The Colorado faction of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation announced this week that it will spend $200,000 on a school choice “issue education effort” in June and July. The It’s Working campaign will use mailers, digital ads and “grassroots advocacy” to highlight charter schools.
The campaign is intended to show Coloradans how charter schools work and their benefits, says Michael Fields, senior director of issue education for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, whose parent company, Americans for Prosperity, is the right-wing political advocacy group funded by billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch. “We are a state that has been a little bit more progressive in terms of school choice, but there’s more we can do,” Fields says of Colorado. “I think that people aren’t fully educated about it.”
Charter schools, which are a top education issue for Americans for Prosperity Foundation Colorado (AFPFC), are publicly funded schools that can waive some state and school-board requirements. Colorado has 238 charter schools, and in 2014 the state ranked third for most students enrolled at charters.
AFPFC is announcing the move just days after Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill requiring school districts to fund charter schools equitably with local property-tax funds, a major source of public-school funding.
In the coming week, the AFPFC will send advertisements for the campaign around Colorado, as well as advertise online. The campaign will also highlight education savings accounts, a policy proposal described by Fields as “very similar” to voucher programs, which would give public funds directly to families for education spending. In the plan, says Fields, funds could be diverted from public schools to private accounts for parents, who could choose between private schools, online courses, extra tutoring, and half-days at school followed by half-days of homeschooling.
The AFPFC campaign worries the Colorado Education Association (CEA), an association of 35,000 K-12 public school teachers, who believe that some school choice initiatives could hurt public schooling.
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“It is a real concern when groups like Americans for Prosperity...are using their massive wealth to funnel our local tax dollars that support public education, which are already underfunded,” says CEA president Kerrie Dallman.
Colorado ranked 22nd in K-12 education spending in 2014 and is still suffering from budget shortfalls after the 2008 recession. In 2016, Colorado spent about 3 percent less on K-12 education than in 2008.
Americans for Prosperity, the parent organization to AFPFC, was founded by David Koch of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the U.S. In February, AFP celebrated the confirmation of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has long been a champion of school choice and has proposed slashing the budget of the federal Department of Education by as much as $10.6 billion to shift funds to voucher programs and charter schools.