29 October 2021

Colorado State And Local Taxation Reform Revisited

In my previous post, I noted that Colorado should:

1. Finance PK-12 education entirely from state revenue with the increased state revenue demand financed with an income tax increase. This would require an increase from a 4.5% state income tax to a 6.53% state income tax.

2. Eliminate all property tax and car tax funding of schools. This would reduce real property taxes, business personal property taxes, and motor vehicle property taxes by an average of approximately 60% across the board statewide, although the reduction would vary by school district and by locality within school districts. Districts will low property tax rates due to large property tax bases per student would receive the least benefit.

N.B. In the City and County of Denver, the current property tax rate on residential real estate is 0.53049425%. So, for example, the property  tax on a house with an actual value of $600,000 is $3,182.97. The tax rate on non-residential property is much higher. A typical rent on a property with that value would be about $28,800 a year ($2,400 a month).

Ideally, it should also make some other state and local tax reforms from the 2019-2020 status quo:


Colorado should eliminate its 2.9% state sales and use tax, and its state liquor tax and should replace those taxes with an increase in its state income tax. This would reduce sales taxes in the state on average by 39% and would require a 1.78 percentage point increase in the state income tax.

Combined with the increase that I proposed in the state income tax to pay for PK-12 education by replacing property tax and car tax revenues, this would increase the state income tax from 4.5% to 8.31% (an 85% increase).

As I have noted previously:
Colorado's state sales tax rate is 2.9%. Local sales taxes from multiple levels of local government range from 0% to 8.3% and averages 4.6%, for a combined sales tax rate, on average, of 7.5%. The sales subject to sales tax are not exactly identical between state and local sales taxes, but they are very similar.
It is also likely that if this was done, some local governments would reduce property taxes by increasing sales taxes that were reduced by the end of the state sales and use tax. So, the "dynamic" net sales tax reduction consider local government reactions would probably be somewhat less than 39% on average, and would probably reduce property taxes by more than 60% on average.


For a typical family making $50,000 to $79,999 a year, the change would cut sales and use taxes by $599 each year, would cut alcohol taxes by $8, would cut car taxes by would cut property taxes by $21, and would cut residential real property taxes by $983. So combined, those taxes would fall by $1,611. This family's state income bill would increase from $1,599 per year to $2,953 per year, an increase of $1,354 per year in state income taxes. This family's net savings would be $257 per year (about 0.4% of the family's income on average).

For a typical family making $30,000 to $39,999 a year, the change would cut sales and use taxes by $447 each year, would cut alcohol taxes by $5, would cut car taxes by $16, and would cut residential real property taxes by $764. So combined, those taxes would fall by $1,232. This family's state income bill would increase from $741 per year to $1,368 per year, an increase of $627 per year in state income taxes. This family's net savings would be $605 per year (about 1.7% of the family's income on average).

The reduced sales, use, alcohol and car taxes would provide a meaningful net improvement for lower income Coloradoans. The reduced property tax rates would make housing more affordable in the state at a time when affordable housing is a real crisis.

How To Restructure PK-12 Education In Colorado

The preschool to high school (PK-12) education system in Colorado would benefit from a major restructuring of its governance and finance. I've provide my proposal first, and then review the status quo for those not already familiar with it.

My Proposal

1. Finance PK-12 education entirely from state revenue with the increased state revenue demand financed with an income tax increase. This would require an increase from a 4.5% state income tax to a 6.53% state income tax.

2. Eliminate all property tax and car tax funding of schools. This would reduce real property taxes, business personal property taxes, and motor vehicle property taxes by an average of approximately 60% across the board statewide, although the reduction would vary by school district and by locality within school districts. Districts will low property tax rates due to large property tax bases per student would receive the least benefit.

3. The State of Colorado would guaranty all school district municipal bonds to which property tax revenues had previously been pledged.

4. Replace the elected state school board with a school board appointed by the Governor with approval from the state senate, with staggered terms. (While we are at it we should do the same thing in the case of the CU-Regents, which are also elected statewide on a partisan basis.) This would reduce the number of statewide elected officers per voter by four.

5. Replace existing school board elections for the general public, with internal elections conducted on a one enrolled student, one vote basis, in which parents or guardians vote as proxies on behalf of their children of less than high school age (the vote for a student with two parents would be split in half, one for each parent), and high school students would vote for themselves. A single transferrable vote system would be used (and would be more feasible given the smaller number of voters involved). In Denver this would reduce the number of school board posts per voter to vote upon per election cycle by three. A set of rules and processes related to school district campaigns would be developed to fit this new kind of election.

6. Future bond issues would have to have the support of the same people who vote for school board (so that major capital projects get parent-student approval), but could only be made if the Colorado Department of Revenue certifies that the school district will have enough revenue to service the bonds for their term and agrees to guaranty those bonds. 

7. End all state and local elections in odd numbered years, outside home rule cities or cities and counties that can make their own rules.

Why?

* It resolves inter-district school funding level and tax burden disparities in a fair way.

* It provides a stable funding base for education that is appropriate to what it funds.

* It makes Colorado's state and local tax system less regressive.

* This is a boon to lower income property owners and vehicle owners, and tends to make housing more affordable.

* It eliminates conflicts between state government and local government in school finance.

* It is basically neutral in terms of tax administration costs since the process of collecting property taxes and the process of collecting income taxes would remain largely unchanged with only the amounts due changing.

* School boards make decisions on how to spend school funds (they don't have the power to raise funds with taxes without state legislature or voter approval), which are only salient to students and people not related to students shouldn't have a say in that matter. But, it gives a say to non-citizen parents and parents of students from outside the district who make school choice decisions to attend there.

