Declaring victory

Democrats confident they’ve held House control

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino (right) briefed reporters on election results.

“We’ve very much poised to hold the majority in the state House,” Democratic Speaker Mark Ferrandino told reporters Thursday as ballots still were being counted in several tight legislative races. “We feel very confident that we are at 33 and maybe more.”

Thirty-three constitutes the bare majority in the 65-member House.

“We feel very good, knowing what remains to be counted,” he added, acknowledging that tallying continue in Adams County and elsewhere. There were indications that the Adams count might drag into Friday.

Democrats are tentatively declaring House victory based on narrow winning margins for two Arapahoe County representatives, Daniel Kagan of Cherry Hills Village and Su Ryden of Aurora.

Ferrandino acknowledged, “There are ballots to be counted in Arapahoe County, but not enough to see those [numbers] move against us. … If we were concerned we would not be sitting here today.”

The situation is murkier in a few key races for the Senate, where Democrats are hoping to hold their current 18-17 majority.

Education implications of the election

Democratic control of the House – and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s re-election – likely means the policy landscape for education and other issues will be similar to that of recent legislative sessions, regardless of what happens with the Senate. Republican takeover of both the executive and legislative branches might have opened a path to new initiatives, such as tuition tax credits.

If Democrats don’t hold the Senate, Hickenlooper still will be on familiar ground. His party controlled the Senate but Republicans ran the House during his first two years, 2011 and 2012.

The 2011 session was the single one in the last six years that didn’t produce major education legislation, partly because lawmakers were focused on revenue and budget problems. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for more details.)

Things got more interesting for education during the 2012 session, which saw passage of the READ Act, the bill intended to improve reading levels in grades K-3; an easing of school zero-tolerance policies, and passage of the law that led to Colorado joining the PARCC multi-state testing group. That last issue is likely to come back in 2015, giving rising public and lawmaker discontent about testing. (Get a full review of the 2012 session here.)

The undecided races

As of mid-afternoon Thursday, Kagan was leading Republican Candice Benge by a bit more than 400 votes. His total has been climbing slowly but steadily since Tuesday night, when he was running behind.

Ryden was leading Republican Richard Bowman by almost 600 votes. Her totals have been following a trend line similar to Kagan’s.

Five other races in both houses remain very tight, with votes still to be counted.

In Senate District 20, Sen. Cheri Jahn leads Republican Larry Queen by 116 votes. In District 24, Republican Beth Martinez Humenick leads Democrat Judy Solano by about 1,000 votes. Democrats need to win both of these to hold the Senate.

Here’s the House situation:

  • District 30 – Democratic Rep. Jenise May was trailing Republican JoAnn Windholz by about 475 votes.
  • District 31 – Republican Carol Becker held a margin of about 50 votes over Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar.
  • District 59 – Republican former Rep. J. Paul Brown was leading Democratic current Rep. Mike McLachlan by about 230 votes.

Many familiar faces will be back, but some won’t

The races have been decided for current members of the House and Senate education committees.

Democrats Millie Hamner (the chair), John Buckner, Lois Court, Rhonda Fields, Brittany Pettersn and Dave Young won re-election, as did Republicans Justin Everett, Kevin Priola and Jim Wilson.

Three 2014 members – Republicans Frank McNulty and Carole Murray and Democrat Cherilyn Peniston – won’t be returning because of term limits. And Republican Chris Holbert will be leaving because he won a Senate seat.

On Senate Education, Democratic chair Andy Kerr narrowly won re-election while fellow Jeffco Democrat Rachel Zenzinger lost.

Four members – Democrats Mike Johnston and Nancy Todd and Republicans Vicki Marble and Mark Scheffel – are in the middle of their terms and weren’t on the ballot. And Republican Scott Renfroe won’t be returning because of term limits.

Another familiar education figure will be joining the Senate as a freshman. Mike Merrifield had long service in the House as chair of the education committee. (Solano also had multiple terms on House Education.)

So new members will be filling vacant seats on the education committees, and past membership doesn’t necessarily mean continued service. Legislative leaders often shuffle committee memberships after an election, based on member preferences and political needs.

Ferrandino won’t be presiding over the new, smaller majority because he’s also term limited and now works as the chief financial officer for Denver Public 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

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

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.”