up in the air

Republican’s lead in State Board of Education race narrows, possible recount looms

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Rebecca McClellan, a candidate for the State Board of Education, greets a participant at a forum in Aurora.

The outcome of a high-stakes race to determine partisan control of the Colorado State Board of Education will not be known until early next week at the earliest — and the numbers are so close, an automatic recount looms as a strong possibility.

Over the past two days, incumbent Republican Debora Scheffel’s early lead over Democratic Rebecca McClellan has narrowed. As of Friday morning, Scheffel led just by just 294 voters out of 349,470 ballots counted, according to the Secretary of State.

That is close enough to trigger a recount under state law.

However, an undisclosed number of ballots still must be counted in the counties that make up the congressional district Scheffel currently represents on the state board. The highly competitive 6th Congressional District includes portions of Arapahoe and Adams counties, as well as a small portion of Douglas County.

An Adams County spokeswoman said that ballots there were not being counted on Friday because of the Veterans Day holiday, and that the next returns would be released “early next week.” Arapahoe County election workers continued to count ballots on Friday, and an update was expected by late afternoon, a spokeswoman said.

As of Thursday morning, about 8,000 ballots in Arapahoe County and about 9,000 in Adams County still had to be counted, officials said at the time. It was not immediately clear Friday how many ballots are outstanding.

Also, not all those outstanding ballots have the state board race on the ballot. Some voters in those counties live in other congressional districts. For example, voters in Adams could live in either the 4th, 6th or 7th district.

The Scheffel-McClellan contest is far tighter than the headline matchup in the 6th Congressional District that pit incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman against Democratic state Sen. Morgan Carroll. Coffman won re-election by 9 percentage points. The current margin separating Scheffel and McClellan is less than 1 percent.

For a recount to happen, the difference between the candidates must be less than or equal to one-half of one percent of the winner’s total vote count, according to state law. The current count is within that.

“I think this race is a better reflection of the mix in the district,” McClellan, who raised more money than Scheffel and had the support of a political committee tied to the nonprofit Democrats for Education Reform, said earlier this week.

About 3,000 votes in Douglas County have also not been counted. But those votes won’t be included in the county’s total until after Nov. 16, said Merlin Klotz, Douglas County’s clerk. Those ballots have been set aside because of irregularities. Voters have eight days to address those irregularities in order for their vote to be counted.

Klotz said he doubted those 3,000 ballots could sway the race because of how few Douglas County voters live in the 6th district.

new plan

Lawmakers want to allow appeals before low-rated private schools lose vouchers

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, authored HB 1384, in which voucher language was added late last week.

Indiana House lawmakers signaled support today for a plan to loosen restrictions for private schools accepting state voucher dollars.

Two proposal were amended into the existing House Bill 1384, which is mostly aimed at clarifying how high school graduation rate is calculated. One would allow private schools to appeal to the Indiana State Board of Education to keep receiving vouchers even if they are repeatedly graded an F. The other would allow new “freeway” private schools the chance to begin receiving vouchers more quickly.

Indiana, already a state with one of the most robust taxpayer-funded voucher programs in the country, has made small steps toward broadening the program since the original voucher law passed in 2011 — and today’s amendments could represent two more if they become law. Vouchers shift state money from public schools to pay private school tuition for poor and middle class children.

Under current state law, private schools cannot accept new voucher students for one year after the school is graded a D or F for two straight years. If a school reaches a third year with low grades, it can’t accept new voucher students until it raises its grade to a C or higher for two consecutive years.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s author, said private schools should have the right to appeal those consequences to the state board.

Right now, he said, they “have no redress.”  But public schools, he said, can appeal to the state board.

Behning said the innovation schools and transformation zones in Indianapolis Public Schools were a “perfect example” for why schools need an appeal process because schools that otherwise would face state takeover or other sanctions can instead get a reprieve to start over with a new management approach.

In the case of troubled private schools receiving vouchers, Behning said, there should be an equal opportunity for the state board to allow them time to improve.

”There are tools already available for traditional public schools and for charters that are not available for vouchers,” he said.

But Democrats on the House Education Committee opposed both proposals, arguing they provided more leeway to private schools than traditional public schools have.

“Vouchers are supposed to be the answer, the cure-all, the panacea for what’s going on in traditional schools,” said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary. “If you gave an amendment that said this would be possible for both of them, leveling the playing field, then I would support it.”

The second measure would allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a private school accredited and allow it to immediately begin receiving vouchers once it has entered into a contract to become a “freeway school” — a type of state accreditation that has few regulations and requirements compared to full accreditation.Typically, it might take a year or so to become officially accredited.

Indiana’s voucher program is projected to grow over the next two years to more than 38,000 students, at an anticipated cost — according to a House budget draft — of about $160 million in 2019. Currently in Indiana, there are 316 private schools that can accept vouchers.

The voucher amendments passed along party lines last week, and the entire bill passed out of committee today, 8-4. It next heads to the full House for a vote, likely later this week.

Betsy DeVos

‘Receive mode’? The D.C. school DeVos visited responded to her criticism with a withering tweetstorm

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Howard University.

Washington D.C.’s Jefferson Middle School Academy is standing up for its teachers after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said they are “waiting to be told what they have to do.”

DeVos made the comments in one of her first interviews since being confirmed last week. She said teachers at the school — the first one she visited on the job — were “sincere” but seemed to be in “receive mode,” which she said “is not going to bring success to an individual child.”

The school took to Twitter late Friday to make its case. In 11 messages, the school described several teachers who creating new programs and tailoring their teaching to meet students’ considerable needs.

“JA teachers are not in a ‘receive mode,'” read the final message. “Unless you mean we ‘receive’ students at a 2nd grade level and move them to an 8th grade level.”

The former and current D.C. schools chiefs have also weighed in. Chancellor Antwan Wilson, who accompanied DeVos on her school visit, issued a statement praising the teaching at Jefferson Academy. And his predecessor, Kaya Henderson, tweeted her withering take on DeVos’s comments:

Here’s the full tweetstorm from Jefferson Academy, which D.C. Public Schools considered a “rising school” because of its good -but-not-great test scores.