('76 Contributor) In a huge victory for school choice, the Colorado Court of Appeals last month overturned the injunction placed on the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program (CSP).
The CSP is Colorado’s only school-choice voucher program. Any student who lives within the Douglas County School District, and has resided there for at least one year, is eligible to apply to receive up to 75 percent of the state per-pupil funding to attend a school of choice. If there are more applicants than scholarships, a lottery is held to award the vouchers. Parents may also pay out of pocket to supplement the voucher coverage.
In 2011, the ACLU of Colorado, the National ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and others filed suit in Colorado state court, claiming that the school choice option violated the statutory provisions of the CSP itself and seven provisions of the Colorado constitution, including, importantly, the establishment clause in the Colorado constitution. As an ACLU spokesperson said after winning an injunction to prevent the program from being implemented: “By paying for students to attend religious schools, the state was unconstitutionally promoting and subsidizing particular faiths.”
The Colorado Court of Appeals saw things differently, overturning the injunction. There is much to laud in the opinion, and the immediate beneficiaries of the ruling are the 304 students whose rights under the program are now vindicated. The Court of Appeals has given a particular victory in its analysis of how courts should analyze incidental funding of religious schools.
In rejecting the plaintiffs’ establishment clause claims, the appellate court applied the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Colorado Christian University v. Weaver, 534 F.3d 1245 (10th Cir. 2008). In this decision, penned by then-Judge Michael McConnell, the Tenth Circuit held that it violated the First Amendment to provide financial aid to students attending sectarian institutions but not to students attending “pervasively sectarian” institutions. As the Tenth Circuit noted, “inquiring into the pervasiveness or intensity of… belief” of religious institutions receiving funding is a form of anti-religious discrimination.
In the case challenging the CSP, the Colorado appeals court applied the same logic, holding that
the inquiry in which the district court engaged—into the degree to which religious tenets and beliefs are included in participating private schools’ educational programs—is no longer constitutionally permissible. In the thirty years since Americans United was decided, the United States Supreme Court has made clear that, in assessing facially neutral student aid laws, a court may not inquire into the extent to which religious teaching pervades a particular institution’s curriculum. Doing so violates the First Amendment.
This means that a First Amendment violation does not occur when a facially neutral law happens to fund religious school. Rather, the true First Amendment violation occurs when an activist court seeks to scrutinize the curriculum of schools funded by vouchers to sniff out religion it doesn’t like.
Ultimately, this decision shows once more that neutral voucher programs do not infringe upon taxpayers’ liberties. Educational choice gives parents control over their share of funding, making education dollars more mobile and allowing parents to choose the best schooling options for their children. The simple fact that some of this money goes to religious schools does not violate the First Amendment.
It is a travesty for Americans to be forced into only one option for their children’s schooling. School choice has proven, time and time again, to produce better educational outcomes than government-assigned schools. As HLindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation writes:
School choice has led to improved academic outcomes, higher graduation rates and increased student safety. It has improved parental satisfaction with their child’s academic and social development, and satisfaction with their child’s school overall. And it allows parents to access educational options that meet their child’s unique learning needs.
Last month’s ruling affords Douglas County students that opportunity.
Brittany Corona graduated from CCU in politics and pre-law in 2012, and is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.
School children 1, school choice opponents O
School children in Douglas County won Thursday when the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that the district’s innovative Choice Scholarship Program is constitutional. Overturning an August 2011 decision by Denver District Judge Michael Martinez against the program, the majority on the Appeals Court ruled the plaintiffs “failed to carry their burden of proving the unconstitutionality of the CSP beyond a reasonable doubt.” The court also ruled that the school choice opponents lacked standing to make their case against the program. The plaintiffs indicated that they will appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Once up and running, the district’s pilot program will enable up to 500 district students to receive a $4,575 tuition scholarship to attend a secular or faith-based private school of their choice. If upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court, Colorado will become the 21st state to have a voucher program. This is great news for Colorado children, regardless of where they attend school.
There are essentially three types of school choice programs—voucher programs that provide students with a scholarship to attend a school of their choice; education tax credits and deduction programs that enable families to exempt or credit school tuition costs from their taxes; and scholarship programs funded through individual and corporate donations whereby the donor receives a credit against their taxes.
