Andrew Romanoff talks education

Andrew Romanoff, the former Colorado Speaker of the House and current candidate for U.S. Senate.

Andrew Romanoff proved he was not afraid to get dirty tackling tough education issues when, in a 2007 tour of rural schools, he poked his head into bat-guano filled attics to check out failing roofs and climbed atop rickety metal ladders to explore dubious fire escapes.

That experience eventually led to passage of Colorado’s first major investment in the capital, rather than operational, needs of schools statewide, a program known as BEST or Building Excellent Schools Today.

“It is the largest investment in school construction in state history,” said Romanoff, a Democrat who was then Speaker of the House, “probably because it’s virtually the only significant investment in school construction that we’ve made at a state level in the history of Colorado.”

Scroll to the bottom to see video clips of the EdNews interview with Romanoff.

In 2008, he got his hands dirty – figuratively – by diving into the state’s messy school funding problems, crafting a proposal to reconcile the demands of Amendment 23, the initiative that increases state education funding, with the constraints of the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights or TABOR, the constitutional amendment that limits the revenues the state can keep.

Romanoff had already proven his mettle for compromise as a leader in the 2005 passage of Referendum C, building a bipartisan effort that persuaded Colorado voters to agree to a five-year “time out” from TABOR to prevent deep cuts in state programs.

The idea behind the 2008 plan, which became Amendment 59, was a permanent fix to the conflict between Amendment 23 and TABOR.

“The proposal that we authored said let’s invest the revenues that come into the state in excess of TABOR’s limits so when the economy is booming and revenue is rolling in, the money that would otherwise be rebated under TABOR would be instead sent to a rainy day fund, a savings account for education,” Romanoff said.

But placed on the longest state ballot since 1912 as the national economy was beginning to sour, the plan was rejected by voters.

“It’s really hard to make the case to finance a rainy day fund when it’s already raining,” Romanoff said.

So what does the U.S. Senate hopeful, who’ll face Michael Bennet in the August primary, have to say about the federal government’s role in education?


“The federal government as a warehouse of research or facilitator of best practices and information – that would be the perfect role for the federal government to serve,” he said. “I think if the feds are going to require states to do things, they should pay for it.”

He likes the voluntary National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP, called the nation’s report card, because it allows for comparisons across state lines. He supports the setting of national goals and standards – so long as they don’t “water down” any state’s own standards.

“I don’t support the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, a proposal that one of the other candidates in this race made,” he said. “I think that’s crazy at a time when we’re engaged in an international economic competition.

“We need, I believe, a national commitment to improving student achievement and the benefits that can come from bringing some of the best practitioners in the country together and setting high national standards.”

As a lawmaker, Romanoff frequently cited three things as his educational priorities – early childhood education, recruiting and retaining quality teachers, and providing safe learning environments. He still calls early childhood education “the single best place that we can invest our hard-earned dollars.”

And as a community college teacher for the past 15 years, he has concerns about the push to link student achievement to decisions about teachers – though he declined to say how he would have voted on Colorado’s recently passed, and controversial, educator effectiveness bill.

“The single most important ingredient of a kid’s success is, of course, what goes on at home. But the second most important ingredient that contributes to student achievement is the quality of the teacher,” he said. “Since it’s harder for us to legislate good parenting, a lot of efforts in the capital and elsewhere are aimed at legislating good teaching …

“I’ve talked to a lot of teachers who feel demoralized because they’re expected to solve the problems that society has neglected.”

Click on the videos below to hear more from Romanoff. Click here to see the candidate’s education issues page.

Romanoff talks about a student who taught him about educational inequities across Colorado:

Romanoff talks about the federal government’s role in education:

Romanoff talks about the federal grant competition known as Race to the Top:

Romanoff talks about using student achievement to evaluate teachers, an emphasis of Race to the Top:

Romanoff talks about choice and charters, another emphasis of Race to the Top:

This is the first in an occasional video series in which candidates for the November ballot discuss their views on education. Reporter Nancy Mitchell can be reached at [email protected] or 303-478-4573.

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.