getting to know you

Meet the Colorado lawmakers on the state legislature’s education committees

PHOTO: Denver Post File
Then state Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, on the House floor in 2015. Priola was elected to the state Senate and will serve on that chamber's education committee.

Plenty of familiar faces — and political fault lines — are returning next year to the state legislature’s education committees.

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Republican from Colorado Springs, and Rep. Brittany Pettersen, a Democrat from Lakewood, will return as chairs of their respective committees.

Many topics the committees and the rest of the General Assembly will wrestle with next year should be familiar: the state’s testing system, funding for charter schools, and teacher hiring and training. New issues likely to surface include how some districts and schools are given waivers from some state policies, and how the state may respond to the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Senate Education Committee is made up of Capitol veterans deeply entrenched in their respective ideological camps. The committee’s hearings could be fiercely partisan.

Republicans joining Hill on the Senate committee will be Sen.-elect Kevin Priola of Henderson, who previously served on the House Education Committee; Sen.-elect Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs, who previously served in the House until 2014, when he was term limited; and Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton. Neville served on the Senate committee last session.

Joining the four Republicans are three Democrats: Sen. Michael Merrifield of Colorado Springs, Nancy Todd of Aurora, and Sen.-elect Rachel Zenzinger. Both Merrifield and Todd served on the committee last session. Zenzinger served on the committee between 2012 and 2014 before losing her Senate seat to Laura Woods. Zenzinger beat Woods in a hard-fought race last month that captured the state’s political interest.

Because Republicans control the Senate, they get more seats on the committee. Likewise, Democrats have control of the House and are able to appoint more members to that chamber’s committees.

It’s less clear how policy debates may develop on the House Education Committee, in part because of the high number of new members. Six of the 13 — yes, 13 — members are new to the committee. And of the six, three Democrats are entirely new to the General Assembly.

The House committee is more racially and geographically diverse than the Senate’s, which is made up of entirely white lawmakers from the Front Range.

The House committee includes Rep.-elect Barbara McLachlan, a Durango Democrat, and Rep. Jim Wilson, a Republican from Salida. Rep. Janet Buckner, an Aurora Democrat, is black, and Rep. Clarice Navarro, a Pueblo Republican, is Hispanic.

The first day of the legislative session is Jan. 11.

Here’s the full list of members for both education committees. Members who were not on the committees last session are noted with an asterisk:

Senate Education
Sen. Owen Hill, Chair, R-Colorado Springs
Sen.-elect Kevin Priola, Vice Chair, R-Henderson*
Sen.-elect Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs*
Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton
Sen. Michael Merrifield D-Colorado Springs
Sen. Nancy Todd D-Aurora
Sen.-elect Rachel Zenzinger D-Arvada*

House Education
Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, chairwoman
Rep. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, vice chairwoman
Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver
Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs
Rep.-elect Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village*
Rep.-elect Tony Exum Sr., D-Colorado Springs*
Rep.-elect Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango*
Rep. Jim Wilson, Ranking Member, R-Salida
Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton
Rep. Tim Leonard, R-Evergreen*
Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Colorado Springs
Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo*
Rep. Lang Sias, R-Arvada*

moving on up

With Holcomb’s support, Indiana’s next education plan heads to Washington

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov. Eric Holcomb address lawmakers and the public during his State of the State Address earlier this year. Today, he signed off on Indiana's ESSA plan.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has given his stamp of approval to Indiana’s next education plan under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

In a tweet Monday afternoon, state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick thanked Holcomb for his support:

Holcomb was required to weigh in on the plan, but his approval wasn’t necessary for it to move forward. If he disagreed with the changes proposed by McCormick and the Indiana Department of Education, he could have indicated that today.

So far, it seems that the state’s top education policymakers — Holcomb, McCormick and the Indiana State Board of Education — have reached some level of consensus on how to move forward.

The state has worked for months to revamp its accountability system and educational goals to align with ESSA, which Congress passed in 2015.

Although there are many similarities between this plan and the previous plan under the No Child Left Behind waiver, several changes affect state A-F grades. Going forward, they will factor in measures that recognize the progress of English-learners and measures not solely based on test scores, such as student attendance.

However, the new plan also alters the state’s graduation rate formula to match new federal requirements, a change that has a number of educators, policymakers and parents worried because it means students who earn a general diploma no longer count as graduates to the federal government.

You can read more about the specifics of the state plan in our ESSA explainer and see all of our ESSA coverage here.

Politics & Policy

Over pulled pork, rural Indiana parents make the case to Betsy DeVos that public schools are important

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Betsy DeVos met with families at Eastern Hancock High School.

At Eastern Hancock High School in rural Indiana, the hog roast is an annual tradition.

This year, the event was also a chance to show off a thriving traditional public school to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who often highlights private and charter schools and advocates for school choice.

“We wanted to make sure that she understands the importance of public education,” said Natalie Schilling, a parent of two students at Eastern Hancock.

Schilling and her husband, Eric, had the chance to share their perspective sitting with DeVos over pulled pork sandwiches in the high school cafeteria. They were surrounded by families grabbing food ahead of a football game between Eastern Hancock and rival Knightstown. DeVos was there, she said, for a great game.

The visit was the conclusion of a six-state trip branded as the “Rethink Schools” tour. On the tour, DeVos visited several schools serving unusual populations, such as an Indianapolis high school for students recovering from addiction and a Colorado private school for students with autism.

“It was really, really exciting to see all these opportunities that kids have to learn in different environments or different approaches,” she said. “It just once again reaffirms to me the importance of the opportunity for every child to find that right niche for them.”

Earlier Friday DeVos stopped at charter schools in Gary and Indianapolis. But Eastern Hancock was the only traditional public school on her itinerary in Indiana.

Eastern Hancock, however, has been reshaped by school choice policies like those that DeVos has long supported. Indiana allows open enrollment, so students can attend schools in neighboring districts if they can get transportation. At Eastern Hancock, DeVos noted, many students come from other districts.

Eric Schilling said many of those students come because of the strong agriculture programs at the school, including an animal science facility and horticulture building.

The hog roast Friday night was a fundraiser for FFA, an agricultural education program. Students in the organization spent months planning the event, roasted the hogs and pulled the pork themselves, said Gracie Johnson, a senior at Eastern and the chapter and district president of FFA.

It was a little bit thrilling to have secretary DeVos visit her school, Johnson said. “I think it’s pretty awesome. Especially since we’re so small, it kind of makes us feel like we’re important.”

Natalie Schilling said that one of the most important things DeVos can do is support agricultural and career and technical education. But she said that she was a bit concerned about DeVos’ past experience and agenda.

“I think everybody is a little worried,” she said. “We have to keep talking about it and keep pushing it so she will understand what skills students are learning. It’s going to be able to fuel the workforce.”