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Johnston launches gubernatorial bid with proposal for debt-free college, career training

Former State Sen. Michael Johnston announced his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston launched his gubernatorial bid Tuesday by saying Colorado’s future hinges on how the state meets the challenges of a changing economy, reimagines its schools and bridges cultural divides.

The Denver Democrat promised if he’s elected, Coloradans could earn up to two years of debt-free college or career training in exchange for community service.

“Today a high school degree won’t prepare you for the economy for the next 50 days,” Johnston said. “This means we must create a workforce that is as nimble as our rapidly changing world — where people can upgrade and change their skills over time to keep track of an economy that moves faster than ever.”

Johnston did not say how he planned to pay for the program, which he likened to the National Guard.

Johnston is a nationally recognized figure in the education reform movement.

During his time at the statehouse, he rewrote the state laws that govern how teachers are evaluated and fired. He pushed for and won in-state college tuition for students without legal status who graduated from a Colorado high schools. He also unsuccessfully campaigned for a $1 billion tax increase to fund the state’s schools.

Johnston is one of the state’s first Democrats to announce a bid to succeed Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited. The open seat in 2018 race is expected to attract all-stars from both political parties.

While Johnston has attracted national media attention in the past, his name recognition in Colorado is lower than that of other politicians considering a run, such as former Interior Secretary and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar or Congressman Ed Perlmutter.

His early announcement, less than three months after the last election, will allow him to get a leg up in fundraising. It will also give him time to reach Colorado voters who aren’t familiar with his track record — especially unaffiliated voters who in 2018 likely will be allowed to vote in the state’s first open primary.

Johnston is a Vail native. His family still owns a lodge in Eagle County where he worked during his childhood cleaning toilets and folding laundry.

In his speech, Johnston  spoke about bridging the gap between the state’s urban and rural communities, as well as Republicans and Democrats. But he criticized campaign themes of president-elect Donald Trump — whose campaign resonated with rural voters — including Trump’s call to deport undocumented immigrants and repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

“We will refuse to stand by to watch hard-working chemistry majors be deported because of the country in which they were born,” he said. “We will refuse to stand by and watch teachers who lead children who need them more than ever be deported for the country in which they were born. We will refuse to stand by and watch 400,000 Coloradans lose their health care.”

Throughout his speech he said “bold leadership” was needed to create a new economy, school system and energy sector.

Johnston’s speech was peppered with references to his role in shaping the state’s education reform movement. But he also touted his work on a rural economic package and criminal justice reform.

His school reform efforts in the past have been met with mixed results, and are likely to be a large hurdle to Johnston in the primary.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston’s children listen to him announce his gubernatorial bid.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, plays a large role in Democratic politics and has often opposed Johnston’s legislation. The union never endorsed Johnston during his state Senate campaigns.

“Our next governor will play an enormous role in school funding, state assessment, educator evaluations and many other areas critical to educators and the success of our students,” Kerrie Dallman, the union’s president, said in an email. “We need to hear from all of the candidates on their ideas to provide our students with the schools they deserve and look forward to having these conversations with every person running for our state’s highest office.”

Johnston’s campaign could be fueled in part by the deep pockets that have funded the nation’s education reform movement.

Whitney Tilson, a New York hedge fund manager and one of the founders of political nonprofit Democrats for Education Reform, in a December email newsletter called Johnston an “ed warrior and general star” and would need the support of education reform community to win.

Johnston’s bipartisan work on rural issues and criminal justice reform should bode well for him in the state’s new open primary system, said Curtis Hubbard, a political consultant for Onsight Public Affairs.

“My advice to anyone running would be ignore the unaffiliated votes at your peril,” Hubbard said.

After graduating from Yale, the Vail native got his start in education policy by joining Teach For America, a nonprofit that recruits college graduates to teach in some of the nation’s poorest schools. He went on to become a high school principal in the Mapleton School District in Adams County. And he was an education adviser for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Johnston was first appointed to the state legislature to represent northeast Denver in 2009.

After Tuesday’s announcement, Johnston set off on a two-day tour of the state with stops in Pueblo, Durango and Costilla County.

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.