Senate Bill 61: A Topsy-Turvy Education Battle

Three Republican state legislators made a statement by walking out of yesterday’s House Education Committee meeting yesterday, and the least this blog can do is shine the light on it. Here’s the thumbnail of the ongoing story.

Senate Bill 61, devised by Senator Sue Windels (D – Arvada), was written to empower the education bureaucracy at the expense of parents who want to exercise the option to start a charter school. That’s right: empower educrats, distrust parents. Yes, ignore the fact that there are thousands of kids in this state on waiting lists to get into charter schools. Ignore consumer demand. The all-wise educrats need to keep a tighter thumb on charters, according to the logic of Windels’ bill.

Well, after weeks of political jockeying, Windels was caught by surprise when a coalition of Republicans and inner-city Democrat Senators voted to completely overhaul her bill and make it choice-friendly.

Like their counterparts on the Senate Education Committee, the majority Democrats on the House Education Committee tend to reflect those most closely aligned with the institutional status quo – mainly, the teachers union (CEA), school board association, and others who are far more concerned with preserving institutional authority and taxpayer perks than providing more choices to parents.

So yesterday, when Representative Michael Merrifield (D – Manitou Springs) and his colleagues on the House Education Committee voted to do the educrats’ bidding and change back Senate Bill 61 to its original harmful form, 3 Republican legislators led by Representative Cory Gardner (R – Yuma) took a stand.

Why? Because Merrifield didn’t want to hear opposing testimony from the Charter School Institute’s Alex Medler (a Democrat, incidentally), says the Rocky. The message is not so subtle: “Don’t get in the way of the establishment agenda on education. We know what’s best for you.”

Kudos to the Republicans – and for a handful of praiseworthy Democrats – for being willing to innovate the schools in a way that empowers parents and families, not that limits their choices.

It seems likely that the House and Senate may approve two vastly different versions of Senate Bill 61, leading to a very interesting conference committee. This battle is far from over. Keep checking in for the view from Mount Virtus.


  1. Denise says

    I was at the hearing and saw this nasty behavior for myself! Rep. Cory Gardner, Rep. Ken Sommers, and Rep. Ray Rose are all heroes in my book! Rep. Gardner was very articulate and quick-thinking.

    It was obvious that Rep. Mike Merrifield was carrying out his own agenda even though he was at the sponsor’s table and not chairing the meeting. Rep. Solano did as he indicated. To the point of Rep. Solano going back on her promise to allow Alex Medler to comment on the proposed amendments! Reprehensible behavior!

    In the debate about whether or not successful charter schools (like Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo) should be able to charter, Rep. Debbie Benefield made it very clear it was about the adults (a.k.a. teacher’s union) and not the kids. In fact she praised the Jeffco school board (on which her husband sits) for carefully planning their charter schools. That’s hilarious! Jeffco has only had one new charter school in the past six years! And that one (New America Schools-Jeffco) is run by millionaire Jared Polis (also a funder of many of the school board races). Last week Jeffco school board member Vince Chowdhury said, “Our district meets all the educational needs of the students in the district.” How’s that for arrogance?

    Ben, thanks for writing about this sham! More people need to know what’s going on at the Capitol.

  2. says

    Thanks, Denise, for adding your firsthand account and for standing up for families who want more and better educational options.

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