Who Is In Charge

Legislators to watch in 2010

A mixture of new and old voices will be heard on key education issues during the 2010 legislative session.

The House and Senate education committees each have two new members for this session, but the more significant changes seem to be on the Senate side.

Sens. Michael Johnston and Pat Steadman, both Denver Democrats, were appointed to the legislature last summer and will serve on Senate Ed.

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver
Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver

Johnston has quickly gained a high profile because he’s sponsoring the teacher quality legislation that’s expected to be the top education policy issue for lawmakers this year. Johnston is a former Mapleton principal, a teacher and sometime education advisor to the Obama administration.

Steadman was a veteran lobbyist on education and human services issues and is expected to be an informed and active participant in education debates, despite his freshman status.

The two will take the committee seats vacated by former Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, and Sen. Chris Romer, also a Denver Democrat. Groff, who had a major impact on education reform legislation in recent sessions, resigned from the legislature to take a job with the U.S. Department of Education. Romer, Groff’s

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver

ally on many education reform issues, has shifted his focus to budget issues this session and also has gotten tangled in the messy discussions over medical marijuana regulation.

Veteran lawmaker Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, remains as chair of Senate Ed, but Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, has moved into the vice chair post. A former member of the State Board of Education, the hard-working Hudak seems to have interest in every piece of education legislation.

Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, is expected to be heavily involved this session in fiscal reform issues, including a proposal to create a special commission to study financial provisions of the state constitution and recommend changes to voters.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs

On the Republican side of the committee table, Sens. Keith King of Colorado Springs and Nancy Spence of Centennial will be heavily involved in school finance and education reform discussions, likely allying with Johnston on some issues. King also will be a voice in higher education discussions.

Outside the committee, Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, will be the central figure in the debate over college and university financial flexibility legislation.

The Democratic majority on the House Education Committee contains the same lineup as last session, headed by chair Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs. Merrifield is the only member of either education committee who is term limited after this session, so 2010 will be the last act of what’s been an influential legislative career, especially since Democrats gained the House majority earlier in the decade.

Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs

House Ed generally takes a more traditional view on school governance and education reform issues, so one key test of any reform proposal’s viability is whether it can pass the committee. Merrifield has been working with Johnston on teacher quality legislation.

Other key Democratic players on House Ed are expected to be Reps. Christine Scanlan of Dillon and Karen Middleton of Aurora. Scanlan was a prime sponsor of the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, and Middleton chaired the Interim Committee on School Finance last summer.

Among the Republicans, Rep. Tom Massey, R-Pagosa Springs, has been influential and successful in working with the other party and is expected to cosponsor some key pieces of legislation with Democrats.

The two new Republicans on the panel are Reps. Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch and Scott Tipton of Cortez. McNulty, a conservative with a sharp sense of humor and a reputation for partisan jabs, may prove to be an interesting foil for Merrifield.

Another key House member who’s serving in his last session is Speaker Terrence Carroll, D-Denver, a partner with Groff on education reform initiatives during the last two sessions. Carroll, an advocate of charter schools, is expected to cosponsor charter school regulatory legislation this session.

Of course, the six members of the Joint Budget Committee play a powerful role on education budget issues, perhaps more so this year because of the state’s budget crisis and the prospect of significant cuts in both K-12 and higher education spending. Three of the four Democrats on the JBC are term limited.

Members of the three committees

House Education

Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, chair
Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, vice chair
Rep. Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada
Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora
Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster
Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon
Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge
Rep Nancy Todd, D-Aurora
Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch
Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs
Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock
Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez

Senate Education

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, chair
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, vice chair
Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder
Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver
Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs
Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker
Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial

Joint Budget

Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, chair
Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, vice chair
Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver
Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs
Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo
Sen. Al White, R- Hayden

Legislative directory and contact information

EdNews 2010 legislative preview

listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools

Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.

Colorado Votes 2018

Five things we learned when Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates got on the same stage to talk about education

Colorado Republicans running for governor addressed some of the state's school board members at a forum hosted by the state's association of school boards. From left are George Brauchler, Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Nine Republicans and Democrats hoping to become Colorado’s next governor offered contrasting views Friday of the state’s public schools to an audience of more than 100 local school board members.