All three types of scholarship programs have grown significantly in the past two decades. Maine and Vermont’s century old “tuitioning” programs, Minnesota’s tax deduction enacted in 1955, and Iowa’s tax credit which passed in 1987 aside, the number of scholarship programs began to take off in the 1990s and continues to grow to this day.
Various state courts have upheld voucher and tax credit/deduction programs against challenges. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program. The Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision concluded that the use of public money to fund tuition at independent and religious schools does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution as long as parents decide where the scholarship is used. Given the range of options and the responsibility of the parent to choose from among them, the Court concluded that the Cleveland program is neutral with regard to religion—even though most voucher recipients chose faith-based schools.
Similarly, the Colorado Court of Appeals determined the “CSP is neutral toward religion generally and religion-affiliated schools specifically” even though 16 of the 23 private schools are faith based. The Appeals Court cited numerous state and federal cases in its determination that the CSP is consistent with the Colorado constitution’s provisions regarding religion and religious institutions.
Although the case will likely go to the Colorado Supreme Court, the Appeals Court’s decision gives school children and their parents cause for hope. If Douglas County prevails, other district boards may find the courage to give families greater choice in the pursuit of their children’s education. Let’s hope so.
Thursday, 27 September 2012 03:18 by Admin
It's something new and notable in Colorado politics: An unapologetic liberal and an unwavering conservative agreeing in spite of themselves that tax increases for metro-Denver municipalities and school districts on the November ballot are an overreach.
In the September round of Head On mini-debates for Colorado Public Television, sponsored by Centennial Institute, Susan Barnes-Gelt, a Democrat and former Denver city councilwoman, takes the lead in calling for a "no" vote on these measures and John Andrews, a Republican and former Senate President, seconds her motion. Here is the script:
DENVER and CENTENNIAL SEEK TO DE-BRUCE
Susan: Denverites should vote NO on 2A. The measure promises to repave streets, add police training classes, expand library and recreation center hours and eliminate furlough days for city employees. Truth is, it’s a substantial tax hike with no guarantees – just unenforceable promises.
John: Government always wants more. It never has enough. Politicians always believe they can spend our money better than we can. I too would oppose Denver’s tax hike, if I were an urban guy. I am opposing Centennial’s tax hike as a suburban guy. Our little city wasn’t created to be a revenue hog.
Susan: Denver voters have a choice. Approve a blank check that never expires for higher taxes, or send Mayor Hancock back to the drawing board to craft a balanced initiative with a mix of reduced expenses and tax increases. 2A is bad for jobs, small business and homeowners. Vote NO.
John: The first word in Tea Party stands for “taxed enough already,” and I’m delighted to hear you of all people urging Denverites to vote that way on school construction and the Hancock proposal. If Coloradans look at the huge tax increase Obama plans for Jan. 1, they will vote him out too.
PUBLIC SCHOOL TAX INCREASES
Susan: Several school districts are on November’s ballot with tax increases for K-12 education, including Denver. DPS wants more than a half a billion for new schools, renovation and updating of existing schools and increased operating funds. It’s a tough time to ask for the biggest tax increase in history.
John: I’m voting no on Cherry Creek school taxes. And I agree with your no vote in Denver. Taxpayers in Jeffco, Aurora, and all 29 Colorado districts where a total of $1 billion is being requested should join us. The answer for better education is more choice, not more money.
Susan: Regarding DPS, I’m undecided. Should Denver build new schools when existing ones are way under capacity. Should the District go to a 12-month school year to support student achievement? Yes – I support 3B – increased operating funds. I’d like to see more reform before we build more schools.
John: A lot more reform. Something is happening when I as a conservative Republican and you as a liberal Democrat begin agreeing that taxpayers forever digging deeper while teacher unions keep making excuses is no longer a viable strategy for helping kids learn. For devastating proof, see the new movie “Won’t Back Down.”
