The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) held its annual conference in Denver last month. Among its guest speakers was current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. It shouldn’t be a surprise that DeVos continues to pursue policies that weaken civil rights for students, remove protections against predatory student loans, and imperil public education through vouchers and so-called education savings accounts (ESAs). What is a surprise, however, is the response from Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Instead of a full-throated rejection of DeVos and her policies, DFER has chosen to capitulate, choosing to collaborate with DeVos.
On their Facebook page, they write:
The link on their post points to DFER’s position on Ms. DeVos’ confirmation in January. They write:
…we nonetheless recognize that should Mrs. DeVos be confirmed, we would seek to work with her where can find common ground and push her to ensure a strong federal role in ensuring children are educated well.
This support for DeVos’ confirmation is in stark contrast to most Democratic (and numerous Independent and Republican) voters’ opinions of Ms. DeVos. Yet DFER’s Facebook post (above) this week attempts to gloss over their support for her. I decided to call them out on it, using their words against them:
Yet, your statement in January continues: “In expressing these concerns, we nonetheless recognize that should Mrs. DeVos be confirmed, we would seek to work with her where can find common ground and push her to ensure a strong federal role in ensuring children are educated well.”
During her short tenure, she has done more to threaten the civil rights of students, and undermined protections for predatory student loans. More, she has overtly and blatantly pushed for vouchers that have no demonstrable value toward improving outcomes, and would allow our public tax dollars to be siphoned to private schools and corporate coffers.
Sadly, your words ring empty and your actions, or lack thereof, imply complicity with her policies. I can’t abide by this.
Their response to me appears to be a canned, manufactured statement of values:
While we still retain some hope, for the sake of our students, that Secretary DeVos can learn from the good work that we have done together in Colorado, it is clear to us that as Democrats, we must continue to resist harmful policies that slash funding for critical programs that fulfill the heart of our obligation as citizens – dignified salaries for teachers, preschool to ensure that every kid starts school prepared to learn, after school which enriches our students’ lives and assists working families, school lunch, mental health programs, Pell Grants. The American promise of a uniform public education is central to who we are as democrats, and if we fail to serve all students – regardless of race, ability, LGBTQ status, socioeconomic status, documentation, or zip code – we fail that promise. We reject vouchers. We reject efforts to expel students and their families from our neighborhoods, shattering homes and rending the fabric of our communities. Public education is a Democratic value – and a Colorado one
By all accounts, I don’t think anyone would argue against any of these values. But credibility cannot not be simply given on platitudes alone. Actions still speak louder than words, and remain the key measure of their value. My reply to them demonstrated that they weren’t living up to their stated values:
Indeed, these are all democratic values (small d intended – it’s not a partisan issue) that I fully support. That isn’t necessarily the issue. Rather, after six months, it’s abundantly clear that “retaining hope” of a change in Ms. DeVos’ policies is a fool’s errand. So it seems more like capitulation than an honest dialog.
Hope isn’t a strategy, nor is it a viable, implementable process. But neither is a similar strategy of policies that weaken neighborhood schools through over-expansion of charters, particularly those that are not started organically, KIPP and DSST are two examples. Likewise, emphasis on charters, with the myriad of default and supplementary waivers weaken transparency and accountability, and devalue our teachers through lower salaries and, few with a collective voice. Oddly, these seem like very similar strategies and policies that have emerged from ALEC, the same group that has Ms. DeVos as a featured guest at today’s conference. In fact, this is the slippery slope that paves the way for vouchers.
Likewise, HB-1375 is just bad policy straight out of the same playbook. And you supported it. Regardless of “bipartisan compromise” coming out of the wreckage of SB-61, it’s inherently the same bill. It’s an egregious overreach in local control by school districts; it throws already fragile budgets into disarray; and, it has absolutely no teeth to enforce charters to comply with publishing waivers, which is not full transparency or accountability.
These aren’t Democratic Values – full stop.
The problem is that DFER may claim to advocate for kids, but their track record proves otherwise: DFER supports SB-191, a bill that weaponizes testing results against teacher evaluations. They backed HB-1375, a bill that forces school districts to provide charters will mill levy funds, even though charters like KIPP and DSST are not required to live up to the same level of accountability, transparency, or even teacher qualifications that neighborhood schools must comply with. They have a tremendous amount of money in their coffers, which they’ve used to full extent to “buy” school boards, like DPS. To date, dozens of neighborhood schools are on the chopping block. All in the name of “choice,” and “accountability.”
To the many teachers I’ve talked to over the last few years, nearly all raise one issue as the biggest obstacle for them to remain long term: SB-191. How is a test result meaningful measure of a teacher’s effectiveness when you could be in a classroom with high poverty, English as a second language, or even special needs? How is that in any way comparable to measuring effectiveness with a classroom with the opposite circumstances? Yet, DFER supports this policy. Is there any doubt why we have a severe teacher shortage in Colorado? If you were a prospective teacher, would you come to Colorado if you would receive below-average pay AND be evaluated based on student testing performance?
Public education is at a precarious moment in history. There are tremendous economic and social implications for ignoring these threats. Public education isn’t a “market,” nor is it “for-profit” enterprise. Instead, it is an investment made by, and for, communities for the benefit of everyone, including students, families, and businesses. It is the core anchor of our communities’ identities and values, and a significant driver of our economy. Yet if we lose public education, we risk creating a balkanized system of “haves” and “have-nots,” meaning that we only providing opportunities for growth for a part of our community. It’s not only inefficient – it’s unethical.
We owe it to every child in Colorado – all 900,000 – an opportunity to receive the best quality education we can provide. We should be empowering school teachers to inspire kids to learn – not tear them down. We should be bringing communities together with education as a key value and investment – not dividing them. When actions contradict these core values for the benefit of a few, we need to call out individuals and organizations that are behind them. In some circumstances, some may listen and change. DFER has had years to change course, however they continue to forge ahead in DPS and across the state. They continue to support Democratic candidates who will commoditize public education at all levels with a war chest that is quite impressive. In Jeffco, three board members ignored their constituents. It didn’t end well for them. All three were removed from office by voters before the end of their terms. Similarly, if groups like DFER continue to ignoring the values we hold so dear for our public schools, then we should make it very clear that we will not support any of their candidates, and will continue to resist their policies at every step.
Thanks to SJK friend, partner, and supporter, Jim Earley for this!
It IS important to correct untruths and spread FACTUAL information online. Please join in, be like Jim!
And – here are your Colorado legislators with ties to ALEC!