Democrats to keep majority on Colorado State Board of Education

The Colorado Department of Education.
Three of the seven seats on the Colorado State Board of Education are up for grabs. (Nicholas Garcia )

Incumbent Republican Joyce Rankin appeared likely to keep her seat on the Colorado State Board of Education, even as Democrats maintain their majority with two new members.

Three of the seven seats for State Board of Education were up for grabs, and only one of them featured an incumbent.

In District 1, which includes Denver, Democrat Lisa Escárcega defeated Republican Sydnnia Wulff, an attorney, and two third-party candidates. Escárcega will replace current board member Val Flores, who failed to make the ballot. Escárcega recently retired as the head of the Colorado Association of School Executives and was previously chief accountability officer for Aurora Public Schools.

“I came into this campaign to bring a strong voice for the k - 12 classroom. Thank you to all who are ready to put our students and educators first!” Escárcega posted on her Facebook page late Tuesday night.

In District 3, which covers the western slope, incumbent Rankin, a Republican and former educator, maintained a steady lead against Democratic challenger Mayling Simpson, a former Steamboat Springs school board member. Rankin’s lead was the smallest of the three races.

In District 7, which covers the northwestern suburbs including Jeffco, Democrat Karla Esser, a retired college administrator and education professor, defeated Republican Nancy Pallozzi in the race to replace board member Jane Goff, who has reached the term limit.

Read more: Voter guide: Meet the candidates running for Colorado State Board of Education

Colorado’s State Board of Education is responsible for setting education standards, administering several grants, ruling on disputes between charter schools and districts, and evaluating the performance of schools and districts.

Currently the board is overseeing the state’s support for schools during the pandemic, efforts to improve reading instruction, and mandates to improve low-performing schools and districts. That includes the order given to the Adams 14 district to improve by hiring an outside manager for at least four years. MGT Consulting, the district’s for-profit manager, is in the second year of the four-year contract. The district is the first in the state to be run by an outside company.

Monitoring those improvement efforts has become complicated by the fact that the state cancelled last spring’s standardized testing as schools shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus. A decision about this year’s testing has not been made, but at least some education leaders are asking the state to continue to put off testing.

The board has a majority of Democrat members and Tuesday night’s results showed that majority would be maintained. The board previously had long been run by a majority of Republican members until the 2016 election. State board members serve six-year terms.

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