At the conclusion of the Washington Week trip I am left physically exhausted though intellectually and civically energized! Led by Professor Schaller, Dr. Krannawitter, and Dean Saxby, students visited think tanks, memorials, monuments, historical battlefields, renowned authors, museums, both chambers of Congress, the Becket Fund, and other influential D.C. individuals. We learned about foreign policy, education, our founding, the civil war and the ideas that led to the conflict, political persuasion, and many more issues facing our generation. [More]
Budgeting is about setting priorities.In most states, K-12 education is the top priority and receives the lion’s share of funding. Yet across the country, states are grappling with a budget monster that pits education funding against federal health care mandates.In the last three years, total spending on K-12 education in Colorado has fallen by $389 million. Spending on health care, however, has increased by $763 million during that same period.The problem is that states no longer have the ability to set their own priorities. The federal-state Medicaid “partnership” increasingly resembles a shotgun wedding. A state that rejects the federal spending mandates also loses out on federal matching funds that pay for half of the $5 billion price tag of Colorado’s program.In the past five years, the number of Coloradans participating in Medicaid has swollen from 391,962 to 613,148. If that weren’t a big enough problem, ObamaCare (ironically named the “Affordable Care Act”) locks in current spending and requires states to expand eligibility to 133% of the federal poverty level. Worse still, government health care programs are notorious for exponentially exceeding estimated costs.Two years ago, the Colorado legislature, then controlled by Democrats, passed a $600 million hidden tax on hospital patients. Hospitals are prohibited from itemizing this “fee” on patients’ bills. The state planned to use this fee to leverage more federal matching funds and expand Medicaid eligibility to all adults whose income was at or below the federal poverty level.According a Denver Post story by Tim Hoover, state bureaucrats estimated that the new program would serve 49,200 people at a cost of $197 million per year. In fact, the number of eligible participants is closer to 143,000 and the cost of treating them $1.75 billion.For now, Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy and Finance has controlled costs by limiting eligibility. However, ObamaCare mandates that all states extend coverage to this entire population by 2014. The federal government promises to pay for it by heaping even more debt on our children and grandchildren.Let’s be candid: Medicaid is government-sponsored charity — a noble but costly endeavor.In our family budgets, we may choose to cut back on extras to support worthwhile charities, but we don’t slash basics, like food and shelter for our children, to be even more generous to charitable causes.Given the choice, it’s inconceivable that legislators of either party would slash K-12 funding in order to expand Medicaid, but that’s exactly what’s happened. And the outlook grows even more grim under ObamaCare.So, why haven’t those who want to raise taxes for education or want the courts to force the legislature to spend more on education taken aim at the chief culprit that’s cutting into education funding? Either they don’t understand how Medicaid is eviscerating the state budget or perhaps they find it more expedient to lock arms with others who want higher taxes to pay for more spending on virtually everything.Two sensible options exist for restoring fiscal sanity to Medicaid:• Lobby Congress to turn Medicaid into a block grant program whereby states receive a lump sum from the federal government and are liberated to design their own program without federal mandates. Colorado will have allies because 49 other states are in a similar predicament.• Require Medicaid recipients to pay a small premium or co-pay in exchange for the health care they receive — which costs the state about $4,800 per patient per year.Some will object because Medicaid is a safety net program for the poor. Yet, households with an average income of $17,500 (just below 100% of poverty) spend an average of $879 on junk food and soda pop, $1,160 on eating out and $1,192 on entertainment.If Medicaid patients paid an average of $400 a year out of pocket, the state could add some $300 per student in K-12 funding.So which is more responsible – more cuts to K-12 education or requiring Medicaid customers to help pay for their health care costs by cutting back on a few extras?
Mark Hillman served as Colorado state treasurer and Senate majority leader. He is now the Republican National Committeeman and a Centennial Institute Fellow. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com.
