Democrats for Education Reform was behind a text message campaign urging Denver residents to write Gov. Jared Polis and Denver school board members in support of a key aspect of the district’s pay proposal and in opposition to a teachers strike, the group’s Colorado state director confirmed.
The messages purported to be from a group called “Support Students, Support Teachers,” but public records searches do not turn up any organization with that name.
An email obtained by Chalkbeat that was sent last Monday by Will Andras of DFER Colorado notes the texts sent through Phone 2 Action — an Arlington, Virginia-based company that offers “advocacy software,” including mass texting services — were meant to “engage community members around protecting the equity incentives,” a reference to bonuses for teachers at high-poverty schools, a policy on which the district has held firm.
Jennifer Walmer, head of the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, confirmed that DFER was responsible for the messages.
“I want to make it really clear we are not taking sides,” Walmer said Sunday. “We fundamentally believe teachers should be paid more and that those serving in our highest poverty schools deserve extra incentives. Our efforts were focused on pushing both sides back to the table to avoid a strike and school closures (caused by a strike) that will negatively impact Denver kids.”
Walmer acknowledged that Support Students, Support Teachers is not an official organization. Asked why DFER was not transparent about its role and why the other name was used in the texts, Walmer said that disclosure is not required, and emphasized that others in the community share the same concerns about teacher pay and a strike’s implications.
She said DFER had the ability to pull the campaign together, and chose to send the text after Thursday night’s talks between the district and the union collapsed.
“This is not us against the union,” she said. “This is not us and the district. This is about us and a broader coalition and fundamental beliefs, and trying to do everything in our power to avert a strike.”
The district and the union are negotiating how to revamp Denver’s teacher pay system, known as ProComp. Union members voted to strike to pressure the district to meet their demands, but the two sides are currently in a holding pattern as they wait to see if Polis will intervene. The district wants intervention, which could delay a strike by as much as 180 days while state labor officials try to bring the sides closer together, while the union does not.
Union supporters have also been using text messages to ask people to tell Polis to stay out of the pay dispute and allow a strike to go forward. That message, though, more clearly identifies who is behind it. The link lists the Colorado Working Families Party as the source of the letter and allows recipients to see other campaigns the group has supported.
The Working Families Party works to help progressive Democrats win primaries and pull the party to the left. Its funding comes from labor unions as well as individual members, and the group has lent its support to the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.
“Working Families is proud to put our name on anything we do, and we wonder why these other folks didn’t feel the same way,” said Wendy Howell, deputy director of the Colorado branch.
Erica Meltzer and Eric Gorski contributed to this report.