2023 Voter Guide
What is this guide?
Great Education Colorado and One Colorado created this guide to equip you with information to assist you in researching candidates and voting this November. Local elections are a great opportunity for your voice to beheard and to affect change in your community. Whilethey are vital to your community, local elections can feel inaccessible and less important. This guide contains information on questions to ask school board candidates, what a school board does, and key issues ineducation.
Ballots must be received by 7pm on Tuesday, November 7th. To find your nearest ballot drop box or voter service and polling center, go to justvotecolorado.org
In this guide, you will find: important questions to ask school board candidates; a few key terms ineducation; some of the hot-button issues ineducation; and how to promote welcoming public schools. The topics outlined in the guide address issues that impact whether the schools in your community are welcoming to all students regardless of their zip code,learning needs, identities, color of skin, and language,and will help you discern for yourself which candidates will best serve your schools and community.
Why does voting matter?
Voting in every single election, and voting your entire ballot, is one of the most important ways to elevate your voice. Returning your ballot by 7pm on Election Day, Tuesday, November 7th, is a way to advocate for the change you want to see in your community.
Why do local elections matter?
Local elections often do not receive the same media attention as high-profile, nationwide elections. However, the outcomes of state and local races, including school board and city council elections, can significantly impact your day-to-day life!
School boards make crucial decisions, such as how to implement statewide academic standards and what books should be in school libraries. Your vote in school board races influences who will make the decisions that affect the success of schools and students in your town.
Role of school boards
School boards, also called boards of education, oversee the public school system in a given region. While the exact roles, responsibilities, and framework vary from district to district, school boards generally establish the budget, set policy, and make other crucial decisions that impact local schools.
Local governments, such as town or city councils, govern the operations of your community ranging from trash collection to libraries. City councils are generally separate entities from school boards.
The Colorado General Assembly (state legislature) writes, votes on, and passes legislation for the governor to sign into law. The state government establishes the laws by which local governments and school boards must abide. The implementation of these laws is often tasked to local officials.
How to Get Involved
All parents and guardians have the right to request meetings with school board members, attend school board meetings, and access agendas and minutes from school board meetings.
All parents and guardians have the right to give public comment/testimony in school board meetings, pursuant to board policies.
You will be timed, typically you have 3 minutes to speak.
You have to sign up. Most districts have a sign up process that can likely be found online, on the district’s official website.
Questions to ask your school board candidates
How long has the candidate been active in their community? What is the candidate’s experience promoting public education in their community?
What is the candidate’s plan to support adequate and equitable school funding at the local and state level?
What is the candidate’s plan to ensure that schools are welcoming to all students, regardless of their zip code, learning needs, identities, color of skin, and language?
What does “welcoming schools” mean to them?
Does the candidate support school vouchers?
Would the candidate implement the state social studies and civics standards adopted last year by the State Board of Education?
Does the candidate support students’ right to use the bathroom and play on sports teams in alignment with their gender identity?
“Parental Rights” – Many organizations involved in education advocacy use this term to reflect their belief that parents should have a more direct and/or the final say in decisions regarding school policy and curriculum, as well as what kind of school their children can attend using public funding (see voucher discussion below). Few dispute the importance of parents being partners in their children’s schools or the rights of parents to opt their children out of particular lessons or curriculum. However, the Parents’ Rights movement goes beyond the rights of individual parents to make such decisions for their own children, and instead seeks to impose those decisions on other parents’ children. Organizations such as Moms for Liberty have used the “parents rights” agenda to ban books from libraries, censor the speech of teachers who seek to teach honest and comprehensive history, and block the creation of more inclusive and welcoming learning environments.
“School vouchers are education tax dollars that are diverted from public schools to help subsidize the tuition of private and religious schools. . . Many voucher proponents are also endorsing education savings accounts and tuition tax credits, which sound nice, but are fundamentally the same as voucher programs as they siphon limited resources away from our nation’s public schools. Specifically, education savings accounts are simply accounts
established with public dollars that parents can use for various educational expenses,
including tuition at private schools. Tuition tax credits allow individuals or corporations to receive a tax credit in exchange for giving money to a scholarship granting organization. These organizations then cover tuition costs for students to attend private schools”.
