Colorado

Education-related races to follow in the primary election

People who follow education issues have several races to track Tuesday night when the Colorado primary election returns roll in.

The two contests of most direct interest are the primaries for State Board of Education seats, the Democratic fight between Valentina Flores and Taggart Hansen in the 1st District and the Republican tilt between Marcia Neal and Barbara Ann Smith in the 3rd. (See our detailed story on those races here.)

There also are education connections in three Jefferson County Republican legislative primaries.

Incumbent Democratic Sens. Andy Kerr and Rachel Zenzinger are awaiting the results of two bitter Republican primaries that seem focused on which candidates are stronger advocates of gun rights. Kerr, a veteran teacher, is chair of the Senate Education Committee. Zenzinger serves on Senate Education and was appointed to her seat late last year after longtime education figure Sen. Evie Hudak resigned to avoid a recall election over her support of gun-control bills.

In Kerr’s District 22 candidates Mario Nicolais and Tony Sanchez are battling for the GOP nomination. Sanchez, who came to Colorado from California a few years ago, is backed by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the most hardline of the state’s gun-rights groups. Nicolais has irked some Republicans with his support of civil unions and has criticized Sanchez for being a newcomer to the state.

Sanchez has raised $39,130 while Nicolais’ fundraising totals $21,714. Kerr is way ahead of both, having raised $83,340.

As a newcomer, Zenzinger is considered more vulnerable in District 19. On the GOP side, Lang Sias, a former fighter pilot, almost beat Hudak four years ago; Laura Woods has the endorsement of RMGO.

Woods has raised $43,578 and Sias $45,530, while contributions to Zenzinger’s campaign already total $54,568.

The general election races are expected to be close, as both districts are evenly balanced among Democratic, Republican unaffiliated voters.

The races could determine control of the Senate in 2015. Democrats now hold an 18-17 majority after losing two seats in gun-related recall elections last year. And a loss by either Kerr or Zenzinger could noticeably change the makeup of Senate Education.

In southern Jeffco’s heavily Republican House District 22, Rep. Justin Everett is being challenged in the GOP primary by businessman Loren Bauman, whom Everett beat handily in 2012’s Republican primary.

Everett has been a distinctly low-profile member of the House Education Committee who tends to vote no on a lot of bills. Bauman has criticized Everett for his negative voting record and for some attendance problems during the 2014 session (background here).

(Get more background on the battle for Jefferson County is this article from the Colorado Independent and in this Denver Post story.)

Bauman has been endorsed by Stand for Children, the education reform advocacy group that also has endorsed candidates in two other primaries.

In the Democratic race for House District 2, Stand has endorsed Alec Garnett, former executive director of the state Democratic Party and son of Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett. The other candidate in the race is Owen Perkins, a writer and longtime Democratic activist. They are battling to succeed House Speaker Mark Ferrandino in the heavily Democratic central Denver district.

In House District 37, which covers several southeast suburbs, Stand has endorsed Republican Michael Fields, an Aurora charter school teacher and a former GOP statehouse staffer. He’s opposed by Jack Tate, who previously ran an unsuccessful race for the Centennial City Council.

The Colorado Education Association hasn’t endorsed candidates in any legislative primaries.

Other primary notes

It’s a big year for Republican primaries, with four candidates vying to run for governor against Democrat John Hickenlooper.

None of the four – former congressman Bob Beauprez, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former state Sen. Mike Kopp and former congressman Tom Tancredo – have much of a track record on education. All have said they oppose the Common Core Standards.

In the 4th Congressional District, term-limited Sen. Scott Renfroe of Greeley, who’s been the senior Republican on Senate Education, is one of four candidates seeking the seat.

The only other statewide elected education body is the University of Colorado Board of Regents. Three seats are up for election this year, but there are no primaries. School board elections are held in odd-numbered years, but several districts around the state are expected to propose bond issues or tax overrides to their voters in November.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede