Last week, a Denver District court temporarily halted Douglas County's attempt to use vouchers to divert already-depleted public school resources into private schools. In the decision, the judge derided "[t]he prospect of having millions of dollars of public school funding diverted to private schools, many of which are religious and lie outside of the Douglas County School District."
While those of us who have been working for stronger public schools should be thrilled about this ruling, we should also be concerned that this is only the beginning of the larger effort here in Colorado to destroy public education. I say that because one of the key Manhattan-based groups that has been pushing vouchers, "Democrats for Education Reform," announced this week that it is specifically trying to defeat me in 2011 and instead elect its hand-picked slate of candidates to take over the Denver Public School board.
This front group, which the Washington Post says is financed "largely by hedge fund managers" on Wall Street, celebrates on its website "the revival of the private school voucher movement." Likewise, one of the group's founding hedge funders publicly champions vouchers, and the group has explicitly promoted candidates who push vouchers. And perhaps most troubling of all, the group's Colorado affiliate is advised by an outspoken advocate for vouchers who also runs a local education policy organization my opponent co-chaired.
So while the Douglas County ruling against vouchers is great news, the bad news is that we may face a similar attempt to undermine our public schools right here in Denver if the pro-voucher forces are successful in defeating our campaign and electing their slate in November.
I believe we need to invest more in our public school system, not less -- and, as a candidate for Denver Public School Board in the upcoming 2011 elections, I believe we need new Denver School Board members who are crystal clear in their opposition to vouchers.
Make no mistake about it: my longtime opposition to vouchers has always been driven by the cold hard data. In other words, it comes in response to what we know vouchers will do to our community, and what they have already done to other communities.
Today, Colorado ranks near the bottom of the nation in terms of funding its public schools, and our legislature just enacted yet another massive cut to K-12 education. That means a new voucher scheme's further reductions to public school resources would be catastrophic. Think: even larger class sizes, fewer teaching resources, crumbling school buildings and ultimately, even worse results than the already abominable 51.8 percent graduation rate at DPS.
Additionally, we know that vouchers do not work to improve overall student achievement. Only a few months ago, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that test results from Milwaukee's voucher system definitively show "voucher students performing 'similar or worse'" than students in public schools. Meanwhile, the system is now facing calls for a federal investigation into accusations that it is aggressively discriminating against children with learning disabilities.
This is exactly what we do not need in a Denver Public School system already in crisis, and I pledge to fight against this and any other failed scheme that hides yet more anti-education policies under the guise of "reform."
We need school board members who are serious about reinvesting in our neighborhood schools and who will reject the same old excuses from a DPS administration that has driven our schools into a crisis.
That's what my candidacy represents -- and I hope you'll join my campaign at www.sirotaforschools.com.
Follow Emily Sirota on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Sirota4Schools