Archive for the 'education' Category

IITV #2: Ballot Measure for Open School Board Meetings

Posted by on Aug 20 2014 | education, Transparency

In this second edition of Independence Institute Television, I sit down with host Justin Longo to discuss Proposition 104 – the new Independence Institute ballot measure that seeks to make school board meetings transparent and open to the public. Why shouldn’t these meetings, where school boards and unions flesh out their contracts, be open to the public? After all, even the teachers themselves who must live under the rules of the contract can’t see what’s going on behind closed doors.

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We’re on the ballot!

Posted by on Aug 14 2014 | education, Transparency

Open school board meetings are one step closer to being the law.

Yesterday I was informed by the Colorado Secretary of State that we submitted more than 110% of the valid signatures required to place our question on this fall’s ballot.

Colorado voters will get the chance to do what the State Legislature failed to do: throw sunshine on the most important work of a school board, negotiating its contract with the teachers union. Over 80% of a district’s budget is spent on this agreement, yet parents and teachers are usually shut out of these smoky back-room meetings. How our children will be taught, how they interact with the people with whom we entrust them, and how those people will be treated and paid should NOT be decided in darkness.

We will now have a chance to change that.

I can’t wait to hear the reasons those in the smoky back room will give us to vote against sunshine. How are unions going to say, “We don’t want our members to see how we are really representing them”? How will school boards say, “We don’t want parents and taxpayers to see what we really value”? How will school staff say that a little sunshine will destroy negotiations?

This proposed law would not change the ability for a district and a union to agree on any contract terms they like. Just like the state legislature arguing over the budget, they will just have to do it in public. Stay tuned.

Need a little video entertainment?

KUSA news anchor Kyle Clark joined me for a taping of Devil’s Advocate to talk news coverage. Watch it here.

Can a little person make a big case for Freedom? Justin Longo and I chat about Boulder County shutting down a carnival sideshow because it felt “icky” on this videocast of IITV.

Mark your calendar

What other think tank does firearm trainings? Learn about “The Practical Approach to Colorado Laws on Concealed Carry and the use of Deadly Force” with Dave Byassee on the evening of Wednesday, August 20. To learn more, visit our events page here.

For a list of several other gun safety classes being held at the Independence Institute offices, visit the Shooting With a Purpose page here.

And our friends at American Majority are putting on an incredible event starring Carly Fiorina (former Hewlett-Packard CEO and former U.S. Senate candidate) and radio host Hugh Hewitt on unlocking your political strength. And get this: it’s free! Saturday, August 23, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Check it out now at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/unlocking-potential-all-star-workshop-with-carly-fiorina-and-hugh-hewitt-tickets-12476117403

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Putting sunshine where the sun don’t shine

Posted by on Aug 07 2014 | education, Petition Rights, Politics, Transparency

Last Friday, the Independence Institute took another step towards forcing more transparency in government–school districts in particular.

We delivered over 127,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office to place a citizens’ initiative on this fall’s ballot. If passed, it would require that, when school districts negotiate a teachers union contract, it be open to the public. Pretty radical, huh?!

Here’s the exact wording you’ll see on your ballot in November: “Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes requiring any meeting of a board of education, or any meeting between any representative of a school district and any representative of employees, at which a collective bargaining agreement is discussed to be open to the public?”

Imagine that. Government doing the work of the people, well, in front of the people, and not in smoke-filled back rooms. Isn’t it insane that we have to go through all the trouble and expense of a citizens’ initiative to pry open the locked doors of government?

In the last several years, Republicans in the state legislature introduced bills three times to have Colorado join the 11 other states with such a policy. And three times it was shot down by the special interests who want to continue meeting in the dark: teachers unions and school districts.

Well, since the legislature won’t get the job done, we will! It’s what we do around here.

Financially speaking, the most important function of a school board is negotiating their teachers’ contracts. It can be 80% of the district’s budget. Imagine the state legislature negotiating how to spend 80% of the state budget in a back-room meeting? No one would stand for it. And we won’t stand for it in our school districts, either.