* Frequently, the combination of the different voter base for school boards, and the use of a single transferrable vote system, would provide a voter base that would appropriately reflect the greater diversity of children enrolled in schools in an area than the local community as a whole.

* Giving high school students a vote in real school board elections is an excellent way to build habits of good civic participation, and high school students are old and wise enough to participate in making these decisions.

* It substantially reduces the burden imposed on voters by eliminating elections for the general public in odd numbered years.

* It substantially reduces the burden imposed on voters by ending general public elections for local school boards, the state school board, and local bond and mill levy issues that impose a significant burden on voters to investigate and vote upon. It would reduce the number of candidate races per four year election cycle per voter by seven and would also reduce the number of ballot issues each voter would have to evaluate.

* Elections for Governor, the State House, the State Senate, and state TABOR voters would provide an adequate protection to taxpayers in the general public and adequate general public supervision of the educational process, in a manner with a similar political lean.

* While this is a substantial overhaul, it wouldn't require federal legislation or changes in federal appropriations. This is a major improvement in public policy that could be achieved despite gridlock on most policy issues at the federal level. 

* It isn't likely to result in meaningful positive or negative externalities outside of Colorado, something that is a major consideration for high education financing reforms where interstate travel by students is common.

Background: The Complex Status Quo In Colorado

PK-12 Governance

Currently, the state is divided into school districts that provide PK-12 education that are governed by school boards elected in odd numbered years by all registered voters in the district. These voters also vote on requests from school boards for property tax funding and in order to authorize significant debt financing of capital expenditures with municipal bonds to which property tax revenues and other revenues of the district are financed. 

Neighboring school districts may established Boards of Cooperative Education, which are joint ventures of two or more neighboring school districts to cooperate to provide services such as vocational schools or special education services that smaller school districts could provide more efficiently with the economies of scale provided by a joint venture. These BOCES, as they are called, are governed by officials selected by representatives of the member school districts and are financed with funds from the member school districts' funds.

Some PK-12 education policy issues, other than school finance, are handled by an elected state school board. For example, the state school board sets statewide curricular standards, approves certain charter or voucher school applications, and can intervene to place school districts that are in crisis in a receivership type status.

School Choice

The default rule is that students in a public school district are assigned to attend the school appropriate to their grade in the system in their neighborhood with each elementary school, middle school, and high school having its own territory within the district. Many schools have multiple programs that have distinct student bodies for most classes and different curricula and teachers, while sharing things like sports teams, school dances, and cafeterias, and students in those schools, on a space available or applicable basis, can be placed in one of these programs at a neighborhood school. 

But, students can attend a school outside their assigned territory within the school district is there is more than one school at their grade level using a school choice system, and a system of statewide school choice exists to allow students who reside in one school district to attend a school in another school district. To utilize the school choice system, one applies to attend a neighborhood school outside your own neighborhood to the extent that there is space available there. Sometimes one can apply more specifically a special program in a school of choice. 

Also, the school system has authorized "charter schools" and "voucher schools" which are public schools with almost no district level supervision that don't have an assigned neighbor and admit students who choose them based upon applications and the choice system rules. 

PK-12 Finance

School boards are financed through a combination of local property tax collections and from state funds appropriate from the state general fund budget that is raised predominantly from state income and state sales taxes. 

State PK-12 funds are distributed to school districts based upon a formula established by the state legislature which begins with a per enrolled student dollar amounts, with adjustments for certain higher need enrolled students, and is further adjusted at the aggregate level based upon the property tax revenues that the district raises. The mix of PK-12 funding in the Denver Public Schools (from here) is fairly typical:

In fiscal year 2017-2018, in the Denver Public Schools, total expenditures per K-12 student were $11,476.

Property taxes to finance the operations (mill levies) and municipal bond payments (redemption mills) for the local school district typically make up a majority of the property tax burden. There is a certain baseline mill levy rate that a school district can impose without voter approval. There is also a maximum amount of property taxes that the state allows a school district to impose. Voter approved property taxes above the minimum amount are called mill levy overrides and the extent to which local taxpayers approve them varies considerably.

Because some school districts have a larger property tax based per student than others, the amount of money raised by a given mill levy varies. Some school districts can generate more tax revenue than they need from a low mill levy, while others generate very little tax revenue even from a maximum level mill levy. Schools with less property tax revenue generating capacity (generally rural farming based areas, areas heavily impacted by tax exempt government property, and low income urban areas) receive more state funding than schools with more capacity to fund themselves with property taxes (such as ski resort towns). For this reason the state funding component of PK-12 funding to school districts in Colorado is called a "state equalization payment."

Specifically, as a March 3, 2020 article from the Colorado Sun explains:

Currently, Colorado sends about $453 million in state funds to districts where school property tax rates are below the level needed to fully fund themselves, or below 27 mills. . . .
Colorado’s history of inequitable school funding was set in motion in 1988, when property tax rates were all over the place, similar to how they are today. . . .

The legislature aimed to establish a consistent level of investment in schools through a uniform tax rate, mandating all districts levy the number of mills at which they would be fully funded, or at most 40 mills. That would have resulted in local communities covering half of the funding needed for K-12 education with the other half contributed by the state. . . .

By 1991, all districts had reached 40 mills or the number that would enable them to be fully funded with local property tax revenues. But in 1992, Colorado voters passed the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which capped the amount of revenue the state government and local governments could generate and spend. In K-12 education, that cap was dictated by growth in inflation and student enrollment. . . .
That posed a problem for school districts in communities where the assessed value of properties was rising rapidly, causing them to generate revenue amounts above their constitutional limit.

The solution: decrease property tax rates.

