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Hick: No new money for education

School funding will remain tight, Democrat John Hickenlooper warned Monday as he unveiled his plans for education if he’s elected governor.

“We’re not going to throw money at the problem,” the Denver mayor said during a news conference at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton with running mate Joe Garcia, president of Colorado State University-Pueblo. “There is no appetite” among the public for new taxes, Hickenlooper said.

Still, the pair presented a seven-page education policy brief that ranges from testing to teacher improvement to better coordination of the higher education system.

In several places the brief promises to continue and complete education initiatives started by Gov. Bill Ritter and the legislature in the last three years. As befits a campaign document, the brief covers a lot of ground but doesn’t offer detailed specifics.

The language of the brief seems to set up Hickenlooper as the governor who actually will implement what others have started.

Scroll to bottom to see videos of Hickenlooper and Garcia at Monday’s press event.

“While we will set ambitious education goals like each of Colorado’s previous governors, our administration will focus on the implementation of practical strategies to improve student achievement, high school graduation rates, and success in higher education.

“The next governor will also need to work to ensure that implementation of new legislation is done in collaboration with local school districts, teachers and principals to support a fair, credible evaluation system based on reliable data and accompanied by meaningful mentoring and professional development.

“Given budget constraints, improving education in Colorado is not an easy task and there are no easy solutions.”

Despite that support for education reform work that has been done to date, Hickenlooper expressed a note of frustration when he noted there’s “so little to show for it.”

Criticizing the CSAP tests, whose demise was called for in 2008 legislation but which probably won’t be replaced until 2014, Hickenlooper said, “We will do everything we can to give it [the changeover] greater urgency.”

He also called for greater use of online education and expansion of school broadband services; more public-private partnerships in education, and better coordination and integration of higher education in particular and the whole system in general.

“We have to continue blurring those lines.”

Asked if Garcia would play the same role in education as Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien has played for Ritter, Hickenlooper said, “It’s premature to think about specific roles,” but quickly added, “I’d be a fool not to give him tremendous responsibility and authority.”

Garcia also has been president of Pikes Peak Community College and active in some Ritter-era education reforms, including serving as co-chair of the governor’s P-20 Education Coordinating Council.

“Education is going to be at the core of everything we do,” Hickenlooper said, noting that education consumes more than half the state’s general fund budget.

“I want to be a leader in making sure we provide the best education system for students. The fiscal situation of the state makes it harder to do so, but it is important for our kids and our economy to make sure that Colorado is leading the way in education,” Hickenlooper said.

Details of Hickenlooper-Garcia education policy brief

The document lists four key priorities:

  • Build on the work that is currently underway involving the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) to develop a more strategic assessment tool to inform and impact student outcomes and respond accordingly.
  • Improve transparency in our school districts and hold leaders responsible while giving them the authority and tools to effectuate change.
  • Develop and support better teachers and better principals using more integrated technologies across the state.
  • Create and expand career-oriented partnerships with community-based organizations and businesses.

The document also stresses use of technology in educational improvement, including:

  • Expand broadband access statewide to allow greater access to the web and share best practices about innovative and effective ways to integrate mobile learning with classroom-based instruction.
  • Provide more resources to teachers through high-tech, on-line venues and 21st Century learning tools.
  • Build a high quality and accessible on-line course content library at a secondary level using the best teachers and classrooms in the state. Content is shared at little to no added cost to districts and schools.
  • Provide high quality dual-enrollment and remedial online courses for high school students and adults reentering college. Courses should have assessments that measure college readiness and quality.

On the issue of developing more effective teachers and principals, the document urges improved parent involvement, support of both college and alternative teacher preparation programs, rewarding leadership programs that show results, encouraging businesses to provide financial incentives for educators and promises to “work closely with our teachers, principals, state legislature and local school districts to build on the work that has begun on ‘teacher effectiveness’ and ensure that implementation of new legislation [Senate Bill 10-191] is successful.”

The brief also proposes ensuring “a fair level of support for all public schools, including charters” and to “support the work of new and existing education entrepreneurs to respond to district and school-level needs and/or to start new innovative programs and initiatives.” It also urges expansion of “online content and instruction in order to give all students, regardless of address, access to high quality public school/program options.”

The briefing paper offers general, sometime-in-the-future support for better education funding.

“We should assess Colorado’s education funding and the direct ties it has to economic development. We should also develop long-term strategies to build a 21st Century school system that keep pace with comparable states while also competing for new federal grant funds. … One of the biggest challenges we face is that other states are spending more on education than we are.”

The document’s section on higher education also acknowledges the financial issues also facing state colleges and universities.

“Colorado is at a crossroads in higher education. If we don’t find a way to appropriately reform, fund and support higher education in Colorado, we will fall behind other states and cripple our ability to attract high-paying jobs in the future. It’s that simple and that stark. Nobody in Colorado wants to see our schools close down at the expense of our students and communities. … Colorado ranks 48th in the nation in local support of higher education – this has to change.”

When and if more funding becomes available, the document hints that new dollars won’t go just to institutions. “We will balance these new resources between the institutions that provide education and the students who need financial aid to attend college.”

Efficiency, flexibility stressed for higher ed

There’s also a heavy stress on innovation and further efficiencies and creation of “more flexibility across our higher education systems,” including better credit transfer systems and incentives for quicker college completion.

“We will ask our two-year and four-year colleges and universities to share resources in providing relevant degrees. We should look at ways to rationalize curriculums by program and location, and we will take advantage of technology to provide courses across institutions. … Through public-private partnerships we can provide financial incentives for institutions to collaborate on curriculum and degrees.”

Those sorts of ideas are much discussed in higher ed circles these days, but individual institutions, particularly the state’s larger ones, remain cautious about the details of such sharing.

The education brief also notes, “We need to strengthen the role of the higher education coordinating board (the Colorado Commission on Higher Education) and its policies to focus on improving access and student success in our public institutions.”

The idea of strengthening CCHE, a big topic in the current higher ed strategic planning process, also is not universally supported by institution leaders.

Seen in the crowd

In addition to campaign workers, reporters and curious students, Hickenlooper’s audience included a group of Colorado Education Association officials, including executive director Tony Salazar, and representatives of the business-based reform group Colorado Succeeds, including President Tim Taylor and board chair Zack Neumeyer. Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and author of the new educator effectiveness law, and Van Schoales of Education Reform Now also were in the audience.

The CEA-affiliated Public Education Committee gave Hickenlooper’s campaign $5,300 in the reporting period ending July 6.

Hickenlooper’s opponents haven’t yet offered major statements on education.

Republican Don Maes has five paragraphs about the subject on his website, saying, “Reform is an ongoing process and the school leadership must recognize the need for constant improvement. … More competition between schools and transparency in educational funding and results will produce more productive teachers, better students and administrations.”

Maes testified against adoption of the Common Core Standards at a recent State Board of Education meeting.

Renegade Republican Tom Tancredo, now flying the flag of the fringe American Constitution Party, doesn’t mention education on his website. Tancredo was a middle school civics teacher when elected to the legislature in 1976, and he later became regional representative of the U.S. Department of Education under the Reagan and first Bush administrations. Tancredo significantly downsized that office and then went on to be president of the Independence Institute and a congressman.

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