The Denver school board race is off and running, and several key groups have announced their endorsements.
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the local teacher organization, endorsed Charmaine Lindsay, Scott Baldermann, and Kwame Spearman. Denver Families Action endorsed Kimberlee Sia, John Youngquist, and Marlene Delarosa.
Who is Denver Families Action? Chalkbeat says it is the “political arm of a relatively new organization,” Denver Families for Public Schools, formed with the backing of several local charter school networks, and they get funding from The City Fund, a pro-charter education reform national organization.
What is City Fund? How much funding did they give to this new group called Denver Families for Public Schools? What Denver Public Schools “families” do they represent?
According to Influence Watch, The City Fund is an “education organization that funds initiatives that promote the growth of charter schools and other school choice organizations. It also funds activist organizations that support increasing charter school access and school choice programs.” Chalkbeat reports that City Fund was started in 2018 by two billionaires, Reed Hastings and John Arnold, who donated over $200 million to “expand charter schools or charter-like alternatives in 40 cities across the country.”
Reed Hastings has called for the elimination of democratically elected school boards, he serves on the national KIPP charter school board, and he built a training center in Bailey, Colorado, to house the Pahara Institute, an education advocacy and networking group that supports the expansion of charter schools. In December, 2020, he spelled out his vision. “Let’s year by year expand the nonprofit school sector … for the low-performing school district public school — let’s have a nonprofit public school take it over.”
The City Fund set up its own political group, a PAC, called Campaign for Great Public Schools (also called City Fund Action), to give money to organizations that promote charter schools and lobby to privatize education. Since its formation, the Campaign for Great Public Schools has given millions to Education Reform Now, which is the political arm of Democrats for Education Reform. DFER is a “New York-based political action committee which focuses on encouraging the Democratic Party to support public education reform and charter schools.”
Campaign for Great Public Schools also gave millions to the American Federation for Children, which is “a conservative 501(c)(4) dark money group that promotes the school privatization agenda via the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other avenues. It is the 501(c)(4) arm of the 501(c)(3) non-profit group the Alliance for School Choice. The group was organized and is funded by the billionaire DeVos family.”
Denver Families for Public Schools received $1.75 million in 2021 from the Campaign for Great Public Schools to promote their three selected candidates in the current Denver school board race. Denver Families for Public Schools functions as a 501(c)(4), which means it can donate unlimited amounts of money in political elections without disclosing its donors. It functions as an “astroturf” group by engaging in the practice of creating the illusion of widespread grassroots support for a candidate, policy, or cause when no such support necessarily exists. It set up a website, Facebook page, hired staff and recruited others to lobby for its cause. It posts videos of parents who say they don’t like the current school board candidates if they are opposed to them. It participates in forums to promote its selected candidates.
When Denver Families Action announced its school board endorsements in August, the leading fundraiser in the at-large seat at that time, Ulcca Hansen, withdrew from the race since she did not gain its endorsement. Hansen stated she could not win without the significant financial resources that come from “soft side spending.”
This money is also referred to as outside spending or “dark money,” because the funders of the outside groups often remain secret. Hansen felt the dark money would outpace campaign spending by a 10 to 1 margin. The $1.75 million that Denver Families for Public Schools received from The City Fund will be a major factor in the DPS school board race.
Denver citizens need to know who is behind the endorsements, who pays money for the ads, the flyers, the canvassing, the messaging on social media, and why they are supporting their candidates for the school board.
Mike DeGuire, Ph.D., is an executive coach for school leaders in Denver, and he serves on the board of Advocates for Public Education Policy. This commentary is republished from Colorado Newsline under a Creative Commons license.
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