16 December 2013

#schoolchoiceworks: My School Choice Story

National School Choice Week is coming up at the end of January 2014.  In anticipation of that, I thought it might be interesting to write up my own story, and hear about yours.

If you know me, chances are you've heard me talk about my education--it was a significant part of what made me who I am today, and influenced me for the better.

I went to a Lutheran preschool, a private kindergarten, public school for most of first grade, and was homeschooled until I graduated high school.

I suppose you could call me "gifted" or "advanced" (for example, after the first few weeks in first grade, they wanted to move me to the fourth grade), but I think that was more because of what was cultivated in me from an early age than any particular special ability of my own.  I think we would see a significant increase in "gifted" students if they, too, had the opportunities and parental involvement I had from a young age.

I had already been reading long before first grade and taught myself cursive while my peers were learning print--again, this is less a reflection on any particular advanced ability and more a reflection of very important traits my parents (particularly my mother) taught me from early on: to be a self-starter; to be self-sufficient, and most importantly, to have a passion for learning.  That is key: the passion for learning.  It is something that is still all-consuming today.

Because of my "advanced" level, I was asked to do my school work behind the teacher's desk, and (because I have an innate, and often obnoxious, need to be first at everything) I would help the rest of the class with their work after I finished my own.  Already, I had been taught to self-direct my learning to a large degree at six years old (even before that).  My mother's philosophy of education was already prevalent: allow kids to think, teach them to question, and teach them to communicate.

My mother learned of homeschooling at some point in the year or so prior to my removal from public school (as I recall), and the final straw was a gym teacher who liked to yell profanities at the first graders and prevent us from taking water breaks--I should mention I lived in Arizona at the time, and gym was almost always out of doors.  My mom pulled me out of school a few weeks before the end of the school year and the rest, as they say, was history.

Homeschooling not only afforded me a quality education that met my needs--it removed a large part of my competitive nature since I had no one with which to compete (I still have it, although significantly tempered from what I remember) and gave me the chance to focus on passions such as politics, Ancient Greece, nuclear science, and British Literature--it gave me significant opportunities I would never have gotten in any other scholastic setting, such as the ability to spend one day a week at the Colorado State Capitol as an intern during my four high school years.

Right after high school, I spent time as the Executive Director of the Colorado HEARTH Fund, helping to support candidates for state legislative seats who believed in choice in education, and to involve homeschoolers in particular in the political process.  

But for all my love of homeschooling, and for all the wonderful things I know it afforded me, I believe very strongly that school choice is vital: there are certainly a number of individuals who either should not be homeschool parents or who would not benefit from that environment as children.  I believe all children should have the opportunity I had: the best education possible for me.  I have continued to fight for that, from candidates I support to bills I testify on, and writing about it now.

The result's of Colorado's 2013 election were promising--strong school choice and pro-reform candidates elected across the board, from the liberal bastion of Denver Public Schools to the largest school district in Colorado (Jefferson County Public Schools)--an area that rejected a similar slate only two years prior.  The foothold in Douglas County School District remained intact: a 7-0 reform board who kicked out the teacher's union, created a voucher program, and brought in an excellent new superintendent.  This was the story in district after district across the state, just a year after Obama took our 9 electoral votes.  The same state that ushered in Democrat majorities voted down a $1 billion tax increase nearly 2-1.  There is a lesson to be learned from this:

School choice is not a partisan issue, and people know that just throwing more money at the problem is not the right solution!

Every parent wants what is best for their child.  It is my job--your job--our job to ensure that opportunity is there.  I have an eight month old son.  I want for him to have the same chance I did, to get the best education possible for him.  That's my reason to fight for school choice--because it works, because I am the product of it, and because I want it to continue to work for my son and for all children.  What's your reason?

16 November 2013

Wrap Up: the Milwaukee School Choice Conference

To be frank, I didn't anticipate much coming from attending the Western Conservative Summit this summer.  Of course, there were a few interesting speakers and I got to see many friends (which, to be fair, I get to do often anyways), but those events don't do much besides give fleeting enjoyment.  I did, however, meet a gal from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, and we got to chatting about school board races.  Not long after that, I got an email from another gal at the Franklin Center.  After chatting back and forth for a bit, she asked if I would be interested in attending a conference on school choice in Milwaukee--and, bonus, it turns out my husband can come with as an attendee as well.  It's always fascinating to me how seemingly insignificant events line up perfectly for something much, much bigger.

Matt has spent a lot of time writing about school choice in Colorado from the perspective of the courts.  I spent some time as the Executive Director of the Colorado HEARTH Fund in 2007 and 2008, promoting all school choice (particularly homeschooling).  School choice has always been a subject very near and dear to this homeschooled girls' heart.