Friday, 20 January 2012 08:09 by Admin
"It's time to take back our system of education from government control," proclaims the New Jersey Tea Party Caucus in announcing its forum in Jersey City this Sunday, Jan. 22. Details are here http://www.njteapartycaucus.com/?page_id=115 "We'll kick off National School Choice Week by asking the tough questions" about why public education costs so much, performs so poorly, and seems impervious to reform, the website adds. William J. Moloney, former Colorado Education Commissioner and now a Centennial Institute Fellow, heads the speakers panel for the half-day event. Moloney will outline an agenda for real change, based on his Centennial policy brief, "Much Better Schools on Much Lower Budgets." Bob Bowdon, producer of "The Cartel," a hard-hitting documentary film about teacher unions and the education establishment, will serve as panel moderator. Other panelists include New Jersey education activists Derrell Bradford, Chris Kniesler, and Dan Hagerty, along with Hillsdale College charter school experts Philip Kilgore and Terrence Moore. Moore is well-known to Coloradans for his past leadership of Ridgeview Classical Schools, an award-winning Fort Collins charter school.
Spend Less, Achieve More Centennial Inst Jan 2012.pdf (340.16 kb)
When Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that the state will appeal a Denver court’s ruling that the state inadequately funds education, he acknowledged what Judge Sheila Rappaport — and previously the Colorado Supreme Court — would not: money is a finite resource, even when it’s spent on worthy causes and when it’s spent by government.
The state legislature allocates $4.3 billion to educate more than 800,000 students — just under $6,500 each — in K-12 public schools. According to the Colorado Department of Education, other sources bring that total to a statewide average of nearly $13,000, as of 2009-10.
Over two years ago, the supreme court ruled, in a contentious 4-3 decision, that a lower court should entertain claims brought by a group of parents and school districts that the state constitution’s call for a “thorough and uniform” system of free public schools should be interpreted to require a specific funding amount.
That lawsuit, Lobato vs. Colorado, reverted back to Rappaport’s courtroom, albeit with instructions that “the trial court must give substantial deference to the legislature’s fiscal and policy judgments.”
Rappaport’s decision, however, offered no such deference. Her ruling reads like a brief for the plaintiffs — not like a judgment that gives even a modicum of respect to the legislature’s constitutional authority to fund public schools or, more broadly, to adopt a state budget.
She condescendingly dismissed the state’s arguments, while fawning over various creative claims and tendentious documents provided by the Lobato plaintiffs, leading to these incredible conclusions:
* “[T]he entire system of public school finance . . . is not rationally related to the mandate of the Education Clause.”
* “There is not one school district that is sufficiently funded.”
* “Current economic conditions . . . have made an unworkable situation unconscionable. But Colorado’s history of irrational and inadequate school funding goes back over two decades.”
If irrationality is a disqualifier, then Rappaport’s decision is on thin ice.
For example, she consults the dictionary to accurately define “rational,” “irrational” and “relationship” because the Supreme Court used those terms in remanding the case. She does not, however, provide that same level of analysis to ascertain what Colorado’s founders intended when wrote, “[T]he general assembly shall . . . provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state . . .” (emphasis added).
Because “thorough” and “uniform” appear in the state constitution — unlike “rational,” “irrational” and “relationship” — a judge seeking to objectively apply the law might want to know if those terms dictate a necessary and quantifiable level of spending.
Of course, they do not. An earlier supreme court said, “We are unable to find any historical background to glean guidance regarding the intention of the framers.”
Rappaport adopts the Lobato plaintiffs’ argument that, because lawmakers have implemented a means of measuring schools’ and students’ performance against quantifiable expectations, the state is obligated to radically increase funding, perhaps to nearly double current levels.
Her ruling rests on the plaintiffs’ creative assertion that a specific funding mandate is created by the convergence of standards and assessments, the constitution’s “thorough and uniform” clause, and the constitutional stipulation that local school boards control instruction.
She never mentions “emanations and penumbras,” but clearly Judge Rappaport, like judicial activists before her, is blessed with a rare talent entrusted to only a select cadre of law school graduates — the ability to interpret words that aren’t there.
In a final flurry of irrationality, Rappaport strikes down the state’s school finance law and orders a new system of funding, but she concludes the order by allowing this “inadequate,” “irrational,” “unconscionable” finance system to continue, pending further action by the Supreme Court.
In announcing the state’s appeal, Gov. Hickenlooper observed: “There are more appropriate venues (than a courtroom) for a vigorous and informed public debate about the state’s spending priorities.”
Yes, and, more rational, too.
Mark Hillman served as Colorado treasurer and senate majority leader. He is now a Centennial Institute Fellow and Colorado's Republican National Committeeman. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com.
