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Former Denver Schools Chief Michael Bennet Running for President

By Alyson Klein — May 02, 2019 2 min read
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Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., the former Denver schools superintendent, is joining the very crowded Democratic campaign for the White House.

Bennet, who announced his decision on CBS Thursday, has a long record in K-12 policy. As Denver schools chief, he negotiated changes to the district’s ProComp pay-for-performance plan, working with the teacher’s union, and started the city’s color-coded rating system for schools. Those reforms may not have quite the shine they once did: Denver teachers went on strike earlier this year, in part because of issues with ProComp.

In 2009, President Barack Obama seriously considered making Bennet his first education secretary. The job went instead to Arne Duncan, who at the time was the Chicago schools chief. Instead, then-Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado appointed Bennet to his Senate seat when then-Sen. Ken Salazar became secretary of the Interior.

As a senator, Bennet quickly joined the education committee, where he worked on legislation that built on Obama’s K-12 agenda. That work included a bill to create a new leaders for turnaround schools, and bipartisan legislation to create a new kind of teacher training program, one that wouldn’t let students graduate until they demonstrated that they could actually boost student achievement. Neither of those bills made it to legislative prime-time.

Bennet also tried—but didn’t succeed—in championing legislation that would have required districts to show salary equity across schools before tapping federal funding. That issue—salary comparability—is near and dear to the civil rights community, but not so appealing to the teachers’ unions.

During the development of the Every Student Succeeds Act, Bennet helped champion the Education Innovation and Research program, which helps districts and states scale up and test out promising practices. And he helped author a new pilot program in the law that allows districts to try out a “weighted student funding formula” in which money is tied directly to individual students. In the pilot, vulnerable groups—like English learners—carry with them more money than others.

Want to see how Bennet’s record compares to the rest of the field? Check out our cheat sheet on the candidates here.

Photo: U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colo., greets voters before U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a 2018 rally with young voters on the campus of the University of Colorado. (David Zalubowski/AP)

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