We all have a stake in these talks, and we all should be able to keep an eye on the negotiating table. Teachers can finally observe how both sides represent pay and working conditions. They can finally see if their union and the district really have their interests at heart. Parents could see how policies affecting their children’s teachers and classroom policies are discussed and decided. It’s their children, after all.

Back in June, the Colorado Springs Gazette wrote an editorial endorsing our ballot initiative. You can read their endorsement here.

We’ll find out within 30 days if we’ve made the ballot. You can bet those who love back-room deal-making will hope we fall short of the 87,000 valid signatures needed. We won’t.

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Colorado Teachers Can Get Refunds!

Posted by on Dec 10 2013 | education, Idiot Box (TV Show)

Tune in to my show Devil’s Advocate as our senior education policy analyst Ben DeGrow highlights the upcoming December 15 deadline for Colorado Education Association members to request up to $63 in Every Member Option political refunds. The episode featured a showing of the 45-second Schoolhouse Rock-style animated video explaining the refund option.

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What Made Tuesday’s Election Victories Possible

Posted by on Nov 08 2013 | education, elections, Taxes

Alright. Here’s my terrible analogy. Really, I don’t think it’s all that good, so please let me know if the point gets across.

Have you ever seen a house being built? They get the framing up, and then it looks like everything just stalls. I mean there’s like no progress, but you still see guys just milling around. And then one day, out of seemingly nowhere, the drywall goes up, and you think, “Wow, look at all that progress; it all happened overnight!”

Well, Tuesday night’s amazing election victories might seem like that, too. Amendment 66 went down to defeat by a 2 to 1 vote, and school reformers won in Dougco, Jeffco, and Loveland school boards. Wow, all that happened overnight!

What you might not have seen at the house being built were all the small and crucial tasks that MUST be completed before the drywall goes up — electricians running wires, plumbers laying pipe, HVAC guys bending sheet metal for vents, and so on. From a distance, you don’t really see any of that work,but you sure notice when the walls go up. It looks like big movement.

Conservatives, especially in Colorado, lose and lose and lose because they keep trying to put up the walls before doing the prep work first. That prep work takes years, it’s hard, it’s often boring, and it takes resources.

We at the Independence Institute are in the business of doing that political prep work. And I think folks just might be starting to get it. Without the coalition building, detailed policy work, investigative news reporting, community organizing, and educational efforts that we do, victory simply is not possible.

Take for example the story of Douglas County School District. This district, the third largest school district in the state, was the first in the nation to implement a voucher program on its own and basically de-certified its union among many other great reforms. And on Tuesday, despite a massive influx of national union money to defeat the reform candidates, Douglas County residents gave them a “thumbs up” and re-elected them.

The prep work you might not have seen started over six years ago when our education policy stars, Pam Benigno and Ben DeGrow, started working with school board members in the minority. In 2009, we worked with the new candidates before they were elected and then continued to provide assistance as they carefully crafted and implemented their reforms. Starting a year ago, we brought in community organizers and implemented a door-to-door, face-to-face educational campaign to educate the voters in Douglas County, so they could better understand the impact of these powerful reforms. When the battle to re-elect these reformers came, the prep work was done.

Well before Governor Hickenlooper launched his campaign to raise Colorado income taxes by 27% with Amendment 66, we had already been working on our “Kids Are First” educational campaign. The goal was to show that throwing even more money into a failed system was helping unions and monopolies, not children. We advocated raising expectations, not taxes.

But it was the years of work before that, building relationships and coalitions, investigating the phone conversations between the Guv and Michael Bloomberg, detailing how to get a billion dollars more out of our state budget without a tax increase with our “Citizen’s Budget,” and building a network of freedom fighters around the state that made the difference. The prep work took years. The loss of Amendment 66 was a formality.

For those who invest in and are part of our long, slow, methodical political prep work, well, I just can’t thank you enough. You made Tuesday’s victories possible.

Now back to more prep work…

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Forget Waldo. Where’s Hick?