('76 Editor) I believe that Colorado taxpayers and the federal government are spending enough, if not too much, on education. I believe schooling would be more effective if competition, choice, market forces, and parental control were more prevalent. And I believe we would be a freer and better-educated society if at some point, decades from now, government no longer operated or subsidized schools in any way. Since the 1990s, in fact, I have been signatory on a vision statement to that effect.
I was summoned to a Colorado court to testify on the first of those three beliefs, and on nothing else, in connection with the Lobato lawsuit alleging that state aid to local school districts is unconstitutionally low. While on the stand, I was asked about the Separation of School and State vision statement, and confirmed my adherence to it. But I said not a word to suggest it has anything to do with who is right or wrong in the Lobato case - because it doesn't.
For reasons known only to herself, however, the judge in this case, Sheila Rappaport, thundered against my "extreme" views in her Dec. 9 opinion holding for the plaintiffs. At the bottom of this post is an excerpt from the Dec. 11 Denver Post story, giving the details. After musing on this bizarre outburst from the bench, I would observe the following:
1- Intellectually, Judge Rappaport missed the whole point of my testimony, which was to affirm the current school finance act, not to advocate change as any kind.
2- Judicially, the judge dropped her impartiality in ranting at me over a personal opinion unrelated to the case before her.
3- And historically, the judge seems oblivious to the massive evidence that our country's 1800s ideal of tax-supported common schools, woven into the local community and open to all, has worked ever less well as it became ever more politicized, centralized, bureaucratized, and unionized. While it may be disputable, as of 2011, to question the article of faith that higher spending is all we need to reach educational nirvana, to do so is hardly "extreme" as Sheila Rappaport indignantly alleges.
How, I wonder, did she become so enraged at me on no provocation whatsoever? You almost have to feel sorry for someone entrusted with the vast power of this judge on this case, who manages to be so wrong, so far off base, indeed so far off the reservation - intellectually, judicially, and historically - as Ms. Rappaport has shown herself to be with this gratuitous slam at someone who came before her to testify calmly, reasonably, mildly, and altogether on point.
Here is an excerpt from the 12/11/11 Denver Post story:
Denver judge's ruling on school funding levels blisters state's witnesses
In declaring Colorado's school finance system "significantly underfunded," Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport rejected virtually every argument presented by the state's star witnesses in a five-week trial this year over school funding levels. Rappaport's ruling, issued Friday, blasted the state's level of school funding as "unconscionable" and not meeting the requirement in the Education Clause of the Colorado Constitution of a "thorough and uniform" system of public education.
Rappaport saved her fiercest criticism for former state Senate president John Andrews, a Centennial Republican, who testified for the state, calling his views on education "extreme."
"Sen. Andrews' vision for the future is a separation of schools and state similar to the separation of church and state in our nation," the judge said. "He has signed a pledge calling for the end of government involvement in education. He reveres the educational system we had in this country in the 1700s because there were few government-operated schools. He fails to mention that our schools did not educate whole segments of the population, including women and people of color, at that time."
Wednesday, 21 September 2011 17:04 by Admin
Public education is in dire straits in Colorado, and good options are lacking in this fall's school board races, laments Susan Barnes-Gelt in the September round of Head On TV debates. Not at all, replies John Andrews; it's just a matter of citizens standing up to teacher unions for a change. John on the right, Susan on the left, also go at it this month over Gov. Hickenlooper's 2016 trial balloon, Proposition 103 to raise Colorado taxes, the GOP presidential contenders, and Denver's lucrative cowtown image. Head On has been a daily feature on Colorado Public Television since 1997. Here are all five scripts for September:
1. SCHOOL BOARD RACES
Susan: Our K-12 public education system is broken and needs a massive governance overhaul. Colorado school districts including Aurora and Cherry Creek can’t even field candidates. Others – like Denver and Douglas County – are engaged in ideological warfare – the unions versus the reformers. Time for change.
John: Citizens across Colorado – probably including YOU, watching us right now – will soon get mail-in ballots to elect a neighbor to the local school board. Please, please, get informed and get involved. Teachers are great, but teacher unions tend to put money ahead of kids. Bad show. The reformers deserve your vote.
