In Victory for Public Ed, Colorado Boots Koch-Backed School Board
"What an incredible thing: We the people pushed back against big money, pushed back against an agenda that was not good for our schools."
In a resounding blow to the national education "reform" movement, voters in Jefferson County, Colorado on Tuesday overwhelmingly chose to recall three Koch-backed conservative school board members who, among other transgressions, last year suggested censoring U.S. history curriculum to promote patriotism.
Ousted JeffCo board members Julie Williams, Ken Witt, and John Newkirk have been in office for two years. They won seats in 2013 on the five-member board and, as the Washington Post reports, "moved quickly to institute controversial school reforms, including a merit pay system for teachers and an educator evaluation system that used student test scores." They also championed charter schools and voucher programs.
Their bid to keep their seats was backed by Americans for Prosperity, the national organization founded by Charles and David Koch. According to the New York Times last week, the group's "commercials and messages praise the new conservative board for approving new , giving charters equal per-student funding as public schools and pushing a pay program to give raises to 'highly effective' teachers."
The opposition, the Times noted, drew its financial support largely from "upset parents, teachers, and labor unions."
The recall won 64 percent to 36 percent.
"It appears to me public education in Jefferson County is not for sale," school board member-elect Ali Lasell told Chalkbeat Colorado on Tuesday night.
Organizers behind the recall, surprised by the two-to-one margin of victory, credited their vast network of parents, teachers and other civic leaders who volunteered thousands of hours to carry recall petitions, walk neighborhoods, host dinner parties and post relentlessly on social media.
"We might have been outspent by the other side," said recall organizer Michael Blanton, “but we weren’t outworked.”
Indeed, Susan Harmon, an attorney who was chosen to replace Newkirk, told the Denver Post that the election outcome "sends a large message that you need to be responsive to your constituents, your teachers, and your community."
Meanwhile, in nearby Douglas County, three incumbents— Kevin Larsen, Richard Robbins, and Craig Richardson—who claimed seats on that school board as part of a reform push several years ago lost their re-election bids. All three backed a controversial voucher program, a market-based employee-compensation system, and what the Post described as "a sidelining of the district's teachers union."
"Both races were being watched closely for clues as to what might happen with ongoing public education reform efforts in Colorado," the Post reported.
Ron Mitchell, who won Witt's seat in JeffCo, offered some of those clues on Tuesday: "Our mission will not be to privatize and charterize and voucherize our schools," he said.
"We didn't just win this—we slammed them," Mitchell added. "What an incredible thing: We the people pushed back against big money, pushed back against an agenda that was not good for our schools."