In some communities, particularly those experiencing an oil and gas boom, property values soared, causing property tax rates to plummet, [for example in] Primero RE-2 School District in rural Las Animas County. That district’s property tax rate dropped from 40 mills in 1993 to 1.68 mills in 2006.

Some districts in Weld County also cut their property taxes and mill levies and are fully funded because of oil and gas values. Those districts include Pawnee School District Re-12, Prairie School District and Platte Valley School District RE7.

In 2007, after property tax rates had continued to fall, the legislature stepped in and froze the rates to keep them from ratcheting down. At that point, some districts were approaching 0 mills. . . .

That legislative decision, she said, also froze inequities in place with no way for districts to resolve them and no incentive to change because they can count on the state to backfill budget gaps.

The resulting system has been an unbalanced one in which wealthier school districts are in many cases receiving state funding at the expense of districts in lower-income communities, and the state’s role in funding public education has become increasingly outsized.

The scales have tipped so far that the state is now providing 61% of education funding while local communities cover the remaining 39%, according to figures provided by the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

State funding per student varies greatly in across Colorado's 178 school districts: 

Rural districts receive large upward adjustments in per pupil funding, despite their low cost of living due to the diseconomies of scale associated with having small schools with low enrollments, and because their property tax base is anemic.

School districts typically own the buildings and facilities used to provide education in their district which are funded with municipal bonds that are repaid with voter approved bond redemption millage. Sometimes, school districts made their buildings available to charter schools or voucher schools in their district which rent the spaces from their budgets.

A lot has changed since October 24, 2005 (including the state income tax rate) when I summarized state and local finance in Colorado, but some of the broad outlines remain the same:

A single comprehensive solution can solve the problems above to a great extent.

Colorado currently collects the following amounts of taxes:

State Income Tax-------$3,972M at a 4.63% flat rate.
State Sales Tax--------$1,849M at a 2.9% rate.
Local Sales Taxes------$1,862M at an average 2.95% rate.
School Property Taxes--$2,048M
Other Property Taxes---$1,366M

About 25% of Colorado's aggregate property valuation is business property now assigned to bear 55% of the total property tax burden. About 75% of Colorado's aggregate property valuation is reisdential property assigned to bear 45% of the total property tax burden.

The gas tax currently brings in about $900 million a year, with no funds currently being contributed for transporation spending from general revenues, but the Department of Transportation needs $1.4 billion a year to maintain state roads in a way that will match growing expenses and traffic.

As of 2019-2020, state K-12 education spending was $4,405.2 million of general fund money and $1,780.7 million of other state funds. The total state general fund revenues are $12,641.4 million, of which $8,387.6 million comes from state income taxes (net of diversions to the state education fund which funds K-12 education outside the general fund).

28 October 2021

Denver Public Schools (DPS) School Board Elections 2021

"Denver Public Schools is Colorado’s largest school district, serving about 90,000 students. A little more than half of students are Hispanic, 26% are white, and 14% are Black. Its school board has seven members — five regional and two districtwide." 

The Denver School Board has an "at large" seat and seats for Districts 2, 3 and 4 up for election this year. School board directors serve four year terms with roughly half elected every two years, on a non-partisan single member plurality district basis. 

My district's election was in 2019, so I only have the "at large" seat to consider myself. See also this Axios voter guide.

According to this helpful voter guide:

Five candidates are vying for the at-large seat. Two candidates are competing to represent District 2 in southwest Denver. The District 3 race in central-east Denver also has two candidates. The District 4 race in northeast Denver has four candidates, one of whom, Andrea Mosby, has withdrawn, though her name will still appear on the ballot.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association has endorsed four candidates: Scott Esserman for the at-large seat, Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán in District 2, current board President Carrie Olson in District 3, and Michelle Quattlebaum in District 4. Olson is the only incumbent in the election.

Meanwhile, the education reform advocacy group Stand for Children Colorado has endorsed Vernon Jones Jr. for the at-large seat, Karolina Villagrana in District 2, and Olson in District 3. Stand has not yet endorsed a candidate for the District 4 seat.

Another education advocacy group, TEN Collective Impact, endorsed Jones for the at-large seat, Villagrana in District 2, and Gene Fashaw in District 4. It did not endorse a candidate in District 3. TEN co-founder Nicholas Martinez is married to Villagrana, who said TEN’s endorsements were made by Denver parents involved in the organization, not its staff.

Your options and my thoughts on them are as follows:

At-large

Esserman and Jones, the two front runners in the race and backed by Denver's main opposing factions in school board politics, Esserman by the teacher's union and Jones by the "reformers", are clearly the best two candidates in the five way race. Unlike many prior years where the factions have advanced relatively extreme candidates with starkly different perspectives on key issues, these two are moderates with a lot of common ground and similar perspectives that are mostly on target. I'm still not decided on which of the two I prefer.

Marla Benavides Hard No.

The eight words of her linked profile immediately ruled her out in my opinion: "A Denver mother who home-schools her son[.]" I get that home schooling can make sense. My brother and my sister-in-law have both home schooled their children at times. But if you are opting out of the system for your own children, you have no business running for the school board.

Scott Esserman He would be fine.

Scott Esserman is probably the front runner in the "at large" race and is a more credible and more even handed and moderate candidate than many that the teacher's union has endorsed in the past.

