U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., a former Denver schools chief, has taken the slot on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee made vacant by the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Sen. Bennet’s move was especially welcomed by that subset of Democrats who support policies such as alternative teacher-pay systems and charter schools. Such advocates hope that Mr. Bennet, with his on-the-ground experience, can help fill the void on education issues created by Sen. Kennedy’s passing.
“He’s bold, he’s collaborative, and has real-world experience with affecting change in his home state,” said Charles Barone, the director of federal relations for Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee in New York City.
As the superintendent of the 75,000-student Denver schools, Mr. Bennet helped negotiate changes to the district’s ProComp system, which offers performance-based pay to teachers.
Sen. Bennet, who seems particularly interested in teacher-quality issues, is said to be one of the Obama administration’s Senate allies on K-12 policy. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter appointed him to the Senate to replace Ken Salazar, who left to become U.S. secretary of the interior.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan applauded Mr. Bennet’s appointment.
“We are lucky to have someone with his passion, knowledge, and commitment joining the committee,” Mr. Duncan said in a statement.
Sen. Bennet, a rookie in electoral politics, is likely to face a tough Democratic primary challenge next year from former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff. Mr. Bennet has already garnered the endorsement of President Barack Obama, however.
If he makes it through the primary, Sen. Bennet may also have an uphill general-election battle. Republican contenders include former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, who is edging out Mr. Bennet in some early polls. Other contenders include Ken Buck, a district attorney from Weld County, and Ryan Frazier, an Aurora city councilman.
A version of this article appeared in the October 07, 2009 edition of Education Week as Colorado’s Bennet Joins Senate Education Panel