Decision time

An education voter’s guide to the 2014 election

The political scene for education

The results of Colorado’s 2014 elections could have important implications for education policy, even if education hasn’t necessarily been a high visibility issue in many campaigns.

At the state level, a shift in partisan control of the governor’s office or the legislature could mean changes in academic standards (including use of the Common Core State Standards), testing and more flexibility for local school districts. But how such changes might play out is difficult to predict, given the possibility of split partisan control of the governorship and the two houses of the General Assembly.

Education groups with money – campaign committees affiliated with the Colorado Education Association and Democrats for Education Reform – are putting their campaign contribution bets on Democrats. And the reform-oriented group Climb Higher Colorado recently announced availability of a “truth squad” – executives of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds and Stand for Children – for comment on issues like Common Core and PARCC tests.

Voters statewide will decide if school districts will receive a modest amount of additional funding from expansion of casino gambling and if district-union negotiation sessions will be conducted in public. Schools districts around the state have proposed a record total amount of bond issues and property tax overrides, and Denver voters will decide on a tax increase for the Denver Preschool Program.

And several seats are up for election on Colorado’s only two elected statewide education bodies, the State Board of Education and the University of Colorado Board of Regents.

Top of the ticket

Hickenlooper and Beauprez

Education has not been a high-profile issue in the race between Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and GOP challenger Bob Beauprez.

Hickenlooper campaign materials don’t promote any new education initiatives but tout education measures he supported in recent legislative sessions, including early literacy, district financial transparency, increased funding for higher education and college scholarships, improved K-12 funding and streamlining of state early childhood programs. (See the campaign statement on education policy here.)

For the most part Beauprez’ education platform is short on details, supporting “high educational standards,” promising teachers “more flexibility” and less time spent on tests and support for school choice. Beauprez does criticize “one-size-fits-all federal approaches to education” and promises to take Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards – all standard GOP talking points these days. (See his full education statement here.)

Beauprez repeatedly has talked about the importance of early literacy, supporting many provisions already required by the READ Act, and promising his wife will launch a privately funded foundation to provide a new book every month to all Colorado children under age 5.

Education takes an even lower profile in Senate and congressional races.

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s website makes a brief reference to legislation on refinancing college debt, while GOP challenger Cory Gardner’s site mentions saving for college and his support of “efforts to entrust parents and educators with improving curriculum in their communities.”

In the hot 6th Congressional District race, Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff’s site says, “Schools aren’t factories, and students aren’t widgets. We will continue to lose effective teachers if we force them simply to teach to a test.” GOP Rep. Mike Coffman’s site makes no mention of education.

The legislature

Colorado Capitol

The fight for legislative control is focused on the Senate, where Democrats currently have only an 18-17 majority. Ground zero is Jefferson County, where three Democratic incumbents are spending big to hold their seats. Among them are Andy Kerr, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and committee member Rachel Zenzinger.

Other Senate races feature two high-profile former Democratic House members, Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Judy Solano in Adams County.

Democrats are expected to have an easier time retaining House control.

See the charts below for information about legislative races of particular interest to education. Hover over the name of a district to see a breakdown of registered voters by political party or over a candidate name to see more information about them.

State Senate

State House

State Board of Education

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There are two contested races this year. In the 3rd District Republican incumbent Marcia Neal Neal is being challenged by Democrat Henry Roman, former Pueblo 60 superintendent. Democratic incumbent Jane Goff faces Republican Laura Boggs, a former Jeffco school board member, in the 7th District.

An air of uncertainty has been added to the races by heavy independent spending in support of Democratic candidates by Democrats for Education Reform.

Democratic newcomer Valentina Flores is unopposed in the 1st District. In the 5th District GOP incumbent Paul Lundeen is running unopposed for the state House so will be replaced by a Republican appointee after the election.

» Learn more

Statewide ballot measures

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Two of this year’s four statewide ballot measure involve education.

The most visible is Amendment 68, the constitutional amendment that would allow creation of a casino in Arapahoe County, with some of the revenues earmarked for per-pupil grants to school districts statewide. Voters have been barraged with a heavy schedule of TV ads both for and against the measure. Education groups are neutral or opposed to the measure, as is traditional with proposed “sin taxes” to fund schools.

» Learn more

Proposition 104 has had a much lower profile. Backed by the conservative Independence Institute, the measure would require collective bargaining sessions between school district and employee unions be held in public. It also would require that school board strategy sessions be open. Education unions and interest groups are opposed.

» Learn more

Local district ballot measures

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It’s a record year for school district tax proposals – some two dozen districts are proposing a total of about $1.5 billion in bond issues and tax overrides just a year after voters statewide rejected a $1 billion income tax increase for K-12 funding.

Most of the money – about $1.1 billion – is being requested from voters in just two counties, Adams and Boulder. Five districts in western Adams all are on the Nov. 4 ballot, an apparently unprecedented event.

Despite a modest bump in school funding provided by the 2014 legislature, district leaders say that additional money is far from enough and that they have to ask voters for additional local revenues to cover building and program needs that can’t be put off.

» Learn more

Denver Preschool Program tax

In Denver voters will decide whether to increase and extend a sales tax that funds tuition credits for families participating in the Denver Preschool Program. The measure would increase the tax from .12 to .15 percent and extend it until 2026.

» Learn more

CU Board of Regents

Three seats on the nine-member board are being contested, and some observers think Democrats have a shot at gaining the majority on the board.

In the 6th District Democrat Naquetta Ricks and Republican John Carson are seeking the seat vacated by Republican Jim Geddes, who’s now on the Douglas County school board, where Carson formerly served. Ricks is outspending Carson, and Romanoff is given a chance at unseating Coffman in the same district.

In the 7th District, incumbent Democrat Irene Griego faces Libertarian Steve Golter in the 7th Congressional District. Both the 6th and 7th districts registration is evenly split among Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.

In the traditionally Democratic 2nd District Democrat Linda Shoemaker, Republican Kim McGahey and Libertarian Daniel Ong are running.

» Learn more (Boulder Daily Camera)

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.