He was a teacher for twelve years at Cherry Creek High School, "was on the founding staff of Denver’s Northfield High School, which opened in 2015 in northeast Denver", has been a private school teachers. 
Esserman is now an independent consultant specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. He is the volunteer chairperson of the Denver Public Schools accountability committee, an advisory group of parents and community members. He has also served on school-level advisory committees at four district-run schools. . . . Esserman, 55, has two children, one of whom graduated last year from Denver’s Manual High School. His other child is an eighth grader at a charter school, DSST: Montview Middle School. 
He is endorsed by the teacher's union and by controversial sitting DPS Board Member Tay Anderson who did $5,000 of IT contract work for Esserman.
"Esserman said his primary focus would be improving student outcomes and erasing disparities. He believes strongly in the concept of “community schools.” He describes them as having several attributes, including culturally relevant curriculum, discipline practices focused on repairing harm rather than punishing students, and partnerships between schools and community organizations. Esserman helped a struggling middle school called Denver Discovery School write an innovation plan incorporating those elements. . . . Esserman said he would not consider closing or consolidating schools without talking with impacted communities first. But instead of simply asking for community members’ opinions on a potential closure, Esserman said the district should lay out all the facts and ask communities to come up with possible solutions that may or may not involve closing schools. . . . Esserman is more interested in whether a school is serving students well than in whether it’s a traditional district school, an independent charter school, a semi-autonomous innovation school, or part of a larger innovation zone, he said.
Vernon Jones Jr. He would be fine.

Vernon Jones Jr. is the runner up in the "at large" race with endorsements from both of the other major groups other than the teacher's union that function as quasi-political parties in DPS races.
Update: Vernon Jones Jr. resigned as the executive director of the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone on Oct. 8.

A Christian pastor who has worked in Denver schools for years and currently leads a district innovation zone is running for an at-large seat on the school board.

Vernon Jones Jr. is the executive director of the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone, a group of six semi-autonomous schools in the northeast part of the city.

He’s also a father of five, two of them Denver Public Schools graduates and two current students, one in elementary and another in high school. Another of his children graduated from neighboring Aurora Public Schools, as did Jones himself.

Jones, 43, previously ran for the board in 2009 but did not win. He lives in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood in far northeast Denver but is running to represent the entire city.

“The message that I have is a message for the city, not just one part of it,” Jones said. “We have to do right by Black students across the city. We have to do right by brown students across the city. And you need somebody who can champion that message.”

Jones has worked at all types of schools in Denver. Before leading the innovation zone, he was a teacher and assistant principal at northeast Denver’s storied Manual High School and executive director of Omar D. Blair Charter School in Green Valley Ranch. Jones said he’s prepared to leave his job as innovation zone director if he’s elected.

He’s running to ensure the district is focused on four things, he said: equity, wellness, achievement, and responsibility. With regard to responsibility, Jones wants the city and community organizations to partner with the district to support students.

“When I hear some of the struggles my mother went through as a Black student in DPS, and the struggles that my own kids went through … they are some of the same struggles,” said Jones, whose mother graduated in 1978. “And for me, that’s not okay

“We need boldness on our board that will ensure that the influence of structural and systemic racism and white supremacy is no longer driving that in DPS.”

He said he’s also running to ensure there is Black representation on the board. There are currently two Black board members, one of whom, Jennifer Bacon, is not running for reelection. The other member, Tay Anderson, has two years left of his four-year term. . . . 

The district shouldn’t villainize small schools, Jones said, noting that each of his five children learns differently and some thrived at smaller schools. But in a district where schools are funded per student, he said Denver needs to figure out how to support schools with lower enrollment. . . . 

School closures, he said, should be a last resort and only considered if “the neighbors tell you, ‘Oh yeah, we’re all good over here. Take that building,’” and perhaps repurpose it as a community center, Jones said. He added that Denver needs to “set a clear vision for what we want to be as a city for our kids and then that will dictate to you what we do with the small schools. Right now it’s going to be hit or miss because we don’t have a clear vision.” 
Jones said he likes charter and innovation schools because as public schools with autonomy from some state and district rules, they can “blow up the box of traditional education,” which hasn’t served students of color well.

Jane Shirley Not bad, but not as promising as either Esserman or Jones in my view. Lacking in vision.

Jane Shirley was a middle school math and science teacher in Aurora Public Schools before becoming a district administrator and then principal of Aurora’s William Smith High School, where students demonstrate their learning through projects. She also worked for an organization that provided leadership training to principals, and now does executive coaching for a consulting firm.

Shirley, 61, lives in east Denver near the Aurora border. Her son attended a Denver charter school from kindergarten through eighth grade, but graduated from high school in Aurora. . . .

“I haven’t seen ‘effective’ from the board,” she said, noting that a school board’s biggest responsibility is to manage the superintendent. “They either don’t hold them accountable or they hold them too accountable, or they don’t tie the goals to the actual strategy.”

In addition to her work in Aurora Public Schools, Shirley worked at the Catapult Inc. leadership program, which has since closed, with outgoing school board member Barbara O’Brien. Catapult coached principals at both district-run and charter schools, including in Denver.

Currently, Shirley is an independent contractor, working with companies to improve their culture. She also volunteers as president of the governing board of High Point Academy, a charter school in Aurora authorized by the state Charter School Institute. Shirley formerly sat on the board of RiseUp Community School, a charter authorized by Denver Public Schools.

Shirley is also an improv actor who has written and produced several shows. She and her husband Dave opened a cabaret theater that’s now known as The Clocktower Cabaret.

“We’re killing our kids’ souls with this over-emphasis on competition and test scores and getting into good colleges,” Shirley said. “And we’re killing off the creativity in our educators. .... Nobody goes into this business to raise third-grade test scores. That’s a byproduct of good teaching.”

The way districts hold schools and teachers accountable is defeating, she said. Shirley was on a district committee that recommended getting rid of Denver Public Schools’ controversial color-coded school ratings in favor of using the state’s rating system instead. . . .

In deciding whether to close or consolidate some small schools, Shirley said the district should start with a few essential questions: What school attributes do parents want? And what school size is optimal?

