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Upstarts clash with establishment candidates in State Board of Education primaries

The Colorado Department of Education.
The Colorado Department of Education.
Nicholas Garcia

Two upstart candidates critical of Colorado’s embrace of the Common Core State Standards and the multi-state testing consortium PARCC are challenging their respective party’s establishment candidates in Colorado’s primary election for seats on the State Board of Education.

Democrat Ilana Spiegel, an author, activist and former educator, is challenging Rebecca McClellan, former mayor pro tem of the City of Centennial, for a chance to unseat Republican incumbent Deb Scheffel, who represents Colorado’s 6th congressional district.

Scheffel is running unopposed.

Anita Stapleton, a nurse from Pueblo who is a fixture at State Board of Education meetings, is challenging Republican incumbent Joyce Rankin to represent Colorado’s 3rd congressional district on the board. Rankin, a former teacher and principal who is married to Republican state Rep. Bob Rankin, was chosen to fill the seat last year after Marcia Neal resigned, citing health reasons and board dysfunction.

The winner of that primary race will face Pueblo Democrat Christine Pacheco-Koveleski, a lawyer and former member of the Pueblo City Schools board of education. Republicans are considered to have an edge in the sprawling district.

Pacheco-Koveleski is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

The primary races set the stage for November’s general election, with control over the seven-member board on the line as the state faces crucial decisions about how to address chronically low performing schools and districts. The board faces immediate questions about the search for a permanent education commissioner after Rich Crandall’s sudden resignation in May.

Katy Anthes, who previously served as the education department’s chief of staff, is filling the position on an interim basis.

Although Republicans hold a 4-3 edge on the board, votes don’t always fall along party lines. Denver Democrat Val Flores has sided with Republicans on issues such as testing but breaks with them over other issues, including charter schools.

Board members serve six-year terms.

Both Spiegel and Stapleton have been leading voices in the debate over the testing and standards.

Spiegel previously served on a task force that made recommendations on how to rein in state standardized testing.

Stapleton has helped create a sprawling network of activists urging the state to drop the nationwide standards.

A third seat on the State Board is in play this November. Democrat Jeffery L. Walker Sr. is challenging incumbent Republican Steve Durham, the board’s chairman, to represent the 5th congressional district.

Tens of thousands of dollars have already been raised the four candidates in contested primaries.

McClellan leads in donations among all candidates with more than $23,000 raised, according to campaign finance reports. Her opponent, Spiegel, has raised more than $18,000.

Rankin’s has considerably outpaced Stapleton in fundraising. Rankin has raised more than $13,000, while Stapleton has raised less than $800.

Tuesday is the deadline to return ballots in Colorado’s mail-in ballot primary.

Read our preview of the 6th congressional primary contest here.

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