ed policy

In a tumultuous presidential campaign season, a rare spotlight on education issues

Teachers College at Columbia University President Susan Fuhrman, left, led a question-and-answer session with Christopher Edley, Jr., a senior policy advisor to Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Christina Veiga)

A senior policy advisor to the Hillary Clinton campaign channeled the Democratic presidential candidate at an intimate question-and-answer session on Thursday hosted by Teachers College at Columbia University.

Christopher Edley, Jr. — a former U.C. Berkeley School of Law dean and expert in civil rights and education policy — talked about charter schools, early childhood education, and how to better serve English Language Learners.

He also hinted at a different kind of accountability era under a Clinton administration.

“She believes that there’s been, over the last 20 years, too much attention to trying to hold students and teachers accountable — and not enough emphasis on holding accountable the people who hold ultimate responsibility for the investments and for policy design,” Edley said, drawing applause.

The Donald Trump campaign did not respond to an invitation to join the forum, according to Teachers College.

Here are some other highlights from Edley’s remarks.

On charter schools:

Clinton supports charters, “but there are very important caveats,” Edley said.

“She believes we should … get back to one of the principal purposes of charters, which was to innovate and then export successful innovations to the rest of the public school system. We just haven’t done that,” he said. “Let’s be much more intentional about exporting the successes, and about closing down the charters that are not performing up to expectations.”

Edley didn’t express a position on the NAACP’s proposed moratorium on charter school expansion — something the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Post all editorialized against this week.

Charter school supporters have battled New York City and the state over the right to expand. At the end of September, 25,000 people rallied in Brooklyn, calling for the state to lift its charter school cap.

In June, the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools released a report arguing New York City could co-locate more charters inside traditional public school buildings. City officials disputed the report, saying it didn’t take into consideration the types of spaces available within schools, or future growth projections.

On early education:

Clinton “knows the research” when it comes to early childhood education, and has called for a doubling of spending on federal Early Head Start and Head Start programs, Edley said.

“We don’t, by any means, have a comprehensive system at either the federal level or the state level. It’s a crazy quilt of initiatives — some evidence-based, some only intuition-based,” Edley said. “One of the things I know she wants to do as president is help draw forward a consensus, a national consensus, about how to make our investment in early childhood … more systemic.”

He said home visit programs for new mothers — where social workers and health professionals check in and provide guidance — could get a boost under a Clinton administration.

Early childhood education in New York City has been in the national spotlight. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city launched free universal preschool. The program has proven popular with parents and earned high marks on quality measures.

On English Language Learners:

Edley said policy reform for how English Language Learners are taught would be “one of the top five assignments for the new secretary of education” under a Hillary Clinton administration.

“She is very frustrated, and indeed, angry, about the lack of progress in narrowing the achievement disparities and attainment disparities between English Language Learners and others,” Edley said.

In New York City, more than 142,000 students — about 13 percent of the student body — are English learners. Only 41 percent of the city’s ELL students graduate in four years and 22 percent drop out, according to the most recent city stats.

On state exams, 4 percent of ELL students were proficient in reading last year; in math, 13 percent were proficient.

“There is no consensus on how to replace the current framework for holding schools and districts and states accountable for narrowing these disparities. There’s no consensus even among, let’s say, the Latino civil rights groups, about what they would advocate as a wholesale reform structure,” Edley said. “So, as president, she would like to be a part of brokering that new consensus about a more ambitious and effective English Language Learner strategy.”

big gaps

Jeffco school board incumbents raise big money, challengers falling behind

The deadline for dropping off ballots is 7 p.m.

School board incumbents in Jefferson County have raised more money collectively than they had at this point two years ago, when the district was in the midst of a heated recall campaign.

The election this year has garnered far less attention, and only two of the three incumbents who replaced the recalled members face opponents in the November election.

Susan Harmon reported raising more than $45,000 and Brad Rupert reported almost $49,000 in contributions through Oct. 12. Ron Mitchell, the sole incumbent without an opponent, raised almost $33,000 during that period.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Susan Harmon, $45,602.33; $30,906.48
  • Brad Rupert, $48,982.34; $30,484.98
  • Ron Mitchell, $32,910.33; $30,479.43
  • Matt Van Gieson, $2,302.39; $478.63
  • Erica Shields, $3,278.00; $954.62

In 2015, the October campaign finance reports showed they had each raised about $33,000.

The two conservative opponents, Matt Van Gieson and Erica Shields, have raised far less. Van Gieson reported $2,302 while Shields reported $3,278.

The three incumbent school board members have considerable contributions from the teacher’s union. Former Jeffco superintendent Cynthia Stevens donated to Rupert and Mitchell. Former board member Lesley Dahlkemper contributed to all three incumbents. And State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat, contributed to Rupert and Harmon.

Van Gieson and Shields both have donations from the Jefferson County Republican Men’s Club.

The next reports will be due Nov. 3.

Follow the money

Groups with a stake in Colorado’s school board elections raise $1.5 million to influence them

The nation's second largest teachers union is spending $300,000 to support a slate of candidates running for the Douglas County school board. Those candidates posed for pictures at their campaign kick-off event are from left, Krista Holtzmann, Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor, and Kevin Leung. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Union committees and various political groups have raised more than $1.5 million so far to influence the outcome of school board elections across the state, according to new campaign finance reports.

