Colorado State Board of Education gets more Democrats, picks new chair

Rhonda Solis, one of two new members on the Colorado State Board of Education, takes the oath of office Wednesday. (Courtesy of the Colorado Department of Education)

Two new State Board of Education members took the oath of office Wednesday and joined a board with an expanded Democratic majority that will hire a new Colorado education commissioner and oversee the state response to numerous learning challenges.

The board unanimously chose Rebecca McClellan, a Littleton Democrat, as its new chair, replacing Angelika Schroeder of Boulder. McClellan won reelection to her second term in November.

Board member Lisa Escárcega, a Denver Democrat, is the new vice chair, replacing Republican Steve Durham of Colorado Springs. 

Both Schroeder and Durham, who also won reelection in November, continue to serve on the State Board of Education. 

“I want to make sure I run a clean meeting where everyone has a chance to be heard,” McClellan said in an interview. “Every one of these members was sent here to represent their districts and in the case of board member Plomer, the entire state.”

The board is growing to nine members, up from seven, with six Democrats and three Republicans. The board members are elected from each congressional district. Due to Colorado’s growing population, there’s a new district in northern Colorado and a new statewide, at-large seat. 

Rebecca McClellan takes the oath of office for her second term on the Colorado State Board of Education. She was unanimously chosen as the new board chair. (Courtesy of the Colorado Department of Education)

Kathy Plomer, a former Adams 12 Five Star Schools board president, is the new at-large member, and Rhonda Solis, a former Greeley-Evans school board member, represents the new 8th Congressional District. 

Solis said she’ll seek to represent community perspectives as the State Board works to improve school performance, and said she would balance her passion as an advocate with the responsibilities of being a board member.

Plomer said she’ll work to elevate the concerns she heard on the campaign trail from school communities around the state and make sure state programs work on the local level. She pointed to that morning’s detailed discussion about how to administer a newly approved free school lunch program as an example of the issues she’s excited to work on. 

Republican board member Joyce Rankin, who represented western Colorado, resigned effective Tuesday, and a vacancy committee made up of local party officials still needs to select a replacement. The new member will serve through November 2024 and then need to seek election to finish the rest of Rankin’s term.

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Education Commissioner Katy Anthes plans to resign this summer after six years leading the state education department. One of the new board’s first jobs will be developing a process to hire the next commissioner. On Wednesday, the board agreed to look for a search firm to lead a national search.

The State Board also is overseeing the reorganization of the Adams 14 school district after more than a decade of persistently low test scores — an effort district leaders have resisted — as well as improvement efforts in other schools on a state watchlist and the larger pandemic recovery effort. 

In addition to hiring the commissioner, the State Board sets academic standards, oversees the school accountability and teacher licensure systems, hears charter school appeals, and sets rules for grant programs.

The State Board also implements laws passed by the Colorado General Assembly and can put its own stamp on policies through the rules governing the administration of new programs and grants.

Bureau Chief Erica Meltzer covers education policy and politics and oversees Chalkbeat Colorado’s education coverage. Contact Erica at emeltzer@chalkbeat.org.

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