Colorado

Vouchers a tricky issue in DPS races

Vouchers have popped up as an issue in two of three Denver school board races, even though all nine candidates in the three races this year have expressed opposition to using public money for private schools.

The issue has been raised by two candidates who have tried to tie vouchers to groups that have opposed them or endorsed other candidates.

Arturo Jimenez
DPS board member Arturo Jimenez appeared at a rally on Oct. 11, 2011. At left is Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, a former DPS board member.

The issue surfaced most recently in northwest Denver’s increasingly heated District 5 battle between Jennifer Draper Carson and incumbent Arturo Jimenez.

When a newly-formed committee called Latinos for Education Reform placed ads in several community newspapers criticizing the records of both Jimenez and board member Andrea Merida – who is not up for re-election this year – the Jimenez campaign initially complained of “race-baiting.”

But Jimenez followed that with a newsletter to supporters claiming LFER is misrepresenting itself and that its ads “are being pushed by pro-voucher individuals and special-interest groups,” making reference to “radical pro-voucher activists from Douglas County.”

Jimenez, backed by about 100 supporters, appeared at a noon event Tuesday at Viking Park in Denver near North High School. A series of supporters passionately declared their support for Jimenez, including former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

“Negative campaigning in Denver does not work,” said Webb, who has recorded a robo-call for Jimenez that went out Tuesday across the northwest district.

Following the event, Jimenez said in a brief interview that vouchers are relevant in the race.

“We’re not just talking about LFER,” said Jimenez. “We’re talking about all the groups who are outside special interests. All have ties that have varying degrees of support to privatization of public schools, and I think the people of Denver reject that soundly.”

Thirty-eight names appeared on the LFER ad, including Myles Mendoza, who lives in Douglas County, having moved there from Jimenez’s district. Mendoza hosted a reception at his home in May in support of National School Choice Week, which was honoring the Douglas County school board’s passage of a voucher pilot. That program has been halted by a Denver judge.

“It is no surprise that he (Jimenez) is doing this now,” Mendoza said in a prepared statement. “In the past week, the focus on his voting record has gained prominence with articles in EdNews Colorado (“Claiming Credit for West Denver Prep” 10/5/11) and in The Denver Post (“Pity Denver’s Voters” by Vincent Carroll, 10/9/11). He is trying to avoid accountability for these actions by deflecting criticism into other areas.

“His voting record has been consistently against ed reform policies our kids need.”

Marco Antonio Abarca, a spokesman for LFER said, “It is absurd to say that we are pro-voucher. It’s typical of the cynicism of Arturo Jimenez to draw that conclusion from one event hosted by one person on our list.”

Abarca cited former state Sen. Polly Baca, listed on Jimenez’s campaign website as a supporter. “She has vouchers in her background. It would be unfair to say that Arturo supports vouchers because one of his supporters did. If we were to do that, we would be guilty of the same cynicism as Arturo Jimenez.”

Baca is also listed on the host committee for a Thursday community leadership luncheon organized by ACE Scholarships, co-founded by Colorado voucher proponent Alex Cranberg, and featuring Howard Fuller, who was the superintendent of the Milwaukee Public School District when the city started the nation’s first publicly-funded school voucher program.

Others appearing both as supporters on Jimenez’s site and as hosts for the Fuller event are Escuela Tlatelolco president and CEO Nita Gonzalez, and Zee Ferrufino, owner and CEO of the KBNO Spanish Radio Group.

At Tuesday’s event, Jimenez said “reform” is a term too often used as a wedge in Denver.

Jennifer Draper Carson
Jennifer Draper Carson

“We’ve had enough of those who claim to support reform and progress but waste our time and our money deliberately trying to divide us into opposing sides,” Jimenez told his supporters.

Draper Carson, Jimenez’s opponent, recently reiterated her opposition to vouchers.

“Public funds belong in the public education system, not in the parochial or private school systems,” she said. “Our public education system is sorely underfunded as it is, and we need to focus every dollar possible on improving our public schools so that every child has access to a great public school.”

Vouchers also raised in District 1

Before vouchers surfaced in the northwest district race, they popped up in the District 1 race between Anne Rowe and Emily Sirota in southeast Denver.

Following endorsements of Rowe, Draper Carson and at-large candidate Happy Haynes by the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, Sirota on Aug. 16 wrote “Saying NO To Vouchers” for Huffington Post Denver. (See EdNews story on the endorsements.)

Emily Sirota
Emily Sirota

Labeling DFER a “front group” with a pro-voucher agenda, she wrote, “Most troubling of all, the group’s Colorado affiliate is advised by an outspoken advocate for vouchers who also runs a local education policy organization my opponent co-chaired.”

The piece didn’t name Van Schoales, who assumed his post as executive director of A+ Denver on Aug. 1, and previously was executive director of Education Reform Now. Rowe prominently cites her service as a founding co-chair of A+ Denver in her campaign literature.

“I am not now, nor have I ever been, what I would describe as a strong voucher proponent,” said Schoales, who said his comments were offered as his own perspective, not that of A+ Denver. He added that he considered vouchers a “total red herring” in the DPS races.

“I haven’t heard the issue raised except as a means of disparaging somebody else,” said Schoales, who is listed as an advisory committee member for DFER. “But nobody is proposing it as a policy agenda or as an initiative for Denver on any side.”

Rowe has issued a flat “no” at candidate forums when asked about support for vouchers.

“I want to continue my focus on creating great educational environments within DPS. … I don’t think vouchers play any role in that,” Rowe said on Tuesday. “Hopefully now we can put this to rest.”

The Sirota campaign may not be ready to do that.

Anne Bye Rowe
Anne Rowe

“Vouchers are still a valid issue for discussion,” said Sirota campaign spokesman Kevin Paquette. “Anne has stated at forums she does not support vouchers. However she is endorsed by an organization who, from all appearances, is pro-vouchers despite their best efforts to conceal that fact from the public.

“Emily welcomes the conversation with Anne so the voters of SD-1 can make an informed decision on where Anne really stands on this issue.”

Haynes, the at-large candidate endorsed by the DFER-Colorado chapter, also disavowed vouchers – again – after the issue sprung back to life in the northwest Denver race.

“I unequivocally oppose vouchers because we need to have public accountability for public dollars,” Haynes said. “We have the charter process in place that enables independent school ideas to become part of the public education system.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede