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Tuesday churn: Wisconsin rallies, vouchers

What’s churning:

Rallies in support of, and in opposition to, the protesting teachers and government employees in Wisconsin will be held at noon today at the Capitol. The support rally on the west steps is one of several around the nation this week, many being organized by the Service Employees International Union.

Colorado WINS, an association of some 31,000 state employees, is associated with the SEIU. It’s also associated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers.

The Northern Colorado Tea Party will hold a counter rally on the Capitol’s west sidewalk, along Lincoln Street. SEIU snagged the permit for the west steps.

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget-balancing package includes changes in collective bargaining rights for some public employees, including teachers, as well as increases in employee contributions to health insurance and pensions. That plan sparked days of continuing rallies and protests at the state Capitol in Madison.

While proposed 2011-12 cuts of $332 million in Colorado school spending could lead to teacher job losses and hit their salaries, decisions on salaries, health insurance and collective bargaining are made at the district level here.

Employer and employee contribution rates to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association are set in law by the legislature. No proposed change for teachers is pending this year, and a Republican-sponsored bill to allow school boards to decrease their pension contributions while increasing those made by employees was killed last week.

Legislation is pending that would continue for one more year a shift for state employees. That program, in effect now, increased employee pension deductions by 2.5 percent and decreased the state’s contribution by the same percentage. Several thousand higher education employees are included in that.

And Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed increasing that shift by another 2 percent. He argues it’s a fairer way to impose cuts on all state employees. Gov. Bill Ritter used employee furloughs as a budget balancing measure, but many state workers – such as State Patrol officers, prison guards and health workers – were exempt from furloughs because of safety concerns.

Also of note today, the Douglas County School District is kicking off a series of community meetings about its school choice recommendations, including “options certificates,” otherwise known as vouchers.

The first meeting is set from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight at Ranch View Middle School, 1731 West Wildcat Reserve Parkway in Highlands Ranch. Additional meetings are scheduled for the same times tomorrow, at Cimarron Middle School, 12130 Canterberry Parkway in Parker, and Thursday, at Castle Rock Middle School, 2575 Meadows Blvd. in Castle Rock.

Learn more about the proposed options certificates and the other choice options on recently revamped district web pages. Douglas County school board members also are considering expanded choice offerings such as charters, online and contract schools but vouchers have gotten the most attention. Read EdNews’ in-depth background story, “A different kind of voucher plan,” and see a short video of speakers at a recent board meeting.

After the community meetings, district leaders are scheduled to present their recommendations on choice to the school board next month. Board meetings are scheduled March 1 and 15; agendas are not yet posted.

What’s on tap:

The University of Colorado Board of Regents opens a two-day session at 1 p.m. at the Qwest Research Park, 4001 Discovery Drive in Boulder. Agenda.

The Boulder Valley school board meets at 5 p.m. Agenda.

The Poudre board convenes at 5:30 p.m. Agenda.

Good reads from elsewhere:

  • Ravitch on Wisconsin: Diane Ravitch explains why she stands with Wisconsin protesters. Washington Post/Education Week
  • Empty promises?: Race to the Top losers lack cash to make desired changes. Education Week
  • Big classes: Detroit high school class sizes will rise to 60 under approved plan. Wall Street Journal

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