(This is Part II of a series on LEAP: Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program)
People are asking: What is LEAP, Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program, also known as Initiative 25? To answer this question, we need to connect some dots, and the dots lead to Democrats who want to “re-imagine” public education with another government run system aided by you the taxpayers, but with a caveat. In the current government run schools, citizens vote on local school boards that are “supposed to” represent them on school matters. Initiative 25: LEAP will create a new “parallel” government education system that will bypass voters, and replace their voting power with an unelected bureaucratic authority. The writers of Initiative 25 propose a parallel public out-of-school program that includes health services and never address the true problem in government run schools: Our students are underachieving despite being in the classroom for six hours, five days a week.
The first dot comes right from the Democrat’s playbook, The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care), published in 2010, which details how the Democrat Party took over the state of Colorado. Some Republicans are willing to be bamboozled once again by The Blueprint playbook. Republican elites and power brokers are teaming with their Democrat counterparts in support of this ballot initiative that is currently collecting signatures in hopes that it will appear on the November ballot.
The Blueprint takes us into the deep realm of Democrat party political operatives over the years as they strategize and successfully implement their “government knows best” plans. The authors explain how the state has become solid Democrat naming key and prominent people. UNMASKED 2020: Colorado’s Radical Left Turn and a Warning to America clearly gives evidence to one-party rule in the state and its damaging results.
Is there a “Blueprint” for state government run education? Possibly. Ballot Initiative 25: LEAP has roots going back to the early 2000’s with Tony Lewis’ role at The Donnell-Kay Foundation (dkfoundation.org) where, “Over the course of fifteen years, Tony has pushed for innovation and improvement at the school, district, and state level.” Additionally, “Tony is the visionary behind RESCHOOL Colorado, a multi-year initiative launched in 2013 to create an entirely new education system.” In 2018 RESCHOOL became its own non-profit organization.
In 2014 Mr. Lewis wrote with Amy Anderson, Executive Director of RESCHOOL and prior employee of The Donnell-Kay Foundation, in a edweek.org blog:
We firmly believe that the best path forward for K-12 school reform is through a new public education system, not through further tweaks to the current system. ReSchool Colorado is a multiyear effort to design a new, public, state education system where learning is reimagined and students are equipped to thrive in a rapidly changing world. ReSchool will create a parallel system that offers a better value proposition for those seeking something different or for whom the current system isn’t working well.
Fast forward to June, 2020, Mr. Lewis writes a piece titled, Now’s The Time to Dismantle the Systemic Racism in our Schools, written on The Donnell-Kay Foundation website. He espouses many themes that are heard today coming from the progressive movement regarding public education:
The structural racism built into school finance (wealthier students get more public funds), school buildings (wealthier communities, better buildings), access to technology and devices and a myriad of other areas mean poorer students have less resources across the board. If we want to begin to change these race-based inequalities, then we have an incredible opportunity to do so: we must provide both child care and learning for all kids, five days a week. We cannot put low-income families in the position of choosing between their work and their child … …To accomplish this, schools and districts will need to share funding with out-of-school learning providers to create and implement programs for small groups of students—when they are not being supported by the school in person. Schools and districts need to partner with national and local providers of outdoor learning, environmental education, arts, literacy and afterschool programs. They should make available the programming of hyper-local learning providers that are community based, culturally relevant and community driven. Solving the at-home remote learning challenge will have to come not only from schools but from community partners including libraries, recreation centers, nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
This article sparks similarities to the LEAP Initiative: out-of-school learning, equally available, supplemental educational or developmental support and help being given to parents to choose proper resources for their child. The Initiative states that the
The intent of the voters in enacting this Article 86.1 is to create a statewide learning program that will provide consistent and reliable access to learning opportunities for All of Colorado’s Children and Youth outside of their regular school schedule. Creating the … program will ensure that these learning experiences are equally available to All Colorado Children. “Out-of-School Learning Opportunity” … means a program, service, system, activity, material, or other pursuit or purchase that provides supplemental educational or developmental support to eligible children or youth outside of normal school operations. The Authority shall: Seek to increase access to learning opportunities for every eligible child or youth, ensure a broad diversity of learning opportunities and providers, and help parents choose resources for their child or youth. By applying a state sales tax to retail marijuana and transferring a portion of revenues earned on Colorado’s school trust lands to the state public school fund, the state will be able to fund the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program for Colorado Children and youth.
