HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. – The school board race in Douglas County, which is less than a month away, is again expected to have national implications.
Four seats are on the line, and with them, control of the board. For many observers, this race boils down to one word – vouchers.
“There’s been an ongoing battle between the more conservative and more liberal members of the board,” said Dr. Norman Provizer, a political science professor at Metro State University.
He said the main issue is the question of vouchers for students that’s before the courts.
When asked why a local issue about vouchers can draw big money into the race from out of state, Provizer replied, “these are not just elections, they’re causes.”
He also said that groups aren't contributing money to individual candidates, they’re contributing to “slates” of candidates.
There are two slates running. One, the “reform group” – Elevate Douglas County – lists four main issues on its website: https://elevatedouglascounty.com/
- Restoring Civility
- Respecting Teachers and Principals
- Embracing Fiscal Responsibility
- Respecting Parental Decisions
The “pro-public schools group” – Douglas County Parents – lists three main concerns on its website: http://douglascountyparents.com/
- Loss of Educational Opportunities
- Loss of Public Trust
- Wasteful Spending & Inaccurate Budgeting
In 2011, the school board launched the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program, which would have provided publicly-funded scholarships to 500 students wanting to attend private schools, including church-affiliated schools.
A pro-public school slate of candidates won three seats on the board in 2015, the same year the State Supreme Court ruled the voucher program was unconstitutional.
In June of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court said the Colorado court must reconsider its 2015 ruling.
When asked what impact the reforms, then sudden change in direction, have had on students, Provizer said they’re getting, “a lesson in civics education.”
He said the calmer a school district is, in terms of ups and downs, and less turmoil, the more teachers can focus on their job and the students can focus on learning.
“The issue in Douglas County,” he said, “is there is a fundamental debate over how to educate students.”
“It’s not just a little difference of opinion,” he added, “it’s fundamental in many, many ways.”
The political science professor said the Douglas County race may well end up being the most expensive school district race in Colorado history, and that much of the money will come from out of state.
“Whether it’s the Koch brothers or any other group,” he said, “George Soros on the other side, whatever it is, they’re looking at these things as ways of leveraging power on key issues.”