing this post, a bi-partisan spending bill, averting a government shut down and funding it through September has been proposed by Congress. It is expected to pass later this week.  Most of the itemized funding in resolution 3784 has remained, and apparently the Trump budget requests for choice and charter school increases have not materialized.  But these Congressional budgetary decisions do not change the intent of the Denver Public Schools’ actions.