When Gov.-elect Jared Polis announced his transition teams recently, there was some fear and frustration and even a protest in Boulder about the makeup of the 16-member education team.
Polis said it would be a bipartisan transition and pointed to former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer, a Republican, who was named to the education team. Also on it are Colorado Sen. Mike Johnston and education activist Jen Walmer.
Advocates for public education and teachers unions cried foul because all three of those team members are advocates for charter schools.
Schaffer has been a leader on charters. So has former state Sen. Polly Baca, also named to the team. Schaffer currently serves as headmaster of Liberty Common Charter School in Fort Collins, one of the top public schools in the state.
Charter schools have played a useful role in improving education in Colorado since they were first allowed 25 years ago, which can be seen here in Durango at Animas High School. However, if you were particularly advocating for higher pay for union teachers, we could see how you might fear their slow rise. Their teachers, who typically are not union members, appear on average to earn considerably less.
The schools are part of a broader movement that seeks to reform education in part by end-running unionized teachers, who, they say, too often are unaccountable for their performance.
The traditional model of public schools, along with unionized teachers, has been lackluster for some time now. We know this is so because we have heard it most loudly proclaimed by advocates for public education, who insist that the solution is more funding for education, including higher pay for union teachers.
There are some critical shortfalls in public funding for K-12 education. There is also a great deal of public funding for education – almost 40 percent of the Colorado general fund is spent on K-12 education – which leads some to wonder where the accountability is for this mess.
Will paying teachers more raise average SAT scores? Is there any way to quantify results on a dollar-spent basis? Are we pouring tax revenues into a black hole? Where is the impetus for efficiency?
And what about competition? Union teachers say they must be protected from at-will employment policies, for example – but that is precisely the status of most workers, especially those who are not paid with tax dollars.
We should not have to choose between job security and performance, but if we do, we would choose performance because that means better outcomes for students, which ought to be our first concern.
It is true that Colorado’s voters just gave Democrats a mandate in the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion. But not all Democrats are alike – Polis, for instance, founded the New America School charter schools – and we should recall those same voters swatted down a handsome tax hike for education.
So far, all we are discussing is a transition team – one which also includes Amie Baca-Ohlert, the president of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union. No one is crying foul at that.
Luke Ragland of the pro-school-voucher group Ready Colorado said in a statement that “The CEA is represented on the committee, just as reform advocates are. Apparently for the union, it’s not enough for them to have a seat at the table, but all dissenting voices must be silenced.”
We hope that is not the case. It is not as though Polis has proposed a vast expansion of non-union schools. He could, though. And some in this discussion are going to have to accept that there are bona fide education reformers who are opposed to teachers unions – and they might just as legitimately seek better education outcomes.