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Respected Voices Highlight Importance of Reform Battles in Jeffco, Thompson

Yesterday, we took a look at a major school choice flub in the new PDK/Gallup national education poll. I was all set to offer some further comments on that poll this morning, but we’ll have to come back to that. Today we’ve got important stuff like the hugely important fights over local education reform in Jeffco and Thompson to talk about.

I got a little worked up last week thinking about the criticality of the education reform battles in Jeffco and Thompson. Yet I was long ago categorized as a five-year-old ideologue, so it’s easy enough for reform opponents to write me off by pointing out that my father is Charles Koch, or that I was born in a petri dish in a secret underground lab know only to members of the “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Neither of which I can confirm or deny, of course.

Now, though, more and more mainstream folks are beginning to talk about the significance of these two districts. Two pieces in particular stood out to me this morning during my daily romp through the news. First was a CBS4 report on the Jeffco recalls featuring some thoughtful commentary from well-respected political analyst Eric Sonderman. Sonderman sums up the importance of the recall smartly, saying:

As Jefferson County goes so goes the state of Colorado. That’s why the stakes are so high here, because it is a leading indicator or a bellwether. Jefferson County is the purple county in a purple state, and therefore it is ground zero for all kinds of political wars, but at the moment that political war is over the public education system…

… If these board members survive the recall, it sends a message that you can be a reformer, even do that in an up-for-grabs purple district, and live to tell about it.

While he doesn’t pick sides, Sonderman is 100 percent right. A win in the Jeffco recall will cement the possibility of positive education reform in districts across the state, maybe even the nation. A loss will, as I’ve said before, send a clear message that the education establishment, including the teachers union, can and will grind up anyone who opposes it.

But Sonderman isn’t the only moderate voice to chime in on the reform wars. I was also thrilled to see yet another thoughtful editorial by the Denver Post Editorial Board, this time highlighting the struggle for local control in Thompson.

Never mind that the district’s negotiating team supported the tentative agreement. They are not vested by Colorado’s constitution with ultimate authority. That resides with the elected board. Nor does the recent opinion of a non-binding arbitrator, who agreed with some of the TEA’s claims, trump the board’s opinion.

Colorado doesn’t mandate collective bargaining with teachers. Indeed, as the district’s brief points out, “only approximately one quarter of Colorado’s 178 school districts have collective bargaining agreements.”

Thompson has had one for many years and may well have one in the future. But only an elected board should make that call, not a dissatisfied union or an unelected judge.

All I can add to that excellent summation is that the “unelected judge” also eschewed basic logic and consistency in order to hand TEA exactly what it wanted: A big ol’ political and legal club with which to pummel elected officials it doesn’t like. Yet even if the arbitration report had been perfectly reasonable, the board would have been well within its rights to reject it. That’s what “non-binding” means, after all.

These two new pieces make me wonder how more reasonable voices entering the fray will alter the conversation. It’s an awful lot harder (maybe impossible) to argue that the Denver Post is a right-wing outlet, and Sonderman is about as far from “wacko” as one can get. Deprived of the ability to utilize reflexive ideological potshots, will anti-reform folks finally start making factual, well-reasoned arguments?

Only time will tell, I guess. For now, I have to run. I have to catch a private jet to the Death Star, where my father is waiting for me.