Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia told an audience of school board members and administrators Friday that they should double down on the state’s slate of education reforms.

“We know we can’t stray from the path of high standards, rigorous assessments and educator effectiveness,” Garcia said.

“We need to agree to stay the course,” he added. “We know we’re making dramatic changes; we know it’s hard. If we back off now we risk, quite frankly, creating vast ripples of inequality and inequity in our education system.”

Garcia was a keynote speaker at the annual convention of the Colorado Association of School Boards, most of whose members are struggling with – and a bit cranky about – implementation of new state-mandated content standards, tests and educator evaluations.

Garcia is the Hickenlooper administration’s point man on education issues, and his speech came about a month before the legislature convenes for a session during which some lawmakers would like to revisit the reforms of recent years, particularly testing.

He reminded the audience of nearly 1,000 that “We came together as a state in 2008” to pass the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. “That didn’t come from the feds, that came from all of us.” Known as CAP4K, the legislation set in motion new standards and tests plus other requirements.

“It’s scary, it’s tough, but we can’t back down six years later,” Garcia said. “We know we can’t stray from the path of high standards, rigorous assessments and educator effectiveness. … We can come up with practical solutions to these conflicts. We have to, we must.”

Turning to testing, Garcia said, “It’s very clear districts are struggling with the volume of assessments. … We are open to streamlining the volume of assessments, [but] we can’t do it at the expense of giving up on fairness and consistency across schools. … The use of standards, as much as we hate that, and assessments are necessary.”

Garcia says funding solution ultimately lies with voters

The lieutenant governor drew applause when he said, “One of the most important things we need to do is adequately fund our schools,” quickly adding, “Of course that’s easier said than done.”

Citing constitutional limits on state spending and tax increases, Garcia said Colorado is in “kind of crazy situation – a budget crisis when the economy is doing just fine. … How do we stop this car before we hit a brick wall?”

Noting that voters rejected a proposed $1 billion tax increase for K-12 in 2013, Garcia said, “The movement for change must come from the ground up, and it must come from you. … We need to make the argument persuasively that we can spend the money effectively.”

“I wish I had a better answer, but I don’t. If I did I might be governor, not lieutenant governor,” he quipped.

Before moving into the tough issues of state mandates and funding, Garcia worked to warm the crowd up with some “good news,” as he put it, about education.

“We are making progress,” he said, citing recent modest improvements in early literacy, high school graduation rates, college remediation rates and other indicators.

“Student by student, percentage point by percentage point Colorado’s education system is producing better results every year, despite historically challenging budgetary times.”