The political scene for education

The results of Colorado’s 2014 elections could have important implications for education policy, even if education hasn’t necessarily been a high visibility issue in many campaigns.

At the state level, a shift in partisan control of the governor’s office or the legislature could mean changes in academic standards (including use of the Common Core State Standards), testing and more flexibility for local school districts. But how such changes might play out is difficult to predict, given the possibility of split partisan control of the governorship and the two houses of the General Assembly.

Education groups with money – campaign committees affiliated with the Colorado Education Association and Democrats for Education Reform – are putting their campaign contribution bets on Democrats. And the reform-oriented group Climb Higher Colorado recently announced availability of a “truth squad” – executives of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds and Stand for Children – for comment on issues like Common Core and PARCC tests.

Voters statewide will decide if school districts will receive a modest amount of additional funding from expansion of casino gambling and if district-union negotiation sessions will be conducted in public. Schools districts around the state have proposed a record total amount of bond issues and property tax overrides, and Denver voters will decide on a tax increase for the Denver Preschool Program.

And several seats are up for election on Colorado’s only two elected statewide education bodies, the State Board of Education and the University of Colorado Board of Regents.

Top of the ticket

Hickenlooper and Beauprez

Education has not been a high-profile issue in the race between Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and GOP challenger Bob Beauprez.

Hickenlooper campaign materials don’t promote any new education initiatives but tout education measures he supported in recent legislative sessions, including early literacy, district financial transparency, increased funding for higher education and college scholarships, improved K-12 funding and streamlining of state early childhood programs. (See the campaign statement on education policy here.)

For the most part Beauprez’ education platform is short on details, supporting “high educational standards,” promising teachers “more flexibility” and less time spent on tests and support for school choice. Beauprez does criticize “one-size-fits-all federal approaches to education” and promises to take Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards – all standard GOP talking points these days. (See his full education statement here.)

Beauprez repeatedly has talked about the importance of early literacy, supporting many provisions already required by the READ Act, and promising his wife will launch a privately funded foundation to provide a new book every month to all Colorado children under age 5.

Education takes an even lower profile in Senate and congressional races.

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s website makes a brief reference to legislation on refinancing college debt, while GOP challenger Cory Gardner’s site mentions saving for college and his support of “efforts to entrust parents and educators with improving curriculum in their communities.”

In the hot 6th Congressional District race, Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff’s site says, “Schools aren’t factories, and students aren’t widgets. We will continue to lose effective teachers if we force them simply to teach to a test.” GOP Rep. Mike Coffman’s site makes no mention of education.

The legislature

Colorado Capitol

The fight for legislative control is focused on the Senate, where Democrats currently have only an 18-17 majority. Ground zero is Jefferson County, where three Democratic incumbents are spending big to hold their seats. Among them are Andy Kerr, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and committee member Rachel Zenzinger.

Other Senate races feature two high-profile former Democratic House members, Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Judy Solano in Adams County.

Democrats are expected to have an easier time retaining House control.

See the charts below for information about legislative races of particular interest to education. Hover over the name of a district to see a breakdown of registered voters by political party or over a candidate name to see more information about them.

State Senate

State House

State Board of Education

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There are two contested races this year. In the 3rd District Republican incumbent Marcia Neal Neal is being challenged by Democrat Henry Roman, former Pueblo 60 superintendent. Democratic incumbent Jane Goff faces Republican Laura Boggs, a former Jeffco school board member, in the 7th District.

An air of uncertainty has been added to the races by heavy independent spending in support of Democratic candidates by Democrats for Education Reform.

Democratic newcomer Valentina Flores is unopposed in the 1st District. In the 5th District GOP incumbent Paul Lundeen is running unopposed for the state House so will be replaced by a Republican appointee after the election.

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Statewide ballot measures

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Two of this year’s four statewide ballot measure involve education.

The most visible is Amendment 68, the constitutional amendment that would allow creation of a casino in Arapahoe County, with some of the revenues earmarked for per-pupil grants to school districts statewide. Voters have been barraged with a heavy schedule of TV ads both for and against the measure. Education groups are neutral or opposed to the measure, as is traditional with proposed “sin taxes” to fund schools.

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Proposition 104 has had a much lower profile. Backed by the conservative Independence Institute, the measure would require collective bargaining sessions between school district and employee unions be held in public. It also would require that school board strategy sessions be open. Education unions and interest groups are opposed.

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Local district ballot measures

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It’s a record year for school district tax proposals – some two dozen districts are proposing a total of about $1.5 billion in bond issues and tax overrides just a year after voters statewide rejected a $1 billion income tax increase for K-12 funding.

Most of the money – about $1.1 billion – is being requested from voters in just two counties, Adams and Boulder. Five districts in western Adams all are on the Nov. 4 ballot, an apparently unprecedented event.

Despite a modest bump in school funding provided by the 2014 legislature, district leaders say that additional money is far from enough and that they have to ask voters for additional local revenues to cover building and program needs that can’t be put off.

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Denver Preschool Program tax

In Denver voters will decide whether to increase and extend a sales tax that funds tuition credits for families participating in the Denver Preschool Program. The measure would increase the tax from .12 to .15 percent and extend it until 2026.

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CU Board of Regents

Three seats on the nine-member board are being contested, and some observers think Democrats have a shot at gaining the majority on the board.

In the 6th District Democrat Naquetta Ricks and Republican John Carson are seeking the seat vacated by Republican Jim Geddes, who’s now on the Douglas County school board, where Carson formerly served. Ricks is outspending Carson, and Romanoff is given a chance at unseating Coffman in the same district.

In the 7th District, incumbent Democrat Irene Griego faces Libertarian Steve Golter in the 7th Congressional District. Both the 6th and 7th districts registration is evenly split among Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.

In the traditionally Democratic 2nd District Democrat Linda Shoemaker, Republican Kim McGahey and Libertarian Daniel Ong are running.

» Learn more (Boulder Daily Camera)