Once the district knows those answers, she said it should look at its roster of schools. If parents say they want racially diverse schools, she said, is there a place where two small racially homogenous schools could be combined to make that happen? . . .

Shirley questions the need for so many independent charter schools and semi-autonomous innovation schools. The original idea that these schools could innovate and share best practices with other schools was good, Shirley said. But she said it hasn’t played out that way. Instead, she said, charter schools are often at odds with the district and are “in many ways less progressive” than district-run schools.

Shirley also has concerns with school choice, which allows families to send their children to a school outside their neighborhood. School choice is a state law but Denver heavily promotes it. Shirley said she doesn’t like that it presumes that some schools are good and others are bad.

“We’re putting all of the burden on the families to make a choice because we haven’t done our job of making all the schools good,” she said.

Nicky Yollick Well intentioned, but not effectual enough or experienced enough to serve well. Somewhat aimless and unfocused without a real sense of what is necessary to effectuate change in the District. He'd be nice to have a discussion over a beer with, but needs a stronger command of the system and more leadership experience and a track record of solid accomplishments to be ready to serve on the school board.

A former state legislative candidate and avowed progressive political activist is running for an at-large seat on the Denver school board.

Nicky Yollick did not attend Denver Public Schools, nor is he a current parent. But he said he was inspired to run for the board because he hopes to be a parent soon. He and his partner, Nicki, plan to start a family once she graduates from nursing school, he said. . . . 

Yollick, 35, lives in northeast Denver but said he’s running to represent the entire city in part because he believes the seat in northeast Denver, which is also up for grabs, should be held by a person of color given the demographic makeup of that region.

Yollick moved to Colorado in 2008 to attend graduate school at the University of Denver, where he studied international relations. He became active in progressive politics, working on several federal campaigns and a push to turn out Latino voters.

He ran for a state House seat in 2018 but did not win. That same year, he helped pass a measure at the Colorado Democratic state assembly critical of education reform, a philosophy supportive of independent charter schools that is often at odds with teachers unions. The platform amendment, a symbolic step with no real-world impact, called on Democrats for Education Reform to stop using the term Democrats in their name.

Yollick has also been involved with Denver school board politics, having worked on the campaigns of at least three past board candidates. Two did not win and one withdrew before the election. Yollick helped found a coalition of community groups in 2019 to endorse board candidates, but the group failed to come to consensus. He is currently unemployed. . . . 

“Denver communities know I’m solidly in the progressive camp, and I don’t plan on budging one bit as a candidate or as a director on the board,” Yollick said.

If elected, he said he’d focus on cutting the district administration to funnel more money directly to schools, and giving teachers and community members more power over district decisions. He floated the idea of a community committee that would come up with recommendations for the board every three months. The board would be required to vote them up or down. . . .

If the district has to close a school because of low enrollment, he said he wants it “to have this long-term view so we can give communities at least two full years where we say, ‘I’m sorry, this school is slated for closure, but we want to work with you.’ … We’re not just going to sneak up on the community and close schools.” . . . 

While charters “generally do a good job for students,” Yollick said, he still has some concerns that they encourage competition between schools by asking families to choose them and that, along with many innovation schools, charters don’t provide job protections for teachers.

“I don’t want us to go around vilifying the school model,” Yollick said. “We need to get into the details of, what are our concerns with charter and innovation schools as far as potentially exacerbating inequality in the district among students and staff.” . . . 
The district should cut spending on central administration and marketing, among other things, to redirect resources toward carrying out the Black Excellence resolution and improving programming for students learning English as a second language, he said.

District 2

Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán She is sincerely devoted to trying to do the right thing but too rigid in her outlook formed primarily from her own personal experience alone, and doesn't have enough background with education policymaking. We could do far worse than her on the DPS Board but she is not the better choice for this position.

A real estate agent who grew up in southwest Denver, graduated from a neighborhood high school, and raised her own family in the region is running to represent it on the school board.

Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán said she was motivated by a desire to change some of the education reform policies adopted by previous boards that she believes were detrimental, such as closing schools with low test scores. If elected, she said one of her priorities would be “strengthening our neighborhood schools so we strengthen our communities.”

Gaytán, 46, has two sons — one who graduated from Denver Center for International Studies high school and another who is in eighth grade at a district-run school. She previously ran for school board in 2017 but lost to current board member Angela Cobián, who is not seeking re-election. In Gaytán’s bid for the seat, she is once again emphasizing her decades-long connection to southwest Denver, which is home to a large Hispanic community. . . .

Gaytán was born in Mexico, came to the United States as a child, and became a citizen as a young adult. . . . “My mother always said the major reason — the main reason — why we ended up in the United States and in Denver is because I wanted you to have a public education,” Gaytán said.

Gaytán attended seven public schools as her family moved around the city in search of affordable housing. She graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in southwest Denver and earned a business degree from Metropolitan State University of Denver. After she and her husband bought their first home in southwest Denver as a young couple, Gaytán said she was inspired to become a real estate agent to help other Latino families do the same.

When her oldest son was getting ready to go into kindergarten, the family moved to the Harvey Park neighborhood in part because the local elementary school had a good reputation, she said. They still live there, and Gaytán volunteered for years as president of the Harvey Park Community Organization. She is co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum, a nonprofit whose mission is to increase the political and social strength of the Latino community.

In that capacity, she has weighed in on Denver Public Schools matters, including rebuffing accusations by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock that a dysfunctional school board pushed out former superintendent Susana Cordova. In an op-ed in the Colorado Sun, Gaytán and co-author Arturo Jiménez called that claim “a far-fetched racist and sexist conspiracy theory.”

If elected to the school board, Gaytán said she would focus on reallocating funding to classrooms, reducing class sizes, increasing access to arts, music, and sports programming, and strengthening relationships between schools and nonprofit organizations.