These policies reduce the already diminished funds available for public schools. In addition, the policies are based in a worldview that envisions education solely as a commodity to be chosen by individuals, rather than a public good that reflects communities’ values and aspirations for what they want for, expect from, the next generation. Because private institutions are not accountable to the same civil rights laws as public schools, vouchers also have the effect of undermining equity.
A reported 32 states have adopted some form of vouchers. Colorado is not among them – yet. One proposed ballot measure to enshrine parental rights and public funding for private schooling has already been filed with the Colorado Secretary of State and could be placed on the November 2024 ballot.
American birthright standards and their impact
The “American Birthright Standards” (ABS) is a set of “model K-12 social studies standards” that was created by the Civics Alliance, a political coalition that does not
engage in reasonable and customary reasearch and lacks expertise in developing standards. According to the 102-year-old National Council for Social Studies (NCSS), the ABS standards “do not align with best practices related to the development of social studies standards.” The ABS is “an attempt to return to a time when United States social studies classrooms presented a single narrative of U.S. and Western history that glorified selected aspects of history while minimizing the experiences, contributions, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples, people of color, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, the working class, and countless others.” (NCSS) The American Birthright Standards were rejected by a diverse committee of experts, as
directed by state law, as well as by a vote of the Colorado State Board of Education – twice – because they do not meet the requirements of Colorado State Law, HB19-1192.
Nonetheless, the Woodland Park School District, a Colorado district comprising seven schools in in Teller County, has adopted ABS. ABS does not support students in developing as citizens and does NOT encourage critical thinking skills or inquiry and discussion, all of which are fundamental to student success and our democracy.
The many organizations that have expressed support for ABS have done so in support of a narrow, political, religious and racial viewpoint that endorses Western European
and a very specific, Christian or Christian Nationalist political position. Several Far-Right extremist organizations such as Moms for Liberty, the Eagle Forum, the Independence
In the words of the National Council for Social Studies, “If implemented in schools, these suggested standards would have damaging and lasting effects on the civic knowledge of students and their capacity to engage in civic reasoning and deliberation.”
Buzz Words vs Real Responses
Buzzwords are words or phrases that are popular during a particular time or context. Buzzwords are used to “say the right thing” but not backed with action.
Be on the lookout for buzzwords that aren’t backed by meaningful action, such as “diversity, equity, inclusion/inclusivity, anti-racism, empower, etc.”
Ask candidates to define any buzzwords, and to give examples of what they look like in action.
Some examples you may hear or see,
“I care about equity in schools.”
What does that equity mean to them and what does that look like in schools?
“I value diversity.”
What does diversity mean and what actions have you taken to show that it is a
“I believe in parent or student empowerment.”
Can you give an example of a time you empowered a student or a parent? How did
you know they were “empowered?”
All youth deserve a quality public education, and that means all students need access to learning environments that are welcoming and safe. Welcoming schools are critical to youth development, wellbeing, and success, academically and emotionally.
Key features of welcoming schools are curriculum and policies that respect and reflect the diversity, experiences, and needs of its students, staff, and their families. In fact, this is so central to educational equity that it has been codified by countless state, federal, and local laws. For example, according to federal law (Section 504), schools are required to meet the accommodation needs of students with disabilities, including regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet the student's individual educational needs. Many states (including Colorado) and federal laws provide further protections for students, such as the right to be treated according to the gender they identify with. When schools implement curriculum and policies that are inclusive of all students and adhere to state and federal law protecting students, students feel safer, learn better, and our schools and communities are stronger.
Inclusive Academic Standards and Curriculum
Last year, Colorado’s State Board of Education passed inclusive Academic Standards for Social Studies. The state standards were updated in compliance with HB19-1192, a 2019 Colorado state law that requires social studies standards to reflect the history, cultures, and social contributions of diverse groups, including BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people. School districts are expected to implement the inclusive state standards by the fall of 2024.
State standards are not the same as curriculum, which is an organized plan of instruction. Standards establish the baseline learning goals for what students in Colorado should learn in each grade and subject. Each district is then responsible for establishing curriculum to meet or exceed the standards.
Inclusive standards require an inclusive curriculum. This benefits all students because
inclusive curriculum demonstrates the value and contributions of minoritized peoples in our history. When students see themselves reflected in lessons, it helps them understand their own value in school and the world at large. Inclusive curriculum has been shown to promote greater feelings of student safety, positive mental health, self-esteem, improved learning, academic achievement, and success. Simply put, honest, comprehensive, inclusive curriculum benefits all students.