Most of the five Republicans told the crowd of locally elected officials — who are charged by the state’s constitution with governing Colorado’s public schools — that their programs were in need of improvement and innovation, and that they were there to help.

The four Democrats hoping to succeed fellow Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, pledged to reform the state’s tax code to send more money to schools.

The candidates spoke at the annual fall delegation conference of the state’s association of school boards.It was the first forum of its kind to address education issues exclusively this election election cycle.

Unlike previous elections, Colorado’s public education system has been a key policy debate early in the campaign. Several candidates, especially Democrats, have worked on education issues before.

Here are our five takeaways from the forum:

The Republican candidates didn’t pull any punches when they said the state’s public schools were in need of improvement — and several said that they were the ones to do it.

From District Attorney George Brauchler to businessman Doug Robinson, every Republican candidate said one part or another of the state’s school system needed to do better.

“Education is life itself,” said former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell. “And there is no greater challenge facing our state than 50 percent of our at-risk kids who graduate can’t complete college-level course work.”

Both Mitchell and Robinson pointed to their experience as entrepreneurs as evidence that they could help set the state’s schools free of what they consider unnecessary red tape. Brauchler called for empowering teachers and parents.

Every Democrat and several Republicans agreed that the state’s schools were in a “funding crisis.” But they offered very different paths forward.

It was an easy question for Democrats. Businessman Noel Ginsburg, former state Sen. Michael Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne were in lock-step that the state’s schools are in need of more money.

“If we don’t fundamentally solve this crisis, the rest of the issues don’t matter,” Johnston said.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne talk after a forum for gubernatorial candidates. Both are Democrats. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Johnston and Kennedy forcefully pledged to take on the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits how much tax revenue the state can collect and requires voter approval to raise taxes.

Lynne was more tempered. While she acknowledged tax reform was needed, she said wanted a legislative committee working on school finance to complete its work before suggesting any overhauls.

Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker and a small business owner, was the only GOP candidate who said he would take on the state’s complicated tax laws. If elected, he promised to establish a committee to send a reform proposal to voters.

Robinson and Brauchler acknowledged that schools were in a funding crunch. But they stopped short of saying they’d send more money to schools.

Mitchell said “he wasn’t sure” if there was a funding crisis, but added, “The system should be reformed before it’s fully funded.”

PERA, the state’s employee retirement program, could play a prominent issue in the election — especially for Republicans.

Earlier at the conference, school board members received a briefing on a proposed overhaul to the state’s retirement program, which includes school district employees.

While the situation is not as dire as it was a decade ago, the program’s governing board has become so increasingly worried about unfunded liabilities that it’s asking state lawmakers to pass a reform package to provide more financial stability.

Two Republicans, Brauchler and Steve Barlock, who co-chaired President Trump’s campaign in Colorado, said PERA was in crisis. Barlock warned school board members that their budgets were in jeopardy as lawmakers fiddle with the system.

Neither went into any detail about how they hoped to see the retirement program made more fiscally stable. But watch for this issue to gain greater traction on the campaign trail, especially as Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton ramps up his gubernatorial campaign, and as lawmakers begin to wrestle with PERA reforms next year. (Stapleton did not attend the forum.)

Some candidates offered careful responses to a question about school choice. Others, not so much.

Every Democrat and one Republican, Brauchler, said they respected a family’s right to choose the best school for their children. But that choice, they said, should not come at the expense of traditional, district-run schools.

“I’m concerned that we’d build a system where the success of some schools is coming at the expense of other schools,” Kennedy said.

Republicans strongly supported charter schools, and in some cases, vouchers that use taxpayer dollars to pay for private schools. Robinson called on creating new ways to authorize charter schools. Mitchell said he wanted to repeal a provision in the state’s constitution that has been used to rebuff private school vouchers.

There’s no party line over rural schools.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the state needed to step up to help its rural schools, which are typically underfunded compared to schools along the Front Range. They need more teachers, better infrastructure and fewer regulations, the candidates said.

“We need to get rural areas into the modern age,” Robinson said.