Posted by on Oct 24 2013 | Amendment 66, Economy, education, elections, Taxes

When it comes to raising debt and taxes, John Hickenlooper is a rainmaker. As mayor of Denver, he jumped out of airplanes to poke a hole in TABOR, wore a blue bear suit for tourism taxes, rode the trolley for RTD’s Fastracks boondoggle, walked with Sesame Street-like letters A through I to raise property taxes and money for Pro-comp for Denver teachers, and a new jail…

Now, in his first foray into tax hikes as governor, he is AWOL. He has worked the phones to pull in millions for the Amendment 66 campaign and said nice things about this 27.4% income tax hike at public events, but he has been missing in action when it comes to taking the lead in selling it. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

In his past anti-taxpayer conquests, he was able to build a broard coalition of diverse organizations and bipartisan support. But not a single elected Republican supports 66. His usual partners in crime at the Denver Metro Chamber won’t even stand by him. Business groups like the NFIB and Colorado Concern have endorsed a “No” vote. Even Left-leaning editorial boards like the Fort Collins Coloradoan urge defeat.

Without the comfort of the herd, Hick seems content to play only a supporting, backroom fundraising role. Could it be that, after his debacle taking Michael Bloomberg’s advice on gun control (which cost him two senate seats), angering rural Colorado with a renewable energy mandate, and being unwilling or unable to make a decision on clemency for mass-killer Nathan Dunlap, Hick wants distance from another potential embarrassing loss?

Well, we can’t stay quiet and MIA like Hick. The Independence Institute has taken the lead in spreading the truth about Amendment 66. In fact, our work has made it up to our friends on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. Their lead editorial today warns: “Democrats and unions try to kill Colorado’s flat tax.”

Our educational effort is called Kids Are First. I urge you to go to www.KidsAreFirst.org right now. There, you’ll see many resources, including the videos we’ve been airing on television. Please share this site with everyone you know. Unlike Hick’s team, we don’t have $7 million+ to get the word out.

And our scholars have been busy actually READING this 150 page monstrosity. Learn about their findings:

Ben DeGrow’s Issue Paper: Amendment 66: Unfair and Overpriced

Ben’s op-ed: Tax Hike Won’t Deliver on its promise

Linda Gorman’s Issue Paper:
A Billion Dollars Worth of Bad Ideas: Amendment 66 Tax Hike

Linda’s Issue Backgrounder: Amendment 66: Spend More, Get Less

My debate with Senator Michael Johnston: 9News video

You know the whole country is still reeling from the last bill we “had to pass to see what’s inside of it.” Amendment 66 is Colorado’s version.

Please get involved in sharing the word. The wallet you save may be your own.

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Amendment 66 Resources: Billion Dollar Ed Tax Hike

Posted by on Oct 07 2013 | education, Taxes, Video

There may be a lot of information out there about the enormous tax increase (“for the children”) called Amendment 66, but most of what you’ve heard is probably wrong. Our job at the Independence Institute is to give you the facts about this tax increase – how it affects families, working people, small business, and the children of Colorado. Below you’ll find some important Amendment 66 resources, from big to small.

The big:

Our scholars have written two important papers about Amendment 66. Linda Gorman’s fiscally focused Issue Paper titled, A Billion Dollars Worth of Bad Ideas: The Amendment 66 Tax Hike Leaves Kids and Teachers Behind, Harms Colorado’s Working Families, Enriches a Broken Bureaucracy is great companion piece to Senior Education Policy Analyst Ben DeGrow’s Issue Backgrounder titled, Amendment 66: Unfair and Overpriced. Linda’s will give you the low down on the enormous financial burden a billion dollar tax hike will be on our state, while Ben’s focuses more on the lack of education reform in the A66 bait and switch.

The small:

Ben also penned a fantastic overview article on Complete Colorado’s Page Two, appropriately titled, Rather than Amendment 66, How About Some Real Reform?

And because there are people like me who… don’t read good… Linda decided to come up with a one page Issue Backgrounder called Amendment 66: Spend More, Get Less with lots of pretty pictures and graphs. Even I can understand it! Job well done Linda!