Inclusive School Policies
Adopting policies that meet the needs of minoritized students, like transgender and BIPOC students, is another key feature of creating welcoming schools, as well as a legal responsibility.
There are many state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination and establish that all students have a right to the same opportunities to learn and participate in school. Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin, sex, disability, and age in educational programs and activities. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “discrimination based on sex—including sexual orientation and gender identity—isn’t just wrong, it’s prohibited in America’s schools.” This means that transgender and gender nonconforming students have a right to be treated according to the gender they identify with and not to be outed without their consent. This includes a right to be called by their chosen name and pronouns, to use restrooms and locker rooms, and to dress and present according to their gender identity. It also means that school districts, colleges, and universities have a responsibility to respond to harassment and hostile environments that interfere with student learning.
However, state and federal laws do not yet directly protect students of color – specifically Black and Indigenous students – and students with disabilities from disproportionate discipline, exacerbated by zero-tolerance policies and school police officers. Black students with disabilities are three times more likely as their white counterparts to be suspended or expelled. Additionally, students who are suspended or expelled are nearly three times more likely to become involved in the juvenile justice system. Instead of criminalizing children, schools must address the root causes by leveraging their union power to advocate for increased federal, state, and local budgets and address behavioral issues in a proactive, compassionate, and transformative way.
On top of the state and federal requirements to ensure equal educational opportunity, school districts can and should go further in adopting policies that build a culture of respect to create a welcoming and safe environment for all students. This is particularly critical now, as anti- equity activists are increasingly fixated on taking over local school boards and pursuing policies that would stifle and discriminate against transgender, gender nonconforming, and BIPOC youth.
Adequate, Equitable & Sustainable Funding for Public Schools
Despite being an affluent state, Colorado’s per pupil funding remains more than $2,000 behind the national average. The falling red line, below, shows how Colorado has underfunded schools compared to the rest of the nation.
Research shows that money matters in education, especially for low-income students and those with special needs. As a result, Colorado’s failure to fund its schools adequately is depriving hundreds of thousands of students of supports and opportunities that could make a lasting difference in their lives and their communities.
Colorado’s chronic underfunding of schools is in great part due to the fact that – unlike any other state – decisions about providing the revenue needed to meet the needs of students are ultimately made by millions of voters, rather than by legislators. After almost three decades of tax cuts and TABOR, Colorado’s state budget simply is no longer large enough to fund public schools, colleges, and universities adequately, while making appropriate investments in other parts of the budget: health care, public health, transportation, and other critical state services. Because TABOR requires voter approval before any tax increase can be implemented, there can be no solution to our budget crisis without a vote of the people.
On the 2023 Ballot
There are two fiscal policy measures on the ballot this November: Propositions HH and II. Although neither makes fundamental changes to Colorado’s fiscal straitjacket, we recommend a “YES” vote on both as steps in the right direction.
YES ON PROPOSITION HH:
Prop HH provides responsible and needed property tax relief, without hurting public schools and other critical public services:
Needed Property Tax Relief: Homeowners in many parts of Colorado have experiencedhuge spikes in the assessed value of their homes. Without action, property tax bills will spike, too. Prop HH will reduce those property taxes by reducing the statewide assessment rate and exempting the first $50,000 of valuation from taxation. Without Hurting Schools and other Important Public Services: The reduction in property tax revenues that would result from the assessment rate cut in Proposition HH means reduced funding for public schools, fire districts, and other local public services. Prop HH asks voters to backfill that revenue loss by allowing the state to keep some of the TABOR “surplus” and deposit it into the State Education Fund, where it can only be spent on public education. Under certain circumstances, the amount put in the State Education Fund could be greater than the amount of school funding lost because of the property tax cuts. That would only start paying back the $10 billion in cuts made to schools over the past 13 years.
YES ON PROPOSITION II: Additional funding for Universal Pre-Kindergarten under nicotine taxes already approved by the voters.
In 2020, the voters decided to support universal preschool education with a tax on nicotine products. The state collected more revenue from that nicotine tax in its first year than the amount that was in the ballot title in 2020.
A vote for Proposition II means that all the revenue raised by that tax should go to preschool students. A vote against Prop II gives some of those revenues back to tobacco wholesalers and retailers.
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