The conference wrapped up last Saturday, and I'm still processing all the things I learned.  First, I really must say that the caliber of folks in attendance was top-notch (I particularly enjoyed meeting Alice and Maggie) and it was very cool to be a part of that group.

Of particular note for me were the tours of Hope Christian School and Bruce-Guadalupe Community School--the former catering to a largely African-American community, and the later a largely Hispanic community.  I was so impressed when talking to the coach at Hope who had some great insight into the incredible work they are doing in one of the poorest cities in the nation with an astronomically high incarceration rate for young African American males (1 in 8).  I was also very intrigued to discover that Bruce-Guadalupe is a monolingual school--teaching is in English so that students who come in only speaking Spanish leave bilingual, and to learn that it often helps the parents who only speak Spanish to learn English as well.  There is some truly amazing work going on in those two schools, where kids actually come first.  What a concept!  

My favorite session was a tie between Derrell Bradford's lunch talk (which you can watch here, filmed at another event) and Bob Bowden and Kyle Olson's panel discussion on using emotion and investigative journalism to advance school choice.

Even better than the tours and the sessions was dinner on Saturday night with a few fellow conference attendees and Bob Bowdon.  If you don't know who Bob Bowdon is, take a minute to get familiar and read the link above.  The Onion afficianados may find him familiar as well.  Ah, recognize him now?  Yes.  He is, of most note, the director of The Cartel--which is a must see if you haven't yet.  Clearly, it was a fantastic, fun dinner with the best bacon I've ever eaten.

The networking is always the best part of these events.  Hearing about what is going on in other states and spreading the word about the great results we had on 5 November in Colorado's election made it so worthwhile.  

In case you missed it, reform candidates had overwhelming success in Colorado, sweeping in Douglas County, Jefferson County, Denver County and taking many spots in unlikely places like Adams County.  The Thompson Valley School Board, predominantly in Larimer County, increased their reform member numbers--although one seat is still in limbo (and looks good for the reformers).

Another perk of attending was anticipating the publication of More than Scores from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.  What a phenomenal read.  

I'm looking forward to National School Choice Week from 26 January-1 February (yes, I have my yellow scarf!).  In the mean time, watch for more school choice posts as I process everything I learned.  Since we're getting back into serious campaign season (not that this last election wasn't serious), look for more posts on all things campaign-related, including an updated Caucus Training page and the 2014 edition of the RIGHT Republicans Initiative come Assembly and Primary time.  This blog can't be all snark and commentary on corruption in the Colorado GOP, right?

09 November 2013

Opinion: Of enemy lists and State Party Chairs

It appears Chairman Call is preparing for Christmas and conflating himself with an evil Santa--making his enemy list and checking it twice.

In reports I've had from three Colorado Executive Committee Members, Ryan Call said at their September meeting that my husband, myself, Rich and Laurie Bratten, Ken Clark and Jason Worley (of Grassroots Radio), and Debbie Healy are the "six (sic) most detrimental people to the Republican Party in Colorado." (yes, if you can actually count, there are seven names there)

In fact, I spoke on Grassroots Radio back in September about this.  You can listen at the link.

Well, now I've seen it in writing, in the official minutes of the Executive Committee Meeting (email me if you want to see the entirety of the minutes, there is a lot more in there than just this, a fascinating read).
"Chairman Call said that folks like Jason Worley, Ken Clark, the Bratten's, Debbie Healy and the Arnold's are no friends of this party."
Not quite as... powerful, perhaps, as what was reported to me from three independent sources, but nonetheless it appears Ryan Call is making his enemy list (and he very well may have talked about us being detrimental--at the very least, apparently we aren't friends...).

Oh, but wait.  These aren't the official minutes.  It appears that yesterday, at their November executive committee meeting that EDITED minutes were submitted by the Chairman and his toady, the Executive Director, and put forth as the "real" minutes (you can email me for those as well, to contrast with what was submitted).  

Then, the Secretary was (according to reports I've received from several sources again) instructed to only write minutes in bullet points going forward by a vote of the Executive Committee.  I reached out to Lana for comments, but she declined.

Bottom line is this: something hinky... very hinky... is going on.  What does Ryan want hidden?  Of what is Ryan afraid?

Because the Republican Party can't get their act together, and because Ryan Call continues to declare all-out war on the Colorado Conservative, Liberty Groups, Tea Party, and Libertarian (big "L" and small "l" alike), I have a hard time seeing electoral successes in our future.  Any conservative victories in Colorado in 2014 will be IN SPITE OF the Colorado GOP, and certainly not because of.

08 November 2013

Winners and Losers in Colorado's 2013 Election and a Look Ahead

Now that the dust has settled a little bit, I wanted to just quickly review what happened in the 2013 election in Colorado.  I'm talking about the November elections, not the recalls (that's a whole 'nother beast).  I am hip-deep in finishing up my book (which, if you haven't pre-ordered yet, you can here) and attending a School Choice Conference put on by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but I wanted to give a very brief summary from my perspective of what happened and what that may mean for 2014.


