Here We Go

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.

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.