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House Democrats finally set education committee lineup

Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, Friday was named new chair of a pared-down House Education Committee by Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst.

Buckner, a retired Cherry Creek principal and administrator, has served on the committee for two years and was elected to a second House term in November. His main education initiative has been to increase funding for English language learners and to upgrade programs for those students.

Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, was named vice chair. Pettersen, who also will be starting her second term in January, has focused on early childhood issues.

Also returning to the committee is Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. The other three Democrats named to the panel haven’t served previously on Education. They are Reps. Pete Lee of Colorado Springs, Dominick Moreno of Commerce City and Alec Garnett of Denver. Garnett is a “true” freshman, having been elected to the House for the first time in November.

The committee has suffered something of a brain drain as Democratic former chair Millie Hamner of Dillon and member Dave Young of Greeley have moved to the Joint Budget Committee, whose members don’t serve on other panels. Another veteran Democrat, Cherilyn Peniston, left the education committee and the legislature because of term limits.

Many lobbyists and education activists were sorry to see Hamner leave Education, given her expertise in such complex issues as school finance and her leadership skills.

Minority Republicans, who were waiting for Hullinghorst to make her committee picks, are expected to name their five members next week.

That list will include at least two new names, given that only three GOP committee members from last session remain in the House and available for appointment. They are Reps. Justin Everett of Lakewood, Kevin Priola of Henderson and Jim Wilson of Salida.

Next year’s education panel will have only 11 members, down from 13 in recent sessions. Democratic Rep. Lois Court Denver wasn’t reappointed to the committee and instead will serve as chair of the Finance and House Services committees and as a member of two other panels.

Some statehouse observers expect House Education to serve as the “kill committee” for some bills that come from the Senate, when the November election gave Republicans an 18-17 majority.

Senate Republicans and Democrats filled their committee slots last month. Learn about the new Senate Education Committee in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.

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