Colorado is a blue state where the privatizers have poured in millions of dollars to win school board seats. It’s the rare blue state that has gone all-in for privatization, led by Senator Michael Bennett (who served as Superintendent of Schools in Denver, although he was never an educator). Colorado’s Governor is Jared Polis, who is super-wealthy and founded two charter schools. Betsy DeVos hailed Denver as an exemplar of school choice.

Our friend Jeanne Kaplan served two terms on the elected Denver School Board and is a passionate advocate for public schools and civil rights. She has observed the bipartisan consensus around the DeVos-ALEC agenda with despair.

In this post, she brings good news. The “reformers” (aka privatizers) encountered a setback in the state legislature.

She begins:

At 9:23 p.m. MDT on May 11, 2022 Education Reformers in Colorado suffered their first serious setback in the Colorado legislature. While SB 22-197, the so-called Innovation and Alternative Governance Bill passed both houses of the legislature, the resulting legislation was actually a defeat for reformers/privatizers in Colorado, a first such legislative stumble in many years. At the very least the adopted Bill placed a roadblock in the previously unobstructed march to privatization. At the most it was a sign of the weakening of privatization. We can only hope.

While education reformers/privatizers will try to convince you they got a victory in the fight for the soul of public education, that is not the truth. The Bill that passed and will likely be touted as a great success has little substance. In fact, one could say, “There is no THERE THERE,” for the final version neutered the original intent of the legislation and codified:

  • No third party governance with binding arbitration.
  • Retention of decision-making powers for duly elected school
  • An advisory non decision-making role for the State Board of Education should any disputes reach it.

After much ado SB 22-197 ended up being a nothing burger with very few of the original ingredients in place.

The Bill’s original purpose was to install an alternative, third governance model with binding arbitration for disputes between a school district (read DPS) and an Innovation Zone (read City Fund’s RootEd/Gates Family Foundation funded Denver Innovation Zone Schools.) Reformers took this inequitable, highly divisive idea very seriously. Simply put, they wanted special treatment for 12 (!) Innovation Zone schools. The Bill was sponsored by two Denver Democrats Senators, James Coleman and Chris Hansen, both of whom have been highly subsidized by various local and national reform organizations. In real time this bill was crafted specifically for for 12 out of about 1800 public schools in Colorado. After garnering no sponsorship in the House, Jen Bacon, Denver Democrat and former DPS school board member stepped in to co-sponsor the bill. With her leadership and knowledge of the importance of local control for school boards she was able steer the conference committee into producing a more palatable Bill. It must have been very awkward for Senator Chris Hansen to have to admit to his colleagues, the difference between his original bill and the one they were now voting on was the loss of binding arbitration. There were of course other changes but binding arbitration was the big one, for it would have undermined local school boards’ authority by allowing for the appointment of a “third party” to resolve disputes.

The privatizers are constantly on the hunt for new ways to undermine public schools. in this instance, they were thwarted. That’s good news.