Regarding the last point, it needs to be noted that the State Land Board website cites that it “earns money for Colorado public schools by leasing trust land and minerals. 95% of lease payments support Colorado schools” (slb.colorado.gov). The Fiscal Note on Initiative 25 provided by the Legislative Council Staff states in its May 5, 2021 analysis (https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/initiatives/2021%252325FIS_00.pdf):
Funding the LEAP Program. The bill creates the LEAP Program Cash Fund to fund the program. Money to the fund is not subject to the state’s TABOR revenue limits and is continuously appropriated to the LEAP Authority. The fund contains revenue to the LEAP Authority, including gifts, grants, and donations, loans of funds, property, or other government funds. In addition, the initiative requires that money be transferred from the General Fund to the LEAP Program Cash Fund each year, with the transfer equal to the amount of money transferred to the State Public School Fund (as described below) and the amount of revenue collected from the increase in retail marijuana tax under the measure….
…State Transfers & Diversions … Diversion to State Public School Fund. The initiative will divert an estimated $21.0 million in FY 2021-22 and $22.0 million beginning in FY 2022-23 in state land board revenue from the Permanent Fund to the State Public School Fund. This assumes that state land board revenue to the Permanent Fund averages about $42 million per year.
General Fund transfer to LEAP Cash Fund. Based on the estimated diversion to the State Public School Fund, the initiative will transfer $21.0 million in FY 2021-22 and $22.0 million starting in FY 2022-23 from the General Fund to the newly created LEAP Cash Fund. The money transferred is not subject to state constitutional spending limits.
This addresses the need for shared funding between schools and out-of-school learning remark in Mr. Lewis’ article.
For households that do not have the economic means to afford out-of-school learning opportunities, LEAP states that:
Financial aid must be distributed first to eligible children or youth who reside in household that are at or below one hundred percent of the federal poverty level.
Eligible children or youth who reside in households that are greater than one hundred and less than two hundred percent of the federal poverty level.
The next tier for financial aid is:
Eligible children or youth who reside in households that are above two hundred percent of the federal poverty level.
In all cases of financial aid:
The Authority should ensure simple and easily understandable application forms and processes. The Authority has control over when and how financial aid is distributed to approved providers that the parents choose, subject to administrative rules adopted by the board…
The Initiative also states that:
In calendar year 2022, The Authority shall, to the maximum extent practicable, distribute financial aid for eligible children or youth.
That appears to have LEAP up and running very quickly if it is on the November ballot and passed by voters. The LEAP Fiscal Note estimates in FY2021-22 expenditures will include over $50 million in grants to LEAP Providers and over $98 million in FY2022-23. The Authority Board of Directors needs to be appointed by the governor by January 15, 2022. With the speed of enacting the Initiative the question needs to be asked: Is there a similar program now in existence? And the answer is: Yes! The answer leads to Mr. Lewis, Ms. Anderson and RESCHOOL.
RESCHOOL is a non-profit organization. RESCHOOL was recently highlighted in an article in The Colorado Sun by Erica Breunlin, Many Colorado families struggle to afford pricey summer camps (https://coloradosun.com/2021/05/07/colorado-students-kids-summer-learning-camps-education-schools-coronavirus/).
Bruenlin did an excellent and accurate summation of RESHCOOL (reschoolcolorado.org):
A Colorado nonprofit is trying to bridge the opportunity gap by putting more dollars directly in the hands of parents, empowering those who know what their children need best to make decisions about how their summer plays out. ReSchool Colorado, which aims to make learning outside of school more accessible for all students, will connect nearly 800 kids to summer activities or summer resources that may otherwise dangle out of reach: attending summer camps; getting tutored; enjoying arts programming; receiving swim lessons; or obtaining materials such as books, school supplies and art kits.
… Anderson’s organization will provide low-income families $500 per child this summer to pursue summer programming, building off an initiative last summer that granted dollars to families hit especially hard by the pandemic.
