Oct 31, 2023 - Election

Denver school board race turns negative amid big spending

political mailers

Photo: Courtesy of Chalkbeat

More than $1 million in campaign spending. Dark-money attack mailers. And a TV commercial.

What's happening: This year's election for Denver school board is big-time politics.

  • The citywide at-large race is even turning negative with candidate Kwame Spearman decrying a mailer sent by supporters of rival John Youngquist as racist, our education reporting partners at Chalkbeat write.
  • It also attacked Spearman in a mailer that featured him on one side under the label of "bully" and a sad white child on the other. Spearman, who is black, called the juxtaposition "dog whistling."

Why it matters: This is not normal for school board races.

State of play: A dark-money organization affiliated with charter schools called Better Leaders, Stronger Schools is behind the escalated campaign.

  • Formed in 2021, the group is affiliated with Denver Families for Public Schools and works to elect charter-friendly candidates.

Be smart: Right now, all seven school board members are backed by the local teachers union, as well as Spearman in the at-large race.

Follow the money: Better Leaders is outspending the local teachers union 4 to 1 and aired the first TV ad in a Denver school board race in recent memory.

What to know: Youngquist, 57, is a former teacher, principal and school district administrator who served two stints as the leader at East High School, where his two daughters currently go to school. He currently works with a youth-focused gang intervention program.

  • Spearman, 39, ran for Denver mayor but dropped out of the race before the election. He stepped down as CEO of the troubled Tattered Cover bookstore earlier this year.

Details: Both candidates support school choice for parents and the return of police officers to schools. But Spearman has pledged to remove the officers by the end of his first term.

  • Youngquist's top priority is tripling the number of health clinics for students inside schools, while Spearman is focused on building affordable housing for teachers on district-owned land.

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