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and organizations such as Democrats for Education Reform, a political nonprofit, are spending big in an effort to help elect school board members that represent their positions.

It’s become a common storyline in school board elections in Colorado and across the country: On one side, teachers unions hoping to elect members that will improve working conditions and teacher pay, among other things. On the other, education reformers who generally back candidates who support expanding school choice for families, more autonomy for schools and accountability systems that measure school quality, usually based on test scores.

The complete fundraising and spending picture, however, is often murky and incomplete.

State law lays out different rules and disclosure requirements for different types of political committees. The most prevalent this election year appears to be independent expenditure committee, which can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money but are forbidden from coordinating with candidates. (Campaign finance reports for the candidates’ campaigns are due at midnight Tuesday).

Other groups such as Americans For Prosperity work outside the reporting requirements altogether by spending money on “social welfare issues,” rather than candidates. The conservative political nonprofit, which champions charter schools and other school reforms, pledged to spend more than six-figures for “a sweeping outreach effort to parents” to promote school choice policies in Douglas County. The fight over charter schools and vouchers, which use tax dollars to send students to private schools, has been a key debate in school board races there.

Both the union and reform groups operate independent committees. Those committees must report donations and expenditures to the secretary of state. But the donations captured in campaign finance reports are often huge lump sums from parent organizations, which aren’t required to disclose their donations under federal law. (Dues collected out of teachers’ paychecks are often the source for political contributions from unions.)

Several groups are spending money in Denver, where four of the seven school board seats are up for election. The ten candidates vying for those four seats include incumbents who agree with the district’s direction and challengers who do not. The Denver teachers union has endorsed candidates pushing for change.

The Every Student Succeeds group, which has raised almost $300,000 in union donations, is spending the most on one Denver candidate, Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who is running for a seat in southwest Denver, and on a slate of four Aurora school board candidates endorsed by Aurora’s teachers union.

The group’s largest donations came from the Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education, a fund from the Colorado Education Association. Aurora’s teachers union contributed $35,000 to the committee. The DCTA Fund, a fund created by Denver’s teachers union, also contributed $85,000 to the committee.

Some of the group’s union money is also going to a slate of school board candidates in Mesa County and another in Brighton.

Another union-funded group, called Brighter Futures for Denver, has spent all of its money on consultant services for one Denver candidate: Jennifer Bacon, who’s running in a three-person race in northeast Denver’s District 4. The Denver teachers union, which contributed $114,000 to the committee, has endorsed Bacon. The statewide teachers union also contributed money.

The Students for Education Reform Action Committee has spent equal amounts on two Denver candidates. One, Angela Cobián, is running in Denver’s District 2 against Gaytán and has been endorsed by incumbent Rosemary Rodriguez, who isn’t running again. The other is Rachele Espiritu, the incumbent running in District 4. The funds, which were collected during a previous campaign cycle and carried over into this one, have gone toward phone banking, T-shirts and campaign literature.

The group has endorsed Cobián, Espiritu and incumbent Barbara O’Brien, who holds an at-large seat. It did not endorse a candidate in the central-east Denver District 3 race, explaining that it prioritizes “working with communities that reflect the backgrounds and experiences of our members, which are typically low-income and students of color.”

Better Schools for a Stronger Colorado, a committee affiliated with the pro-reform Stand for Children organization, has spent a sizable portion of the more than $100,000 it’s raised thus far on online advertisements and mailers for O’Brien. It has also spent money on mailers for incumbent Mike Johnson, who represents District 3.

Stand for Children has endorsed O’Brien, Johnson and Cobián. The group chose not to endorse in the three-person District 4 race, explaining that both incumbent Espiritu and challenger Bacon had surpassed its “threshold for endorsement.”

Another big spender is Raising Colorado, a group reporting $625,000 in donations from New York’s Education Reform Now — the national affiliate of Democrats for Education Reform. That group is spending money on mailers and digital media for four candidates in Denver: Espiritu, Cobián, Johnson and O’Brien, as well as two candidates for Aurora’s school board: Gail Pough and Miguel In Suk Lovato.

In Douglas County, the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers unions has pumped $300,000 into a committee backing a group of candidates known as the “Community Matters” slate that opposes the current direction of the state’s third largest school district.

The committee, Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids, has spent most of its war chest on producing TV, digital and mail advertising by firms in Washington D.C., and San Francisco.

The Douglas County arm of AFT lost its collective bargaining agreement with the district in 2012.

A group of parents that also supports the union-backed slate have formed a committee, as well. So far it has raised $42,750, records show. Unlike the union donation, most donations to this committee were small donations, averaging about $50 per person.

The parent committee has spent about $28,000 on T-shirts, bumper stickers, postage and yard signs, records show.

A group aligned with the state’s Republican party is also spending in Douglas County. The Colorado Republican Committee – Independent Expenditure Committee spent about $25,000 on a mail advertisement supporting the opposing slate, “Elevate Douglas County.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include more information about Americans for Prosperity’s Douglas County plans. It has also been updated to identify two other groups that are spending in Denver and Douglas County.