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Hick education advisors chew on A66 defeat

The comments ranged from determined to glum Thursday as members of the Education Leadership Council dissected the defeat of Amendment 66.

Businesswoman Barbara Grogan said to Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, “The needs are still there, the system is still broken. So now what, Joe?”

“I don’t have answers,” said Garcia, who chairs the council, an appointed group of about three-dozen state executives, education officials and business leaders. Thursday’s session was the group’s first meeting since the Nov. 5 election at which voters overwhelmingly rejected the K-12 income tax increase proposed in A66.

Sen. Mike Johnston said, “I don’t think any of the goals changed. The question is how you work within the constraints. If there’s a new game with new rules we’ll have to figure it out.” The Denver Democrat was a key backer of the amendment and author of its companion legislation, Senate Bill 13-213.

Garcia promised that despite the loss, the Hickenlooper administration remains “committed to implementation of Senate Bill 191” and other education laws already on the books and to “enhance early childhood education in any way possible.”

Picking up on that comment, Tony Salazar, executive director of the Colorado Education Association, asked, “Are we still able to do those things well … with fidelity, with assurance that they’re going to be done in the right way?” Salazar also noted that adding any new programs for schools to implement “may cause a bit of a revolt in the education community.”

School districts statewide this year are using new content standards, implementing the new early literacy law, testing the SB 10-191 evaluation system for the first time and preparing for new statewide tests that will debut in 2015.

Margaret Carlson, president of the Summit County school board, said, “Some of them [teachers] do feel like they’re drowning,” adding, “Hopefully there’s going to be a next time” to seek an increase in education funding.

Ken DeLay, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, was glum about the next time. “The odds of getting the voters of Colorado to approve a general tax increase are very low,” saying he was discouraged about the prospects for fixing the fiscal constraints and conflicts in the state constitution.

Members of the group were a mostly A66 supporters. Piping up “as the token Republican in the room,” Rep. Carole Murray of Castle Rock said, “I think the graduated tax was a real problem for businesspeople, and I think they felt picked on” by the two-step income tax increase proposed in A66. “I heard that from businesspeople who really want to help education.”

Helayne Jones, head of the Colorado Legacy Foundation, sounded the same note, saying, “I think the message [of the election] was not that much about education” but was about the structure of the tax increase.

Jones had perhaps the most interesting comment of the afternoon, noting that conservative majorities took control of school boards in Jefferson County and the Thompson district. That may have been the most important development from the election, she said, adding, “Conservative school boards will do more damage to the reform agenda than anything else.”

Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson joined the discussion at that point, noting an energized minority of voters changed the direction of the Jeffco board. “That’s a factor we need to keep in mind in the future.” (Stevenson announced her retirement two days after the election; see this EdNews story for details.)

The council also batted around other issues, including Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed 2014-15 education budget and the possibility of teacher licensing legislation being introduced during the 2014 session. (See this story for background on the budget plan, and this article for the latest on the licensing discussion.)

Jones also had a provocative comment about licensing. “How does that legislation come forth in a way that doesn’t come across as a burden and open a door for educators to back away from” from other reforms, like teacher evaluation. “I think there are people looking for a way to back away.”

David Archer, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s education policy advisor, said, “It’s certainly something that we’re all trying to be very mindful of.”

Johnston argued that the goal of licensing reform is to streamline the process and figure out “how do we get the state out of the way.”

Jones cautioned “that message is going to be really, really important.”