Election 2014 Caravan of Delights: Colorado Gubernatorial Race

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 31, 2014 3 min read
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As we get closer to the Nov. 4 general election, I will take a look each day at a state election of interest. (If you’ve missed my election reporting from California, Florida, and Georgia, you’ve still got time to catch up!) I’ll look at polling numbers and the candidates’ general positions on K-12 issues, and I’ll also highlight

the political and policy environments that are influencing the debate about public schools. For the sake of brevity, I’ll only focus on the Democratic and Republican candidates. Today I’ll look at the race for governor in Colorado.

The 2013 election in Colorado featured a proposed tax increase of just under $1 billion, intended to decrease class sizes and restore arts and physical education programs in schools. The proposal got thumped at the polls. It’s risky to attribute broad political trends to a single event, but did that rejection of Amendment 66 signal that 2014 could be a tough election year for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who backed the tax increase? He’s overseen big policy changes, including shifts in teacher evaluations, and GOP nominee Bob Beauprez (a former member of Congress) could take the state in very different directions on several fronts.

Hickenlooper held a sizable lead heading into the summer, but it had all but evaporated by July. Beauprez has kept it close ever since, even nudging ahead in Real Clear Politics’ running polling averages for awhile, and the race is now a virtual tie.

Bob Beauprez

Beauprez served in Congress from 2003 to 2007, but when it comes to education policy, he implicates Washington in his view of what’s wrong with K-12. He wants Colorado to dump the Common Core State Standards (a decision that ultimately lies with the state school board, which is having its own elections this year) as well as other “one-size-fits all” federal approaches to education, although he doesn’t specify which of those approaches Colorado should toss out. The Republican is also a big supporter of charter schools, as well as homeschooling.

And taking a page out of some Democrats’ playbooks, he says he wants to create a “Teachers’ Bill of Rights” to free them from what he calls onerous testing requirements.

In a recent TV ad focused on education, he also extols the virtues of increasing career and technical education programs as well as boosting reading programs in the early years:

He’s gotten endorsements from two officials with the Alliance for Choice in Education, including executive director Norton Rainey.

John Hickenlooper

The point person for education policy in the Colorado legislature is Sen. Mike Johnston, a Democrat representing Denver, who authored the state’s teacher evaluation overhaul in 2010 as well as a new funding formula that ultimately failed to get lift-off because of the failure of Amendment 66. But the full impact of that bill, which was supposed to really kick in during the 2014-15 school year on the matter of tying test scores to teacher evaluations, was delayed this year.

Hickenlooper highlights his support of the READ Act, which Colorado passed in 2012 to provide greater support for academic interventions in the early grades to improve student literacy. He also toutes the Public School Financial Transparency Act, a law approved this year that requires districts to post a host of budget information online, including credit and debit card statements and quarterly financial statements. However, some districts in the state say the new law may not actually be valuable for the general public.

Colorado schools made national news earlier this year when students at Jefferson County Public Schools protested proposals from the school board about how to teach U.S. history. How (or whether) that conflict will impact the election landscape is unclear, but it revealed the deep political tensions that accompany many discussions about teaching and education policy.

Other Delights in the Caravan

One of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races is in Colorado, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is trying to stave off GOP challenger U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner. In addition, as I mentioned above, there are also state school board race in Colorado, and Chalkbeat Colorado recently reported on the large amount of money being poured into those elections by Raising Colorado, an affiliate of Democrats for Education Reform. Their campaign spending tab now tops $200,000.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.