  • Kids
  • Parents
  • Teachers
  • Taxpayers
  • School choice advocates


  • Unions
  • Michael Bloomberg
  • John Hickenlooper
  • Political operatives


Douglas County, Jefferson County, Denver Public Schools, and several school districts in Adams, Larimer, and Weld counties in particular had great success with reform candidates and slates, which bodes well for improving education across the state.  Notice where some of these changes occurred--Denver, Jefferson, and Adams county, where you have majority Democrats or have been trending Democrat in the past several elections county-wide.  School choice and reform is not a partisan issue.

Coloradoans voted down a nearly $1 billion/year tax increase by a nearly 2-1 margin.

In a bizarre twist of strangeness that only Colorado could concoct, by nearly the same margin as one tax increase was voted down, a tax was passed on marijuana.  In Colorado, apparently it is "tax for thee but not for me."

Sadly, in some cases, reform candidates succeeded in spite of, rather than because of, some of the same old (bad) political operatives.  As long as we continue to have these folks around, we will have to fight that much harder to actually succeed in elections.

Looking ahead:

It is way too early to make predictions for 2014.  To say Hickenlooper is on the defensive now after two losses (the recall elections in September and now Amendment 66--a third might be the flub on the execution of Nathan Dunlap) would be accurate, but whether that will hold true a whole YEAR from now is yet to be seen.  Unfortunately, voters have really short memories, and if Hickenlooper can pull it together this year coupled with a long, likely nasty Republican Primary for Governor, and that could potentially spell success for him in his election.  Remember, since 2004, no Republican has won statewide office after a nasty primary.  It may be more a factor of "us" and less a referendum on Hickenlooper, unfortunately.

What conservatives and liberty lovers must do is capitalize on our success: clearly pro-gun, anti-tax, and pro-education reform messages are winning messages!

The legislative session should be very interesting.  Election years often bring a tamer legislative agenda, and after this year's cocky liberal ram-rodding, it will be very fascinating to watch what happens next.

15 August 2013

Opinion: Myths and Reality about the Colorado Recall Elections

There has been a lot of misinformation promulgated by far too many Establishment Republicans (and parroted by sheeple who haven't bothered to do their research) in this recall election.  We already have to fight Democrats--it's even more frustrating we have to keep fighting the false statements on our own side as well.  Here are several of those myths--debunked.

MYTH #1: "Owen Hill lost Senate District 11 in 2010 by 360 votes because of the Libertarian; therefore without a Libertarian in the race we are guaranteed a victory!"

  1. This is NOT the same district as it was in 2010.  In 2010, Senate District 11 was a fairly evenly matched district that had been held by a Republican until Senator Morse's first win in 2006.  On 1 November 2010, the registration numbers looked drastically different than they do as of the latest numbers from the Secretary of State (1 August 2013).  See the first set of charts below for a comparison.  Please pay attention to the Active Voters % --  that is the most telling voter registration statistic, especially now because there will be no mail ballots this election.  Yes, SD11 picked up total Republican voters--but you'll notice they also picked up total voters overall, and Senate District 11 now has one of the largest contingents of Unaffiliated voters in the state.
  2. Not only have the voter registration numbers changed, the district performance numbers have changed, too.  Senate District 11 went from "leans Democrat" in 2010 (which, in my estimation, was a significant understatement based on the numbers) to pretty solidly Democrat now because of reapportionment.  The district performance went from D+1 in 2010 to D+6 in 2013.  See the second set of charts below for the reapportionment district average performance (for statewide races), and keep this in mind: 2010 was a wave Republican year, so that is likely a high-water mark for Republican performance.  It is unlikely, unless we see similar circumstances once again, to ever see that kind of Republican performance again until at least reapportionment in 2021.  And, you'll notice, even in that wave Republican year, both districts' reapportionment numbers underperformed the state GOP average and significantly outperformed the state Democrat average.
REALITY: Basing any assessment of Senate District 11's performance now, in 2013, on the old district's numbers doesn't prove any point other than that you are ignorant of the reapportionment process and it's ramifications.  They simply aren't comparable as they are not the same district.

Voter Registration Charts for Senate District 3:

As of 1 November 2010:
Active Voters
Active %
Inactive Voters
Total %

As of 1 August 2013:
Active Voters
Active %
Inactive Voters
Total %

Voter Registration Charts for Senate District 11:

As of 1 November 2010:
Active Voters
Active %
Inactive Voters
Total %

As of 1 August 2013:
Active Voters
Active %
Inactive Voters
Total %

Reapportionment District Performance Averages vs. State Averages in 2010 and 2012:

Reapportionment Average
2010 Statewide Average
2012 Statewide Average
Difference 2010
Difference 2012

MYTH #2: "If a Republican wins now, we only have to win one seat in 2014 to have the majority in the State Senate!"

