getting to know you

Meet the Colorado lawmakers on the state legislature’s education committees

PHOTO: Denver Post File
Then state Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, on the House floor in 2015. Priola was elected to the state Senate and will serve on that chamber's education committee.

Plenty of familiar faces — and political fault lines — are returning next year to the state legislature’s education committees.

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Republican from Colorado Springs, and Rep. Brittany Pettersen, a Democrat from Lakewood, will return as chairs of their respective committees.

Many topics the committees and the rest of the General Assembly will wrestle with next year should be familiar: the state’s testing system, funding for charter schools, and teacher hiring and training. New issues likely to surface include how some districts and schools are given waivers from some state policies, and how the state may respond to the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Senate Education Committee is made up of Capitol veterans deeply entrenched in their respective ideological camps. The committee’s hearings could be fiercely partisan.

Republicans joining Hill on the Senate committee will be Sen.-elect Kevin Priola of Henderson, who previously served on the House Education Committee; Sen.-elect Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs, who previously served in the House until 2014, when he was term limited; and Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton. Neville served on the Senate committee last session.

Joining the four Republicans are three Democrats: Sen. Michael Merrifield of Colorado Springs, Nancy Todd of Aurora, and Sen.-elect Rachel Zenzinger. Both Merrifield and Todd served on the committee last session. Zenzinger served on the committee between 2012 and 2014 before losing her Senate seat to Laura Woods. Zenzinger beat Woods in a hard-fought race last month that captured the state’s political interest.

Because Republicans control the Senate, they get more seats on the committee. Likewise, Democrats have control of the House and are able to appoint more members to that chamber’s committees.

It’s less clear how policy debates may develop on the House Education Committee, in part because of the high number of new members. Six of the 13 — yes, 13 — members are new to the committee. And of the six, three Democrats are entirely new to the General Assembly.

The House committee is more racially and geographically diverse than the Senate’s, which is made up of entirely white lawmakers from the Front Range.

The House committee includes Rep.-elect Barbara McLachlan, a Durango Democrat, and Rep. Jim Wilson, a Republican from Salida. Rep. Janet Buckner, an Aurora Democrat, is black, and Rep. Clarice Navarro, a Pueblo Republican, is Hispanic.

The first day of the legislative session is Jan. 11.

Here’s the full list of members for both education committees. Members who were not on the committees last session are noted with an asterisk:

Senate Education
Sen. Owen Hill, Chair, R-Colorado Springs
Sen.-elect Kevin Priola, Vice Chair, R-Henderson*
Sen.-elect Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs*
Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton
Sen. Michael Merrifield D-Colorado Springs
Sen. Nancy Todd D-Aurora
Sen.-elect Rachel Zenzinger D-Arvada*

House Education
Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, chairwoman
Rep. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, vice chairwoman
Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver
Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs
Rep.-elect Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village*
Rep.-elect Tony Exum Sr., D-Colorado Springs*
Rep.-elect Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango*
Rep. Jim Wilson, Ranking Member, R-Salida
Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton
Rep. Tim Leonard, R-Evergreen*
Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Colorado Springs
Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo*
Rep. Lang Sias, R-Arvada*

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.