A far-left shift in the Democratic Party was on full display Saturday, as delegates met in Broomfield for their state assembly.
It was time travel to an era in which Democrats held union leaders above the working class, poor, immigrants, and minorities.
The party eliminated any question of this reversion when delegates told Democrats for Education Reform to get lost. They overwhelmingly passed a resolution ordering the group to stop using "Democrats" as part of their name. The vote makes rejection of school choice a core of the party's platform.
Delegates booed Democrats for Education Reform Director Jennifer Walmer so loudly she became emotional, stopping her speech and begging permission to continue.
State Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, and a few others emboldened this behavior with a November letter to Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll. It asked her to send a cease-and-desist demand to Democrats for Education Reform. Merrifield wrote in 2007 "there must be a special place in Hell" for school choice advocates.
The old-left assembly nominated former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy as the party's top gubernatorial candidate. State and national teachers unions — traditionally opposed to school choice — endorse Kennedy. She won 62 percent of delegates.
The Colorado Education Association (teachers union) recently opposed a bill, signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, that ensures charter schools obtain a share of future school tax hikes.
"She aligns with all of our issues and values that our members share and our hopes for what public education can be in the state of Colorado," said Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman in January, announcing the union's support of Kennedy.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a more modern Democrat, won only 33 percent of delegate support.
Polis, a successful Boulder high-tech entrepreneur and former member of the Colorado State Board of Education, devotes some of his fortune and much of his life to updating and improving education. He founded a charter school. The Jared Polis Foundation supports The New America Schools Network — a system of charter high schools that help immigrant children graduate.
The Jared Polis Foundation also supports the Academy of Urban Learning, a Denver Charter school dedicated to providing special "services to youth who are homeless, experience unstable living conditions or have other at-risk factors."
A majority of this year's Democratic delegates — like their allies who lead teachers unions — oppose choice for immigrants, minorities, and children in adverse circumstances. The unions don't like competition among teachers and schools, and assist Democrats who support the old model.
Chalkbeat, an non-partisan education journal, said the party's rejection of school-choice Democrats "revealed a growing divide among party activists and establishment politicians on education policy that could have implications for the governor's race."
"The advisory committee of the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform reads like a 'who's who' of prominent party members," the Chalkbeat story explains.
Allegiance to the unions may benefit Old School Kennedy in the primary. It may not go over well in the general, which has each party competing for moderates and unaffiliated voters who care more about kids than a candidate's special-interest loyalties.
The old-school Democratic model, in which authorities determine which schools children attend, unraveled long ago. The U.S. Supreme Court liberated black students in Kansas to attend white schools with the 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Modern school choice likewise enhances options for immigrants, minorities, and economically disadvantaged students stuck in poorly funded and under-performing schools.
That is why 51 percent of charter students are of color, compared to 45 percent in traditional schools. Black students comprise 6.1 percent of charter populations, compared to 3.7 percent of traditional enrollment. Hispanics comprise 36 percent of charter classrooms, compared to 33.6 percent at traditional schools. This is what Democratic delegates tried to boo off the stage last week.
Democrats who are more contemporary embrace school choice. Then-President Barack Obama issued proclamations recognizing School Choice Week. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., joined Republicans this year in supporting a pro School Choice proclamation. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont's self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, supported a 2017 school choice bill to give individuals and corporations a tax credit for donations that fund private tuition vouchers.
"The organized opposition to school choice may argue that it's not good for their jobs, but they can't argue with the fact that it is good for kids," explains an article titled "The Democratic Case for School Choice" in the left-leaning Huffington Post. "Comprehensive studies measuring the effectiveness of school choice programs in three disparate parts of the country last year showed immense gains in graduation rates, standardized test score performance, or both."
A 2017 poll found 54 percent of Democrats support tax credits for "individual and corporate donations that pay for scholarships (aka vouchers) to help low-income parents send their children to private schools."
School choice should be a core value of the Democratic Party, which has long championed better opportunities and outcomes for minorities, immigrants, and the poor. Teachers unions want the party's embrace of an old model that empowers politicians — not parents — to determine which school a child attends. That's why the party soundly rejected Democrats for Education Reform.
It conjures visions of Kansas, circa 1954.