The Independence Institute is attempting to raise $300,000 in the next sixty days to battle the teachers' union in Jefferson County, where the fight over public education policy has turned ugly.
"Teachers' unions are a threat to our children's future," Jon Caldara, the president of the Independence Institute, wrote in a fundraising letter dated April 17. "And the unions must be stopped."
The Jefferson County Education Association is in the midst of negotiating a new contract with the school district. Some teachers are worried that the reform-minded (and controversial, as we explained in a recent cover story) Jeffco school board majority will allow the contract to expire, a union-busting tactic used by the conservative board in Douglas County.
Caldara's letter won't provide them much comfort. Posted online this week on the website JeffcoPols.com, it says that the $300,000 will be used to launch a plan "to replicate the success" of Douglas County. The plan for Jeffco, Caldara wrote, includes building "effective and strong coalitions," deploying a reporter "to cover the news that the mainstream media refuses to report" and providing "policy guidance and strategy."
A Westword cartoon of Jon Caldara.
"If Jefferson County follows Douglas County's lead" the letter says, "we are confident more districts will follow."
JeffcoPols.com calls Caldara's letter an "angry screed" and disagrees with his characterization of the teachers' union. It's not true, JeffcoPols says, that the union "staged" student walkouts last fall in response to a proposal by board member Julie Williams to review the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum to make sure it emphasized patriotism and downplayed social strife.
"That 'the union' staged last year’s enormous student protests will come as a surprise to the students who actually organized them," JeffcoPols wrote. The website also points to Caldara's defense of Williams's proposal as something that would "make (her) blush." The letter describes the AP U.S. History curriculum as "left-wing" and says it "stresses perceived misdeeds by our nation with virtually no emphasis on American exceptionalism."
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"Safe to say," JeffcoPols adds, "that this letter was not intended for consumption outside a very conservative audience, as the stated goals of Caldara’s campaign are distantly out of the mainstream."
But Caldara disagrees. In an interview with Westword, he's says it's no secret that the Independence Institute supports education reform in Jeffco and elsewhere — and he's happy that the letter is being shared more widely, even if the people sharing it are his critics. "The problem with fundraising mail is we have to pay to get it out to people," he says. "So when somebody does that for us, that’s spectacular."
Read the entire letter at JeffcoPols.com.