Susan: What happens when there are NO good choices? Choosing the lesser of two bad options is hardly a vote for progress. Neither the reformers nor the traditionalists have a corner on truth. The system is broken and needs to be overhauled. Well intended citizen volunteers are ill-equipped to manage complexity.
John: Susan, Susan, get a grip. Public education isn’t hopeless, it just needs better leadership – and the school board races offer lots of good choices to provide that. But if the teacher unions keep electing their pawns, learning performance will never improve. Citizens have to step up.
2. HICKENLOOPER FOR PRESIDENT?
John: Being Mayor of Denver must mess with your ego. Hancock was barely sworn in, and he launched a national celebrity PR campaign. Hickenlooper was barely sworn out, and he launched a whispering campaign for president. What a joke. His accomplishments as governor so far are zip, zero, zilch, nada. Cool it, Hick.
Susan: America loves quirky and Hick is quirk personified! Washington is so dysfunctional – on both sides of the aisle - that Hick’s aw shucks may have traction. As for accomplishments: Pailn? Bachman? Perry? Newt? Hmmmm – not sure qualifications count for much.
John: I know you have to defend your side, but I also know you think John Hickenlooper was a mediocre mayor. Now he’s a mediocre governor. What equips him for the White House? Does Obama run him for VP next year – the Hick Ticket? Then is he in line for next time – Hick Sixteen?
Susan; Hick was a mediocre Mayor because he’s not comfortable taking strong, controversial positions. His aversion to exercising power made him popular but ineffective. He is far more potent as a consensus driven bully puppeteer in the polarized world of partisan politics. Hick in 2016!
3. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL FIELD NARROWS
Susan: The first Republican presidential primary debate suggests the field is down to two candidates: Texas Governor Rick Perry and hedge fund tycoon Mitt Romney. Though it’s way too early to predicts, if angry tea partiers control the primaries, it looks like Perry will prevail.
John: Not so fast. In September 2007, Republican polls showed Giuliani and Thompson far ahead, McCain far behind. Didn’t work out that way. The GOP nomination to replace Obama in 2012 won’t be settled for six months at least. Bachmann and Palin are still in it. And the economy makes Obama so vulnerable.
Susan: Dream on teenage queen. Short of Jeb Bush getting into the mix, the R’s will nominate Romney. Even the heavy tea drinkers suspect Perry’s stand on Social Security. Romney, the chameleon, will lose. Unless Michael Bloomberg runs as an independent.
John: The Bloomberg who botched the 9/11 commemoration is not headed for the White House. Neither is anyone named Bush, heaven help us. But no one named Obama is likely to live there after January 2013 either. This president has made everything worse – the economy, the deficit, our national security. Obama has to go.
4. STATE BUDGET – TAX OR DROWN
Susan: DU’s Center for Colorado’s Economic Future predicts that structural flaws in the state government combined with two recessions, mean the long-term fiscal stability of state government’s at stake. I know you think government ought to drown in a bathtub – but a bi-partisan group of leaders disagree.
John: Governments at every level are in danger of drowning themselves in debt. Colorado is no exception, and just like the federal government in Washington, our state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Raising taxes right now would hurt job creation and postpone needed reforms. Vote no on Proposition 103!
Susan: We’re drowning alright – in our own excesses – waging two wars while we cut taxes, failing to keep up with China in infrastructure and educational investments, coddling Wall Street while we ignore Main Street. The deficit is mounting – leadership, vision, courage and vision.
John: As a free and open society with Judeo-Christian roots, I like our chances against communistic China, decadent Europe, or barbaric Islam. But we do have a responsibility deficit, and the result could be fiscal collapse. Feeding the beast with more taxes is not the answer. Vote no on 103!
5. STOCK SHOW TO AURORA?
John: Who will win the Stock Show tug of war between Denver and Aurora? Ranchers, farmers, and rural Americans everywhere must be laughing at the sight of politically correct, environmentally superior big-city folks scrambling after the National Western pot of gold. I guess being a cowtown is no embarrassment after all.
