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*

2018

Salazar won’t run in governor’s race featuring strong education storylines

PHOTO: Denver Post File
Former U.S. Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Ken Salazar’s decision not to run for Colorado governor takes one prominent Democrat out of a still-developing campaign that promises to prominently feature public education as an issue.

The former U.S. senator and interior secretary cited family reasons for his decision to sit out the 2018 Democratic primary. Salazar, who is closely involved in raising a granddaughter who has autism, could have been a voice on public education for children with disabilities.

In a Denver Post commentary explaining why isn’t running, Salazar took a broad view of the challenges in education.

“Colorado’s education crisis needs to be solved from pre-kindergarten to college,” Salazar wrote. “It is sad that Colorado has defunded higher education and abandoned the great tradition of leading the nation with our great colleges and universities.”

Salazar’s announcement could set other plans in motion quickly in the Democratic field.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston, a prominent education reformer, and entrepreneur Noel Ginsburg, CEO of Intertech Plastics, have already announced they are running.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Arvada told the Denver Post on Thursday the “chances are very good” he will run, and could declare his candidacy soon.

Former state treasurer Cary Kennedy said she is seriously considering running, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder said he has not ruled it out, according to the Post.

Among the Republicans mulling a run: District Attorney George Brauchler, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and state Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

how's it going?

She’s no Tony Bennett or Glenda Ritz — Jennifer McCormick is charting her own course as Indiana’s schools chief

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

For years, Indiana’s state superintendents have made huge political waves while in office.

Tony Bennett was a major Republican proponent of choice-based education reform. Democrat Glenda Ritz led an administration filled with political clashes with then-Gov. Mike Pence, a staunch conservative.

But this could be changing with Indiana’s newest schools chief, Jennifer McCormick.

More than two months into her administration and more than halfway through the 2017 legislative session, educators and advocates are praising McCormick’s focus and remain optimistic about her tenure.

“The general perception is people are finding her and her staff are good to work with,” said Betsy Wiley, head of the Indiana Institute for Quality Education, a local school reform organization that made large donations to McCormick’s campaign. “I think she’s been working really hard on making sure people know that her door is open.”

As a Republican official taking office under a Republican governor, McCormick is better positioned politically to accomplish her goals. Her relationship with Gov. Eric Holcomb has appeared relatively tension-free so far. They’ve made joint announcements about state initiatives related to STEM education and workforce development, and McCormick has been on-board with his budget proposal.

McCormick said that so far, there has been lots of talking.

“We’re not always going to agree, but at least the conversations are happening,” she said. “We have our hands and eyes and voice in a lot of the education bills that we’re concerned about, so we’ve been right there at the table offering amendments” to legislators.

But mostly, McCormick has been quiet when it comes to public state policy debates.

“I think she’s learning the ropes, and rightly so,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said. “She and her team are working closely with the state board, so I consider it very good — No controversy of any kind.”

Yet McCormick’s approach doesn’t sit as well with Minority Leader Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. He said he’s worried she’s leaving too much power to top GOP lawmakers in charge of education and not taking enough initiative at the department of education.

“I’m not familiar with any of the work that she’s doing,” he said. “The work that is happening on education is happening in the House and Senate chambers … If it’s her aim to just be ‘go along, get along, whatever Rep. Behning says or Sen. Kruse says is A-OK,’ I don’t know that she’s going to have a major role to play.”

Bosma and Pelath’s difference in opinion reflects some of the debates occurring in the Indiana General Assembly this year about whether to make the state superintendent an appointed or elected position. Part of the conversation inevitably centers around how people view McCormick’s role and it’s purpose.

It’s not clear yet if McCormick will step forward with ideas of her own or be more of an administrator who solely implements the policies of lawmakers, which GOP leaders repeatedly. But she has supported Gov. Eric Holcomb’s plan to make the role an appointed one.

McCormick has testified once this year before the Indiana Senate. During that hearing last week, she expressed concerns about testing and teacher evaluation that routinely were dismissed when Ritz was in charge, such as advocating for “computer-adaptive” tests. She also told senators there should be more conversations about how test scores are tied into teacher evaluations and whether that provision should be removed.

McCormick isn’t — and never has been — in lockstep with other Republicans on education policy. That was clear during her campaign, when, despite having mostly school choice advocates and Republicans as donors, she disagreed with GOP policies and instead advocated for changes to the school funding formula and seriously evaluating the impact of state-funded vouchers for private school.

Wiley said that although McCormick hasn’t shown herself to be an aggressive supporter of all school choice policies, such as vouchers, Wiley still thinks her organization made a good investment in backing her.

“She knows she has at least four years in that role, and she intends to do and get stuff done,” Wiley said. “If she doesn’t get credit for it along the way, I just don’t think she cares.”

Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, said he’s heard from school leaders that they’re seeing more timely responses to phone calls and emails with the department of education.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said she’s appreciated the time McCormick has made to talk with ISTA members, and she has no reason to believe she’s not going to support public schools — she’s “cautiously optimistic.”

Despite accusations during her campaign that she’d be too much like her Republican predecessor, Bennett, McCormick has not aligned herself with one particular education philosophy or camp. David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, said that independence is admirable.

“She is clearly her own woman, and I think there were some expectations,” Harris said. “She has been pretty clear that she’s going to follow the agenda and approach that she thinks is best.”