Southwest Denver has been particularly hard hit by declining enrollment, in part because of gentrification. Gaytán said she wants to be “a voice for one of the communities that has been pushed out of our city — a community specifically of Latino, Mexicano, Chicano [families].”

To deal with declining enrollment, the Denver school board is considering closing some schools. But Gaytán strongly opposes school closure because of her family’s experience. She and her husband had to rearrange their work schedules so they could leave the house at 6:45 in the morning to drive their oldest son to a middle school across town and then pick him up after school because two middle schools in their own region were facing closure. The arrangement left her son feeling disconnected from his home and sent a disheartening message to families and students in southwest Denver, Gaytán said.

“That was the message: ‘You’re failing. Your community is failing. Your students are failing,’” she said. “The negative connotation of a school closure impacted not only me, my husband, my children, but entire neighborhoods in southwest Denver. To put families and teachers through something like that and retraumatize our community is a ‘no’ vote.”

If existing charter schools and innovation schools are working well for students and families, Gaytán said she’d support them. But if a new publicly funded but independently run charter school asks for approval to open, she said she’d “have to seriously consider whether or not that would be a better option. It’s important to me to protect public education and to ensure that we are wisely using tax dollars … so that we’re reallocating funding to our neighborhood schools to make them successful.”

Karolina Villagrana Villagrana is the better choice in District 2. She balances personal experience with a lot of hard won understanding of what works and doesn't at the classroom and school level, and is willing to look beyond her personal experience when making policy.

A former Denver teacher who held bilingual outdoor read-alouds for neighborhood kids during the pandemic is running to represent southwest Denver on the school board.

Karolina Villagrana grew up in Denver attending parochial schools and then the University of Colorado Denver. She said her run for school board was inspired in part by an experience she had in college sitting on a panel for a visiting group of high school students. The high schoolers had written down questions, and one stood out to Villagrana.

“It said, in Spanish, ‘A veces siento que no merezco ir a la universidad,’ which translates to, ‘At times I feel as if I don’t deserve to go to college,’” said Villagrana, 33. “For me, that statement left me broken. … I believe our kids, and our southwest Denver kids, deserve the best.”

Villagrana’s parents are Denver Public Schools graduates, but they did not send her to public school because of her oldest brother’s experience, she said. He was placed in a bilingual classroom without their mother’s consent, and Villagrana said the school did nothing to address their mother’s concerns when she saw stark differences in the educational quality between the bilingual and English-speaking classrooms. After that, the family opted for parochial schools.

“That had a forever impact because it really led me to view the value of advocacy and the roles that loved ones can have on a child’s life,” Villagrana said.

Villagrana holds two master’s degrees in education. She began her teaching career at a charter school in Kansas City through Teach for America, a program that trains educators on the job.

Villagrana was on the founding staff of a charter elementary school in San Jose, California, that is part of the Rocketship Public Schools network, later serving as the school’s assistant principal. She has also worked for several charter networks in Denver, most recently as the director of elementary literacy and K-8 language acquisition for KIPP Colorado Schools.

Villagrana was set to be the founding principal of a new KIPP school in the neighboring Adams 14 district, but the Adams 14 school board blocked the school from opening.

Not all of Villagrana’s experience is in charter schools. She also worked as an instructional coach and second grade teacher at district-run Knapp Elementary School in southwest Denver. She currently works for an organization called Camelback Ventures that provides funding and mentorship to women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color in education and other fields.

Villagrana grew up mostly in northeast Denver but now lives in the southwest Athmar Park neighborhood with her husband Nicholas Martinez, who is co-founder of the advocacy group Transform Education Now. During the pandemic, she started a weekly outdoor event called “libros en el parque,” where she read a book aloud in both English and Spanish and then led kids in a craft related to the story or season, like carving pumpkins.

“It was really joyful,” she said.

If elected, Villagrana said she’d focus on pushing the district to improve literacy instruction for young students. She’d also advocate for setting academic benchmarks for students, monitoring to see if they reach them, and communicating to parents their progress.

Villagrana said she’d advocate for doing two things: Asking families what they see as the best pathway forward, and analyzing what’s working and what’s not working at each school. The district needs both types of information before making decisions about consolidating or closing schools, she said.

“It comes down to community voice and then really utilizing data to help create the pathway forward,” Villagrana said. She said she believes in the potential for a “third way” of solving the problem of declining enrollment that isn’t closing small schools or keeping them open, but she doesn’t yet have specific ideas for what that could look like.

Charter and innovation schools: What matters most to her is not the type of school but whether students are learning and families are treated well, Villagrana said.

“When I was having conversations with loved ones, it was more so that they wanted to find a school that was best for their kids, where their kids are learning and being successful,” she said. “And at the end of the day, that’s really my focus point.”

District 3

Mike DeGuire He doesn't bring anything essential or helpful to the Board.

76, former principal and teacher

Believes more infrastructure, such as air flow and ventilation, is needed to mitigate the coronavirus.

Supports spending federal pandemic relief dollars on mental and social needs of students and staff.

He says the current school choice system does not work and needs an overhaul.

Carrie Olson Give Olson another term. She's done a good job. Both factions endorse her.

58, incumbent board member and adjunct professor

She says more needs to be done to address financial and staffing shortages at neighborhood schools.

Touted the current board's work to follow public health guidelines and upgrade equipment.

She supported removing police officers from schools.

District 4

Gene Fashaw Not bad. But, Quattlebaum is better.

37, math teacher

Believes the district's biggest concern is equity and more attention is needed on improving outcomes.

He says the key to improving student achievement is prioritizing their mental health.