  1. While technically true if you do the math, this makes the (I think bad) assumption that we hold those two seats in 2014.
  2. What is far more likely is that we lose Senate Districts 3 and 11, but gain Senate Districts 5, 16, and at least one of 20, 22, or 24.  Any three of those five and we have the majority.  All five of those seats have a much better chance of a Republican winning than either Senate District 3 or 11.  I'll discuss those districts more in-depth in a later post.
REALITY: Even if a Republican takes these two districts in 2013, there is no guarantee the seats are retained, and I think there's a great likelihood they will be lost in the 2014 General Election.

MYTH #3: "Those meddling Libertarians!  Their lawsuit to make the State of Colorado follow their own Constitution will derail the recall election!"

  1. Most of the arguments about why this lawsuit was a good thing have already been laid out: in my post earlier on the subject, by this great analysis, and in an excellent article today from Media Trackers.  Please read those so I don't have to repeat myself or redo the work of others who have summed it up so well.  The key takeaway, if you don't want to spend the time reading them, is that this lawsuit not just about ballot access, but just as much about eliminating mail-in ballots from this election
  2. Lazy, low-information voters who otherwise wouldn't get off their duffs and vote can't sit in the convenience of their homes and not having mail-in ballots gives the recall proponents a significant advantage.  Incumbents have a much easier time winning with low-information voters.
  3. Without mail-in ballots, it is much harder to cheat in elections.  Worse than uninformed voters, mail=in ballots lend themselves to fraud, such as voters being coerced or otherwise threatened by union thugs, or having their ballots filled out for them.  
What still amazes me is that Republicans are upset about this lawsuit.  In fact, Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call put out a press release parroting the same talking points as John Morse!  That is all shades of screwed up, and should be a wake up call to Republicans everywhere.

REALITY: This is proof positive that Republican apparatchiks no longer care for the Constitution, but push whatever they think will create "victory" (meaning money in their pockets) for them.  No wonder they have been consistently losing in this state since 2004.  Moreover, surprise, surprise--it not only didn't "derail the recall", it actually gave the recall a fighting chance by removing mail-in ballots from the equation.  How about them apples?

MYTH #4: "Those meddling Libertarians!  So they didn't derail the recall, but they did disenfranchise military voters!"

  1. You know what... I'll just let Secretary of State Scott Gessler do the talking for me here.  You can find his whole release at this link.
"As someone who served overseas in the Army and consequently missed an election myself, I’m particularly concerned about our military and overseas voters who want to cast ballots. Currently, El Paso County has 645 and Pueblo has 287.

Colorado is ready to serve them.

Last year I deployed a statewide electronic mail ballot delivery system for military and overseas voters. It worked extremely well, contributing to a 65% jump in turnout, even while most states saw a drop.

That system is already at work in the recall elections. The large majority of our military and overseas voters have already signed up for electronic ballot delivery. They have already received ballots. If more candidates qualify, we will work with El Paso and Pueblo to get them new ballots quickly, through electronic ballots, fax, and expedited mail. Forward deployed service members can even radio their votes to their commanders, and we can accept those ballots eight days after the election. Finally, we’ll take additional steps, if necessary." (emphasis added)
REALITY: As Secretary Gessler points out, there are other, better ways of reaching military voters--with electronic ballots (something for which he won an award for in 2012).  No one is disenfranchised, and, in fact, it is now more likely these service men and women will have their vote count, since there was no guarantee they would recieve their mail ballots in time, even though they were sent 30 days in advance (already a violation of UOCAVA standards).  You can also look at the comments on Clear The Bench Colorado's coverage for more on military voting.

MYTH #5: "Those meddling Libertarians!  Maybe they didn't derail the recall or disenfranchise military voters, but with a Libertarian on the ballot, they'll split the vote and ensure Morse stays in office!"

  1. As of right now, no Democrat has declared in Senate District 11, and no Libertarian has declared in Senate District 3.
  2. The recall vote is a two part process: first, a yes or no vote on the recall, and then if yes, a vote on the replacement candidate.
REALITY: If there is no Democrat on the ballot in SD11, it would be impossible to "split the vote".  In fact, the more peole you can turn out to vote "yes" on the recall, the greater the likelihood of success.  

Let me repeat that, since it is the most commonly promulgated lie I've heard this entire recall election process: a Libertarian on the ballot not only doesn't split the vote, it actually makes it more likely that Morse gets recalled.

Update: typo in one of my charts fixed--thanks to Kevin J. for the catch!