It was a bad night for conservative school reformers in two Colorado elections being watched nationally in the education world — and public education advocates did well in key Philadelphia races as well.
Voters in the Denver suburb of Jefferson County on Tuesday tossed out three conservative members in a recall vote that was marked by some $1 million in spending, including support for the incumbents from a Koch-backed organization. The school board earned national attention when the members in 2014 said the Advanced Placement U.S. History course was not patriotic enough and needed to be changed.
In Douglas County south of Denver, voters who in 2009 and 2013 supported conservative reformers for the school board voted against three of them who had pushed controversial measures, including a voucher program.
According to the Denver Post, the votes weren’t close, as predicted. It said that in Jefferson County, the recall won 64 percent to 36 percent. In Douglas County, the incumbents lost 58 percent to 42 percent.
In Jefferson County, 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 moved quickly to institute controversial school reforms, including a merit pay system for teachers and an educator evaluation system that used student test scores.
Public school activists charged that the three were part of a reform movement trying to privatize public education and started a recall effort that attracted national attention, including money from outside the state from partisans on both sides. Americans for Prosperity, the national organization founded by Charles and David Koch, contributed to the reformers, while unions supported their opponents. Some $1 million was believed to have been spent in the race, one of a few local elections around the country in which outside money played a role. In Louis
In Philadelphia, public education activists scored some big wins. Democrat Jim Kenney beat Republican Melissa Murray Bailey in the mayoral race after running on a pledge to offer universal pre-K to the city’s families and to support community schools as a key reform strategy. If Kenney follows through with his plan to promote community schools — which bring together partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to students and their families — it would represent a change from the current mayor’s strategy. The incumbent mayor, Michael Nutter, has pushed education reform by closing schools with low test scores and promoted charters.
In another win for public education activists Helen Gym, a parent and longtime education advocate, won a seat on the City Council. She has been highly critical of Nutter’s policies of school closures and moves to privatize the district. According to The Notebook, an independent publication in Philadelphia devoted to education news (where Gym once worked), both Kenney and Gym were supported by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which, it said, “is currently at war with the District administration” because teachers have not had a raise or a new contract in three years, and the School Reform Commission that runs the district has sought to nullify the contract still in effect.
Meanwhile, in Louisiana, there were elections late last month for all 11 seats on the state Board of Education. Before the election, a majority supported the Common Core State Standards and state Superintendent John White, and after the elections, the same was true — after millions of dollars were spent in the races. Big money came from outside the state to support the incumbents reformers. Eli Broad, the California-based housing and insurance magnate who is now leading an attempt to send half of Los Angeles’s public school students to charter schools, and Wal-Mart heirs Alice and Jim Walton collectively poured a total of $650,000 into a PAC that supported the reformers.