Our Constitution scholar Rob Natelson wrote an op-ed about the absolute constitutional nightmare Amendment 66 is, titled Amendment 66 mutilates state constitution, enriches greedy bureaucracy.

Even though we didn’t write it, we have to mention a fantastic editorial from the Colorado Springs Gazette. In Teachers unions support massive tax hike, oppose modest reforms in Amendment 66, editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen goes after teachers unions for putting a tax increase (big money) ahead of real education reform (our children). Here’s a sample of Wayne’s critique,

This isn’t the first time supporters of this tax have tried to hoodwink the public. Before exposing the hush-hush lawsuit arrangement, The Gazette revealed how the Legislature’s Democratic majority quietly sat on a $1 billion-plus revenue surplus this year without substantive new education spending. They did so to create an illusion of school poverty, so voters might be fooled into approving the tax hike.

Learn about REAL education reform: The Independence Institute just launched a project we call Kids Are First. KidsAreFirst.org is a direct response to Amendment 66, with a motto that says it all – “Raise expectations, not taxes.” There are plenty of ways to improve education in Colorado, but raising taxes is not one of them.

And last but not least, the videos:

Here are two videos produced by the Education Policy Center that explore some alternatives for quality education in Colorado that have nothing to do with taxing hard working families a billion dollars.

Colorado K-12 Scholarships Gives Kids Hope

K-12 Scholarship Tax Credits Could Help Colorado Kids

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EVENT: Defending Educational Civil Rights from Federal Overreach

Posted by on Oct 01 2013 | education, Events

Defending Educational Civil Rights from Federal Overreach:
An Independence Institute Brown Bag Lunch with Clint Bolick

Click here to see the official event flier

Why is the U.S. Department of Justice trying to deprive low-income Louisiana students of educational opportunities? What can be done to defend their rights, and to expand the cause of school choice across the nation? A leading litigator for educational freedom is coming to Denver to talk about the families whose civil rights he is helping to defend against a new outrageous federal overreach. Please join us at the Independence Institute Freedom Embassy next Friday to hear from our special guest speaker, Clint Bolick, vice president for litigation at the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute.

When: Friday, October 4, 11:45 AM – 12:30 PM (Doors open at 11:30 AM)
Where: Independence Institute (727 E 16th Avenue, Denver, CO 80203)
Free (Bring Your Own Lunch)
RSVP to ben@i2i.org

The New York Times has noted that Bolick is “known for his aggressive litigation to defend individual liberties.” He has argued and won cases in the United States Supreme Court, the Arizona Supreme Court, and other courts from coast to coast. He has won landmark precedents defending school choice, freedom of enterprise, and private property rights and challenging corporate subsidies and racial classifications. Before joining Goldwater in 2007, Bolick co-founded the Institute for Justice and later served as president of the Alliance for School Choice.

In 2003, American Lawyer recognized Bolick as one of three lawyers of the year for his successful defense of school choice programs, culminating in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2009, Legal Times named him one of the “90 Greatest D.C. Lawyers in the Past 30 Years.” Bolick received one of the freedom movement’s most prestigious awards, the Bradley Prize, in 2006 for advancing the values of democratic capitalism. He also has authored several books, most recently with Gov. Jeb Bush, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution.

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Colorado’s Billion-Dollar Tax Hike Proposal: Really Bad Constitution-Writing

Posted by on Sep 24 2013 | Amendment 66, Constitutional Amendments, Economics, Economy, education, Initiative 22, Politics, Taxes

Hear Justin Longo’s interview with Rob on Amendment 66 here.

Colorado’s Amendment 66—the billion dollar tax hike—is a constitutional monstrosity.

Amendment 66 is, technically, not entirely a constitutional amendment. It is an unusual hybrid of constitutional amendment and change in the state tax law. The secretary of state refers to it as Initiative 22, and it is on the ballot this fall.

The constitutional change would lock in a hugely-disproportionate share of state spending for a single program at the expense of every other Colorado service, public or private. The statutory change would impose a big hike in the state income tax.