Criticized the district for looking to armed security guards to replace police officers, saying more counselors are most needed.

Andrea Mosby - withdrawn

Michelle Quattlebaum Not bad. Deserves the post since she has concrete workable ideas to address the problems the district faces.

51, school community liaison

She says the district's top concern is recruiting and retaining non-white teachers.

Supports educational choice but wants to see more accountability in innovation schools.

Wants ongoing cultural competency training and certification for staff.

José Silva If you don't know what's wrong in advance, without an audit, you aren't ready.

41, nonprofit leader

He says the budget is his top concern and pledged to lead a fiscal audit, saying the district spent millions "on frivolous partnerships."

Wants the district to partner with organizations like his, the Colorado Association for Infant Mental Health, to better focus on mental wellbeing.

Argues his expertise in diversity and inclusion will allow him to lead a re-evaluation of the districts equity policies.

27 October 2021

Gitmo Detainee Ordered Released

As the scope of the conflict in Afghanistan involving the U.S. narrows, so does the U.S. legal authority to detain people as enemy combatants.  This reality recently resulted in a court order to release someone who has beeb detained at the Guantanamo Bay military base as an enemy combatant for the last fourteen years. Other releases could follow.

An "enemy combatant" may be detained indefinitely merely because he has part of the other side's military in a military conflict with the U.S., in this case one authorized by the Authorization To Use Military Force (AUMF) adopted by Congress shortly after the 9-11 attacks on U.S. targets in 2001. But, when you cease to be in a military conflict with the military force the detainee belongs to, that authority ends. As the Lawfare blog explains at the link above:

On Oct. 19, Judge Amit Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia did something we have not seen in many a year: He granted a Guantanamo detainee’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, ordering the man’s release.

The man in question is Asadullah Haroon Gul (aka Haroon al-Afghani), an Afghan citizen who was captured alongside six other men in an operation by Afghan government forces in early 2007. All the men, it appears, were members of the armed group known as Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) commanded by former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Though not formally part of the Taliban, Hekmatyar’s political movement and its armed expression, HIG, were aligned theologically and politically with the Taliban. And after the fall of the Taliban, HIG became one of the armed groups fighting against the new Afghan government, U.S. forces and other allied forces. In short, HIG for many years was a paradigm example of an “associated force” engaged in hostilities against the United States in connection with the larger conflict with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Indeed, in 2011, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit opinion authored by now-Attorney General Merrick Garland expressly affirmed as much in Khan v. Obama.

But here’s the thing about military detention authority: The scope of that authority will grow or shrink in accordance with the scope of the underlying armed conflict on which the claim of military detention authority is based. And thus it mattered a great deal when, in fall 2016, the then-government of Afghanistan reached a peace agreement with HIG. Thus, even without the eventual U.S. decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and end the fight against the Taliban too, the legal foundation for military detention in cases predicated solely on membership in HIG appeared to be going or already gone by late 2016. . . .
In 2018, the Justice Department responded by abandoning its claim of authority to detain based on HIG membership alone. It argued that Gul still could be held, however, based on the distinct claim that Gul separately had been involved with al-Qaeda itself. (See this 2018 Lawfare post from Harry Graver for those details and relevant links.) Gul denies that argument on factual grounds, and for a time that was the central issue in the case. 
Then, with the recent full withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan, Gul appears to have expanded his argument to include a much broader claim about the expiration of the legal grounds for detention. That claim, if accepted by the court, could have sweeping implications for other Guantanamo detainees.

The New Core Small Arms Of Marine Rifle Squads

The U.S. Marine Corps has replaced its standard suite of small arms for Marine Rifle squads with new versions that make incremental improvements over their predecessors.

The new weapons replace Vietnam era and Cold War era designs, that with subsequent relatively minor modifications, the Marine Corps has been using. The M16 entered service in 1964 and its M203 grenade launcher attachment entered service in 1969. The M4, M249, and SMAW recoilless rifle all entered service in 1984. 

The replacement M320 grenade launcher entered service in 2009. The new M27 and M38 entered service in 2010. The M3E1 recoilless rifle entered service in 2019. 

The standard weapon of the Marine rifleman will be the M27 IAR (for Infantry Automatic Rifle) replaces the M16 assault rifle and its smaller derivative that was more common in the Marine Corp immediately prior to the switch, the M4 carbine. It is an incremental improvement that will also include "suppressors" (i.e. silencers), a bipod stand, and an optical sight (with up to 8x power) for each rifle. It was originally designed as a replacement for the belt-fed M249 SAW (squad automatic weapon) using standard ammunition magazines instead, but was repurposed. It uses a 30 round cartridge of the same ammunition as the M4, M16 and M249: a NATO standard 5.56mm x 45mm bullet. Its gas-operated short-stroke piston action with a rotating bolt runs cooler, cleaner, requires less maintenance, has less internal parts wear and is less susceptible to malfunctions compared to previous direct impingement M4/M16 style weapons. 

Fully loaded with 30 rounds, it weighs 9.8 pounds, compared to 7.8 pounds for an M4 with 30 rounds, 8.8 pounds for an M16 with 30 rounds, and 22 pounds for the M249 SAW with 200 rounds. 

The M27 is 33 to 36.9 inches long (depending upon stock extension) v. 30.8 to 33 inches for an M4 (depending upon stock extension), 39.5 inches for an M16, and 40.8-43.8 inches for an M249 (depending on barrel length); so it is intermediate in length between an M4 carbine and an M16 assault rifle, and shorter than an M249.

But the M27 is more accurate with a point target effective range of 600 meters and an area target effective range of 800 meters, than the M4 (effective point target firing range 500 meters), the M16 (effective point target firing range 550 meters), or the M249 (effective area target range of 700-800 meters depending on the barrel length variant, but with area fire only due to its rapid fire rate), although it can fire fewer sustained rounds than the M249. 