… For several years, the organization also gave families grants, or “learning dollar funds,” through which it helped parents part of the Learner Advocate Network solve some of those problems and afford learning opportunities their children may otherwise not have. Those dollars have helped parents afford everything from sports equipment to instruments to camps and other enriching activities. As needs for access to summer learning escalated and families statewide last year during the pandemic, the organization shifted to fund a broader pool of parents and kids.
… Last summer, ReSchool Colorado sent money directly to families, but this year the organization has set up a technology platform, ClassWallet, where families can select from approved activities and resources they want to use their dollars toward. The organization wants to figure out how to pull off this kind of program at a much larger scale and is experimenting with the platform to see how effectively it aids families.
The organization is prioritizing low-income Colorado households with children ages 5-17.
LEAP could easily fold into this nonprofit RESCHOOL Colorado. Since LEAP will be a Colorado state entity using taxpayer’s money (the “sin tax” comes from taxpayers) that is unelected and unaccountable to any other entity in the state, including the Board of Education, should it? No. This is not the proper role of government. Mr. Lewis and Ms. Anderson have stated their agenda, as quoted above, and needs to be emphasized:
We firmly believe that the best path forward for K-12 school reform is through a new public education system, not through further tweaks to the current system
Mr. Lewis and Ms. Anderson want a “new public education system.” Out-of-school learning is their answer. RESCHOOL shows that LEAP is not needed and that private organizations can fill this perceived need for out-of-school learning. In researching organizations and groups endorsing LEAP, many of them are performing what LEAP wants to do. Let them do it under their own brand and not as a new government run school system in Colorado. RESCHOOL Colorado can be used as a model. The miscellaneous organizations that are listed under Endorsements can become one of RESCHOOL Colorado providers.
LEAP proponents have cast aside the most important issue with public schools: Colorado children across the state have fallen behind in reading, writing, math, science, and critical thinking skills. We must reform the government run school system, not create a new one that is out-of-school. We must use time spent in classrooms on these important academic subjects and let families deal with the social issues that are predominantly featured in classrooms today. This is the best solution so that “ALL Colorado Children,” not just “Eligible Children,” are given the proper tools to be a productive member of their community and his/her future workforce. Let parents choose what is best by letting them invest their educational dollars in a school that best serves their child’s needs. There is approximately $8 billion in education funding in the state Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget that is at stake; this does not include county real estate taxes. We need competition in the free market. Educators will take notice as to what preferences parents are seeking. We can agree that children learn differently and have different requirements for a successful education.
One dot to connect is RESCHOOL as one of the key endorsers of LEAP, with Mr. Lewis participating in community fund raisers to promote LEAP. His organization has a tremendous investment in the success of getting this Initiative across the finish line, including the hundreds of millions of dollars that will flow through LEAP to nonprofit organizations, including RESCHOOL.
Another dot to connect is Josh Penry, former Colorado State Senator and Colorado political operative, featured at an upcoming top dollar fund raiser in Cherry Hills. At the bottom of the invitation is a request to write checks payable to Learning Opportunities for Colorado’s Kids for attendance. Michele Haedrich is the registered agent. The proponent’s LEAP website is paid for by Learning Opportunities for Colorado’s Kids again citing Ms. Haedrich as the registered agent. Ms. Haedrich is also the Project Manager for the 76 Group (previously known as EIS Solutions), Mr. Penry’s public and government affairs firm known for managing campaigns for candidates and issues. The firm boasts that it can create advertising, collect signatures, knock on doors, and collect and analyze data using the 76 Group sister companies Ascent Media and Blitz Canvassing. Mr. Penry and his firm will be very busy and very well paid, regardless of the ultimate outcome, as they are working beginning to end on the LEAP campaign to get this initiative on the ballot and passed.
It is imperative that you read Initiative 25: LEAP. Be a responsible citizen before you vote. Listening to sound bites is never a good way to draw your conclusion on issues, especially when your vote is important. The proponents of LEAP completely ignore the lack of academic achievement experienced in our local government run schools. Creating a second, parallel public education system is not the answer, especially when our children spend their day at the “original” public school system. You have an investment in the future for “All Colorado Children,” not just “Eligible Children.” Know what you are voting for.