Susan: The Stock Show adds nearly $100 million to Denver’s general fund, and millions more to the coffers of downtown businesses, hotels, restaurants, bars and retailers. Meantime the National Western spends $1 million plus lobbying to move, rather than maintain its facilities. Bad judgment I’d say.
John: Mayor Hancock understandably hates to lose that revenue, hence his fight to keep it – so far consisting of one more committee. Woo hoo. But the bigger question for Hancock is the one I asked during his transition – can he streamline taxes and regulations to make Denver a magnet for economic growth?
Susan: Denver taxes are among the lowest in the region because the City has more commercial property and sales tax receipts than other jurisdictions. The development of the Gaylord Hotel with a $300+ million subsidy is a much greater threat to downtown’s economy than an already streamlined regulatory system.
(Centennial Fellow) As the hard-won accomplishment that is SB-191 moves deliberately towards fulfillment, it is important to remember that however admirable, it is but a single element in the more comprehensive challenge of improving teacher quality.
While the public has long fixated on what to do about ineffective teachers- an issue most usefully addressed here in Colorado by last year's Senate Bill 191- far less attention has been given to the much larger question of how we recruit teachers in the first place.
It is imperative to focus on this critical matter because today there is abundant evidence that the American approach to teacher recruitment is the most dysfunctional system to be found in any industrial nation.
At the heart of the problem is the painful fact that the people being admitted to the ranks of America’s K-12 teachers are the wrong people.
As reported by researchers for the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2006 top performing nations draw their teachers from the top five to thirty percent of their high school classes, depending on the country. The United States, in contrast, draws its teachers on average from the bottom third of the class.
This fact does much to explain the poor quality of training at U.S. schools of education. As Barber and Mourshed report in How the World’s Best Performing School Systems Come out on Top "Because the quality of students is low, so is the quality of courses; professors at schools of education are famously the least respected faculty at universities. Teaching becomes a low status profession".
The stark contrasts between U.S. teacher recruitment practices and those of our international competitors are further illuminated in A Comparative Study of Teacher Preparation and Qualifications in Six Nations (2007) edited by Richard M. Ingersoll. There we learn that top performing nations restrict access up front to teacher training programs, and select only a small proportion of applicants who emerge from a highly competitive process.
In those nations serious money is invested in the careful training and development of each individual teacher. Subject teachers also receive "vastly more content- area training" than in the United States, and teachers are much less likely to teach outside of their content area. Training programs are prestigious and teaching is a high status profession.
Getting beyond the depressing landscape of American dysfunction in teacher recruitment and training, the good news is that several prominent school districts have recognized this problem and are aggressively and successfully doing something about it. By their example they are conclusively proving that the United States is capable of dramatically improving the quality of our country’s K-12 teachers- an absolutely indispensable element in any real revival of American public education.
Among the most successful of these district initiatives are the New York City Teaching Fellows program, Chicago Teaching Fellows, and the Boston Teacher Residency. All have created alternative paths to teaching modeled on the practices of top performing countries. All recruit top graduates of highly selective colleges, and universities and submit them to relatively brief but intensive training. None require applicants to take education courses, or jump through the burocratic hoops of state certification, obstacles which have historically deterred many gifted teachers from considering public schools.
The New York program gets particularly high praise from the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement.
The program initially drew 2100 top flight applicants, and selected just 325. By 2008 there were 17,000 applicants, and graduating fellows provided fully one-third of the district’s new math teachers. The 2009 class was the most highly selective ever, with just one in ten applicants being chosen.
All of these programs owe a great debt to Teach For America (TFA) founded by Wendy Kopp in 1990. Locating only in the most challenging districts TFA today operates in fourteen states including Colorado.
Illustrating the heartening appeal of these programs to the "best and brightest" of America’s young, last year 18 % of Harvard’s graduating seniors, and 16 % of Princeton’s were among the 48,000 who applied for 5,100 positions in TFA.
Today other districts can emulate these programs while working with legislators to permanently eliminate ineffective course work and credentialing practices in their states.
The need is great, and the hour is late, but the road to a greatly improved American teaching profession is clearly visible before us.
William Moloney was Colorado Education Commissioner from 1997 to 2007.