Potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who donated to the campaigns of several Douglas County School Board members, said during a stop in Denver that he supports the district's court-stymied voucher program.
Doug Benevento, school board vice …
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Doug Benevento, school board vice president, introduced Bush during a town-hall style meeting April 7 at the Brown Palace Hotel. Benevento said he was acting on his own — not as a school board member — when he introduced the former Florida governor at the Denver event.
“I was doing it as a supporter of Jeb Bush,” said Benevento, one of four candidates who received a $1,000 campaign donation from Bush during the November 2013 board elections. “I've met him several times in the past. He's just really impressive.”
Bush, a Republican, reportedly said during his Brown Palace appearance that he would support Douglas County's efforts to “voucherize the entire school district.”
A decision on the voucher, or choice scholarship, program is pending in Colorado Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the case between Taxpayers for Public Education and the Douglas County School District were heard in the state's highest court in December.
The case initially was filed in 2011 after the district implemented its pilot program that allowed students' parents to use state-provided per-pupil revenue toward tuition at private, mostly religiously affiliated schools.
Benevento said, “The governor has been a long-term supporter of ours, of expanding choice in education. I think he agrees with the approach we've taken.”
That, he said, includes a wide range of educational options.
“We've expanded charters to meet the demand,” Benevento said. “We've expanded open enrollment to meet the demand. We have online education to meet the demand. Really that's what we've talked about in the past, and what his comment was targeted at — providing choice to parents so students can be put in the best position to succeed. That includes a strong neighborhood school system.”
Douglas County parent and school board critic Anne-Marie Lemieux said believes Bush's comment was inappropriate.
“My concern is the voucher program is still in the Supreme Court's hands, and they are supporting a system that hasn't even been deemed constitutionally legal yet,” she said.
She was also disturbed by Benevento's public support of Bush.
“Our current school board members have a long history of supporting presidential candidates,” she said. “It's just more politicizing of a school board that is sworn to be nonpartisan. They continue to politicize and show partisanship, versus being nonpartisan and supporting the best interest of every child.”
All the current board members are Republicans, but the school board election is officially nonpartisan.
In 2012, all seven sitting school board members — including Benevento — endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, but said they did so individually and not as a group. John Carson, former board president, toured on the Romney campaign bus and publicly praised Republican Wisconsin governor Scott Walker during school board meetings. The Douglas County Republicans endorsed the current board members in the 2009, 2011 and 2013 elections.
School board President Kevin Larsen disagrees with Lemieux's statement.
“If the board had, as a group, gone to or hosted an event (like that), then I think you could make that statement,” he said. “What any of us does individually, that's on our own time. He was there in his own capacity.”
Larsen also said he believes Bush was speaking in support of the district's educational options. The voucher program that included partnerships with private schools “is one of those options.”
“But the vast majority, and almost every other option we've put out there, is a public entity,” he said. “And there's a whole array of them, from charter to online to magnet to neighborhood. We are not trying to privatize public education. We are still very much a public school district but we have explored a few ways on the edge of the envelope in how we can deliver that.”
School board members Meghann Silverthorn, Jim Geddes and Judi Reynolds also received $1,000 each from Bush during the 2013 campaign.
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