Each M27 costs $1,300. The M4 cost $700. The M249 cost $4,087.

So, it provides less noise, less heat, fewer malfunctions, less maintenance, a bit more accuracy, and in the case of the squad's heaviest rifle, less weight.

Each Marine Rifle squad will also have: 

* one M38 SDMR (for Squad Designated Marksman Role) rifle for the member of the squad who is the best shot, which is basically a sniper rifle version of the M27 IAR with a better optical sight and improved suppressor which replaces the semiautomatic SAM-R version of the M16 (it shares the same advantages over its predecessor as the M27);

* one M320 grenade launcher which is a small stand alone grenade launcher (that can also be attached to the underside of a rifle if desired) that delivers a single shot 40mm grenade up to 350 meters (it is the same basic concept as its predecessor, but was designed to be more reliable, ergonomic, accurate, and safer than the predecessor M203 which was also permanently attached to an M4 carbine or M16 rifle); and

* one M3E1 MAAWS (for multi-purpose anti-armor anti-personnel weapon system) which is a single shot recoilless rifle (i.e. bazooka) that fires an 84mm rocket up to 800 meters with a computerized targeting system and is a bit lighter (15 pounds v. 22 pounds) than its predecessor. It is intended to be used against lightly armored targets and enemy soldiers using unfortified buildings as cover. It replaces the similar SMAW system that was more clumsy and unreliable.

Ultimately, the change is not profound. The new weapons figuratively shave the rough edges off their predecessors in ways that make it somewhat less likely that something will go wrong on the battlefield. 

In exchange, Marine Rifle squads sacrifices that high volume of fire belt-fed M249 which was heavy and inaccurate but was intended to be used for "suppressing fire" in lieu of accurate fire that hit enemy targets. Basically, the M249 was designed to keep a numerically superior crowd of opposition soldiers with inferior firepower from charging towards them World War I style, and overwhelming a Marine rifle squad. The Marines decided that this scenario was an increasingly rare one as opposition tactics adapted to modern warfare, and that this capability could be partially compensated for by having the entire rifle square fire their assault rifles in unison at an oncoming horde if necessary.

Americans And Allies Left Behind In Afghanistan

It seems inevitable that the U.S., after twenty years of military presence in Afghanistan that was producing diminishing returns, needed to wind down one of its longest foreign wars. 

Because multiple administrations over those twenty years proceeded in a way that failed to build a functional Afghan government that could stand on its own two feet, it quickly fell to the Taliban when U.S. forces left by a self-imposed August 31, 2021 deadline it announced well in advance. Fundamentalist and ruthlessly violent Taliban rule will ruin the lives of millions of Afghan people, especially women and our former allies, who could finally receive educations and a better life under the U.S. sponsored Afghan government.

The Taliban's unqualified victory does present a glimmer of hope, however, that roughly four decades of continuous civil war in the country, sometimes hotter and sometimes cooler, will finally come to an end. These four decades of war have left Afghanistan, which was briefly a developing country on the brink of modernization in the 1970s, as the least developed country in the world outside of Africa and a major global source of refugees.

Also, because the U.S. exit was executed in a clumsy way, it left many Americans and many of our local allies who are now at life or desk risk due to their support for us behind. As Stars and Stripes, an independent newspaper with a military beat explains:

“The administration by its own account left 600 Americans behind — over 400 of whom want to leave" and the "State Department also has contacted another 244 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan who “are not ready to depart either because they want to stay or aren’t ready” to leave yet[.]"
In addition to the hundreds of Americans, thousands of vulnerable Afghans also remain in Afghanistan while they await special immigrant visas, which are given to allies who helped U.S. forces during their time in that country. . . . “The total number of SIV's in the pipeline is 28,000, according to our records, of which 8,555 have come out with their family members,” he said. “So that would suggest there's a significant number of SIVs still in Afghanistan.” 
[Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin] Kahl said the Biden administration is trying “to get them out and hold the Taliban to their pledge for safe passage with people with documents which should include SIVs.”
The administration, unconscionably, has blamed its own red tape for leaving almost 20,000 Afghan allies behind.
The problem, however, is “the SIV process was not designed for an emergency — it's very slow,” he said. “Typically it took a year or two [and] nothing was done in the previous administration to speed that up. At the beginning of the Biden administration, the State Department took some steps that shrunk the time to about eight months — still way too long.”

The Pentagon has also taken steps to help the State Department process SIV applications faster, creating “an enormous database … to try to speed up the confirmation of employment” necessary for special immigrant visas, Kahl said.

Meanwhile, about 53,000 Afghans are awaiting visa processing at eight military installations in the United States and about another 3,500 at bases in the Middle East and Europe, chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday.

More than 6,000 have completed the process and have resettled in the U.S. since evacuation efforts began in late July, Kirby said.

Honestly, it is in the best interests of the Taliban to let the Special Immigrant Visa applicants and their families migrate to the U.S.  These individuals are among the most capable people in the country with an inclination to be pro-Western and anti-Taliban. Their departure would greatly weaken any potential insurgency against the Taliban by people who felt allegiance to the U.S. installed Afghan government that the Taliban toppled or that seeks a new regime to replace the Taliban along the same liens. In short, allowing them to leave would remove a thorn from their sides. 

It would also discourage the U.S. from considering future involvement of any kind in Afghanistan out of guilt for the harm it caused by leaving so many people behind.

But whether the Taliban will see the wisdom in this course of action, and allow it to overcome a desire to inflict vengeance on people who provided aid and comfort to their deadly foreign backed enemies for two decades, remains to be seen.