State Senator Michael Johnston Essay

By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4)– The U.S. Senate is expected to vote next week on whether to confirm Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. The billionaire and school choice activist has divided the Senate and her confirmation could have big implications in Colorado.

At least two Republicans have said they would not vote to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick, which would mean there would be a 50-50 tie with Vice President Mike Pence as the tie-breaker.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

While DeVos’ nomination has been one of the most contentious, the Secretary of Education is one of the least powerful cabinet positions. Still, her confirmation would have implications for Colorado.

“Certainly the Secretary has the power to try to push her priorities,” says former State Senator Mike Johnston.

The 2018 candidate for governor is recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts on education policy. He says one of the areas where DeVos would have greatest discretion is the enforcement of civil rights protections. She says it should be left to the states.

CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd interviews Mike Johnston (credit: CBS)

“The danger is states could choose not to provide certain services to kids with certain disabilities,” said Johnston. “They could make that choice to say, ‘No we don’t provide services for autism or we don’t provide services for severe needs students.’ I would hope they wouldn’t but those are very expensive requirements.”

Johnston says DeVos also has the power to overturn the previous secretary’s regulations, “One of those that’s very significant is protections for victims of sex assault on campuses – how colleges have to respond and what they have to do in those cases is driven by the Secretary. She could undo those. Also, all the protections around keeping students from being preyed on by for-profit colleges where kids come out with a huge amount of debt and no degree. Some real restrictions were put in place that she could undo.”

(credit: CBS)

DeVos has been non-committal on whether she would keep those regulations.

Maybe most controversial is her support of school vouchers, which are unconstitutional in Colorado.

“And so she wouldn’t be able to direct those dollars into the state without some new federal legislation so then you would have a battle between the federal government and state constitution.”

But Johnston says in other states, DeVos could direct more dollars to discretionary spending on things like vouchers.

(credit: ThinkStock)

“I think the fear is will she redirect the focus away from serving the kids with the greatest needs and those districts have the least amount of resources towards other areas.”

DeVos is also a big supporter of charter schools, as is President Trump, who’s promised a $20 billion investment to help low-income children attend private and charter schools. Johnston says that’s almost half the entire education department budget.

“I just don’t know where you’d find that scale of money without vastly cutting into currently very thin school budgets.”

Mike Johnston (credit: CBS)

Most of Colorado’s education policy is set by the state legislature and 93 percent of the funding for public education comes from the state and local government.

But, Johnston says, the U.S. Education Secretary does have influence, “The federal government’s role has really been to be the policeman to protect every child to make sure that every kid, no matter what you’re in state, no matter what district you’re in, gets a fair shot and that means if you come in with a disability or you come in speaking a different language or you come in from a low income family. The Department of Education was created to protect those children’s needs and interests and there’s a lot you can do through inaction here by refusing to enforce, by refusing to invest, by refusing to support those populations, you could see real negative impacts.”

Shaun Boyd is CBS4’s political specialist. She’s a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.


By Michael Johnston

On Friday, 4 million Coloradans went to work and played football in their front yard; strangers opened doors for each other; people gave blood, offered shelter, served hot meals, held grandkids, played pick-up basketball and committed unnumbered acts of kindness and gentleness. One Coloradan dressed up like a villain and believed that by showing up at the site of America’s mythical hero he could slay our actual heroes.

It’s true there was no Batman sitting in the theater to fly down and tackle James Holmes, as he hoped there might be. He had tactical assault gear covering his whole body, ready for America to fight back.

But love is more organized than that. Love has cellphones and ambulances, nurses and doctors, complete strangers and policemen and emergency responders always at the ready. Love has nurses who will jump out of bed in the middle of the night and get family members to watch their children so they can rush to the hospital and save the life of someone they’ve never met. Love has first responders who will walk into a booby-trapped building to save the lives of neighbors they will never meet.

It must be lonely being James Holmes, spending the first part of your life planning alone for an act that will leave you sitting alone for the rest of your life. For the rest of us, life is crowded. Love is always only three numbers and one movie seat away.

We have lived our country’s history as a chapter of wars, and many of those wars we have been blessed to win. We are a team that loves each other and will fight for each other, and if you punch us in the mouth, we will fight back.

That is one of our obvious strengths, but it is not our greatest strength. America’s awesome strength to fight is overwhelmed by its irrepressible strength to love. James Holmes took 12 lives Friday. Love saved 58 lives. Policemen on the scene in minutes, strangers carrying strangers, nurses and doctors activated all over the city.

But we didn’t stop there. Love saved the 700 other people who walked out of the Aurora movie theater unhurt.

But we didn’t stop there. Love saved the 5,000 who went to see Batman all over Colorado, and the 1.2 million who saw it all over the country, who walked in and out safely with their friends, arm in arm.

But we didn’t stop there. Love claimed the 4 million other Coloradans who went to bed peacefully last night, and who woke up this morning committed to loving each other a little deeper.

The awe of last night is not that a man full of hate can take 12 people’s lives; it is that a nation full of love can save 300 million lives every day.

I sat this morning wondering what I could do to help: give blood, support victims, raise money, stop violence. How could we start to fight back?

My friends were texting me that they had plans to take their kids to Batman tonight but were now afraid to go. Others who were going to play pick-up basketball or go out to dinner were now afraid to leave home. They thought they would bunker down in their home and wonder, “How do we fight back?”

The answer is we love back. We live back. We deepen our commitments to all the unnumbered acts of kindness that make America an unrendable fabric. We respond by showing that we will play harder, and longer. We will serve more meals, play more games, eat more food, listen to more jazz, go to more movies, give more hugs, and say more “thank yous” and “I love yous” than ever before.

So while James Holmes settles into the cell where he will spend the rest of his life, wondering what we will do to fight back, we will love back. We will go to a park this afternoon and play soccer, we will go to the playground and restaurants and movie theaters of our city all weekend and all year.

He should know not only that he failed in his demented attempt to be the villain, but that Batman didn’t have to leap off the screen to stop him, because we had a far more organized and powerful force than any superhero could ever have. Even the twelve lives that he took, this nation will love so strongly and so deeply that we will ensure they get a lifetime full of love out of a life he tried to cut short.

And the 59 lives we took back will be so overrun with love that they will live their lives feeling blessed every day, and everyone who ever meets them will pass on in an instant a love they never knew they earned but we will never let them forget.

In a movie theater in Aurora 50 years from now, one of last night’s survivors will be waiting in the popcorn line and mention that he was in Theater 9 on that terrible summer night in 2012. And inexplicably, with an armful of popcorn, a total stranger will reach out and give that old man a huge hug and say, “I’m so glad you made it.”

Love back. We’ve already won.

Michael Johnston is a Democratic state senator from northeast Denver.

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