The Koch brothers are getting involved in a local school board election in Colorado — where voters are considering whether to oust conservatives who replaced Advanced Placement history books with patriotic propaganda.
Thousands of students walked out last year to protest changes to the history curriculum — which school board members say shifted the focus toward patriotism and away from “civil disorder” and “social strife” — setting the stage for the Nov. 3 recall election, reported the New York Times.
Americans for Prosperity, the pro-business activist group funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, is paying for commercials and fliers backing the school board’s conservative majority — while angry parents, teachers and labor unions are calling for the three board members’ removal.
Recall backers have raised more than $250,000, including about $15,000 from the local teachers’ union, while conservative and libertarian groups have already spent about $500,000 on TV ads alone and at least $100,000 more on mailer ads promoting the conservative members’ agenda.
“It’s the future of what education looks like,” said Michael Fields, AFP’s state director in Colorado.
The school board’s conservative majority has approved new charter schools and voted to give them the same per-student funding as public schools, and they have pushed to tie teacher pay to standardized testing.
Then there’s the proposed AP history curriculum, which has never actually been implemented, which would promote positive aspects of American history over controversial topics.
“You want to limit what we learn so you can push your own political opinion,” complained student Ashlyn Maher. “Our problem is that the nation you want to build consists of people who cannot think critically. We as students want to develop our minds.”
Americans for Prosperity is pushing similar agendas in other states, including Kentucky, where the group is running TV ads featuring black parents who praise charter schools, and Mississippi, where the Koch organization is fighting a ballot measure that would require the state to allocate more money to public schools, the Times reported.
All five school board seats are up for election, two years after Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams were elected on an explicitly conservative platform during a low-turnout election.
Their platform was modeled after a 2009 school board takeover by Republicans in nearby Douglas County that voted to end collective bargaining with the teachers’ union and use tax dollars to help students attend private schools, reported Al Jazeera.
Their local supporters praised Jefferson County board members’ decision to boost spending by $2.5 million on the suburban district’s 16 charter schools, but critics say the majority has ignored dissenters and humiliated students who speak out against their policies.
The president of the libertarian Independence Institute told the Times that the recall election could help decide whether the same conservative policies might be implemented elsewhere.
“Those reforms are scaring the hell out of the status quo, the unions,” said Jon Caldara, president of the institute. “If this holds in (Jefferson County), these types of reforms start growing organically in school board after school board.”
Republican candidates said the recall election signaled an even broader message.
“It’s for the control of our future as a country,” said state Sen. Tim Neville, who is seeking the GOP nomination in the U.S. Senate race. “It’s going to be relating to the presidential election.”
Parents said the recall election, and the involvement of big-spending outside groups, had bitterly divided the community — which is almost evenly divided among Democrats, Republicans and independents.
“It’s way over the top,” said Terri Taylor-Straut, a parent and recall supporter. “There’s no trust left.”