As explained below, the costs across a wide range of areas—including public health and safety—could be immense.

But before we get to that, just think of how unfair this measure is:

Under its rules, everything else would take a back seat to the demands of the school bureaucracy. Law enforcement would suffer. So would disaster relief, parks, the environment, services for the elderly, health care, our universities, not to mention economic investment and the taxpayers’ own needs.

Why? Because Amendment 66/Initiative 22 says that (with a sinister refinement explained below) the state school bureaucracy “shall, at a minimum, receive forty-three percent of sales, excise, and income tax revenue collected in the general fund.” In other words, it requires that we spend nearly half our state general fund for a single service before funding anything else!

And that 43% is only a floor. Amendment 66 demands even more. Here’s why:

* The 43% is in addition to what we pay in property taxes.

* The statutory part adds a steep income tax hike on top of that and gives all he revenue to the school bureaucracy.

* The 43% is calculated on what the older, lower tax rates would have brought in. But an income tax of, say, 20% yields less than 20% more revenue, because of disincentives and tax avoidance. So the 43% is calculated on the older, richer system, not on the newer, poorer one.

Now consider some of the other consequences:

* Because of the 43% strait jacket, the legislature couldn’t freely reallocate existing revenue to new needs. For example, the Denver Post has reported that due in part to funding limitations for supervision, inmates released on parole often commit new crimes, including murder. Yet Amendment 66 would make re-allocating funds to parole supervisions that much harder, thereby endangering the lives and safety of Colorado citizens.

* That means a primary way of allocating revenue would become more tax increases.

* We would be crippled in adjusting school costs to reflect changes in technology or to promote educational accountability. Even if schools don’t do the job or are using money wastefully, they still get their guaranteed cut. This violates a basic principle of Anglo-American constitutionalism: agencies are responsible to the legislature for what they do with appropriated funds.

* State income taxes would jump for everyone—by over 27% for everyone with a taxable income of more than $75,000, and 8% for everyone else.

* And the cost of living would rise for every family in the state—including and especially the poor. This is because tax increases–even they seem to hit only the “rich”—have a way of seeping through an economy like venom. Almost everyone pays in the form of higher prices, lower incomes, and fewer jobs. A tax hike, like water, runs downhill.

* Higher taxes also weaken the entire economy. Don’t be misled on this score: The studies show that the additional spending mandated by Amendment 66 is likely to harm much more than it helps.

* The state income tax hike could wound Colorado’s economic competitiveness and kill Colorado jobs—a serious concern right now. Remember that we are in economic competition with other states and other countries, and several of our neighbors either don’t have an income tax or are cutting, reducing, or phasing out the income taxes they have.

* Colorado’s current tax may look like a flat rate, but because of the base on which it is calculated it is actually somewhat punitive as to income. Amendment 66 would make it much more so. Tax hikes like that have been shown to be particularly damaging to prosperity.

* Because the 43% guarantee is based on revenue from former, lower tax rates, the Amendment 66 insulates the school bureaucracy from the economic damage imposed by the tax hike.

A good constitution protects individual rights and structures government to serve the interests of all. But Amendment 66 mutilates our state constitution to privilege the greedy few. It transfers more money to the bureaucracy to do things that will hurt the general welfare, including the welfare of our children.

This violates every principle of good constitution-writing.

* * * *
P.S.: Here’s the ultimate irony: For years advocates of this money-grab have attacked Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), claiming it unduly restricts the legislature. Yet now they want to constrict the legislature far more than TABOR does. Hypocrisy, anyone?

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VIDEO: Dougco School Reforms, Billion Dollar Ed Tax Hike

Posted by on Sep 23 2013 | education, Video

First up, Damon Sasso from Dougco Champions for Kids joins me to talk about all the success Douglas County has had education wise. Hear what it takes to put kids first.

Next, Jefferson County school board member Laura Boggs joined me to talk about the $1 billion education tax hike that promises very little reform for an enormous crushing tax hike.

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