The Colorado Education Association — the organized-labor behemoth that dragged its feet in reopening the state’s public schools after COVID — is digging in its heels against a plan to tax pot sales to provide children tutoring and other after-school education support.
Which means the union is doubling down in its attempts to thwart Colorado’s neediest kids.
After all, it was low-income and other at-risk children who suffered the worst achievement setbacks amid remote learning. Their households were more likely to have limited internet access. They also were more likely to have parents who had to work outside the home at jobs that couldn’t be performed online, so the kids had less help and supervision while they were marooned in digital learning limbo. And after balking at a return to in-person learning, the union now is leaning against a proposal to make up for lost ground among the hardest-hit children.
To be precise, the union hasn’t actually come out against the tentatively titled Initiative 25 — not yet. That likely will come soon enough, in time for the fall campaign season. That’s also when we can count on the CEA and its nationwide umbrella organization, the National Education Association, to open their formidable campaign coffers in hopes of crushing the citizens ballot initiative under an avalanche of special-interest money. For the moment, the union is simply on record as having withdrawn its prior, tepid support for the initiative.
What is the proposal that is giving one of the state’s largest unions such heartburn — even as it is winning endorsements from education champions and political heavyweights across the political spectrum?
The Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress, or LEAP, proposal would provide funding for families to choose wide-ranging supplemental learning support for their children beyond the classroom. They could select from a smorgasbord of approved out-of-school learning providers, including tutors in reading, math, science and writing; services for special-needs students, and career and technical education-training programs. That’s only a partial list of the learning options.
Each household could receive up to $1,500 per child for such outside-class support. Importantly, priority would be given to children from low-income households. The children who lost out the most during the overly long school lockout would win big under Initiative 25.
Supporters must collect at least 124,632 validated signatures from Colorado voters by Aug. 2 to place the measure on this November’s ballot.
So, why the union pushback?
Kasey Ellis, a teacher in the Cherry Creek School District, was quoted on behalf of the state union in a press statement posted to the website of a CEA-allied advocacy group, Taxpayers for Public Education.
“Public education is the foundation of our democratic republic. We need to find ways to increase opportunities for all our students. Initiative 25 takes money from our public schools and puts it into the hands of people who can discriminate against our students based on their gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, or race,” Ellis said.
Which is patently false — and insulting. No money would be taken “from our public schools.” Some funding for the proposal would come from Colorado State Trust land holdings, which historically have been managed and leveraged to support public education and other state institutions. Most of the funding would come from a 5% sales tax on retail marijuana sales. The tax would raise an estimated $137.6 million a year.
And to suggest the money would go “into the hands of people who can discriminate against our students” is preposterous as well as offensive. The proposal would require tutors and other providers out-of-school services to be certified. Public schoolteachers, who are pre-certified through their school districts, would get priority to provide the tutoring and other supplemental extra-classroom support. As a practical matter, current, full-time public schoolteachers probably would land much of the after-class educational support work.
Does the union really mean to impugn them? Many — oops — are among the union’s own rank-and-file members. Does the union believe they would discriminate against students “based on their gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, or race”? Why would Colorado’s many dedicated and inspiring teachers even bother to moonlight as tutors and other service providers if they intended to refuse services to the same children they’re offering to help?
Former Gov. Bill Owens recently called Initiative 25 the “first-in-the-nation initiative to help close the opportunity gap.” Former Gov. Bill Ritter — a longtime ally of organized labor, by the way — said the proposal can help erase socio-economic divisions in schools. Owens, Ritter and a host of other top education policy advocates in both political parties champion the plan.
As on so many issues, the union once again isn’t representing the interests of Colorado’s at-risk kids. This time, it arguably isn’t even representing the best interests of its own members. It’s way out on a limb on this one — and making a spectacle of itself.