When the Colorado General Assembly convenes in January, Democrats will control both chambers for the first time since 2014. That shift in the balance of power, along with a lot of turnover in both chambers, means new faces on the committees that will shape education policy.
The incoming committee chairs in both chambers — state Rep. Barbara McLachlan of Durango and state Sen. Nancy Todd of Aurora — are former teachers themselves and experienced lawmakers. One of the incoming members, representative-elect Bri Buentello of Pueblo, is currently a special education teacher. The ranking Republican on the House Education Committee, state Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, is also a former teacher and school superintendent. He’s the only Republican returning to the committee from the previous session.
In the House, Democrats now hold a three-seat majority on the committees responsible for deciding which bills will advance to a floor vote. In the Senate, Democrats have a one-vote advantage on most committees.
The new Democratic majorities open the possibility of advancing issues that once stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, like funding full-day kindergarten — a priority of incoming governor Jared Polis — and expanding access to mental health services in school. But these decisions will have to be made without major new revenue and in competition with other budget needs. Democrats may also have to grapple with disagreements among their own ranks on charter schools, teacher evaluations, and school choice, issues that have long enjoyed bipartisan consensus.
But one newly appointed member of the Senate Education Committee won’t serve out his term. State Sen. Daniel Kagan, a Democrat from Cherry Hills Village, recently announced he’ll resign in January following accusations that he repeatedly used a women’s restroom in the state Capitol. State Rep. Jeff Bridges, a Democrat from Greenwood Village, has announced his intention to seek the vacancy and could take Kagan’s place on the education committee.
The other new Democrat on the Senate committee, Tammy Story, has a long record as an education advocate in Jefferson County. She worked to recall school board members there that supported charters and performance-based teacher pay.
Senator-elect Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, is a former member of the State Board of Education and served on the House Education Committee. State Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, the ranking Republican on the committee, is the former chair.
House Education Committee:
Chair: Rep. Barbara McLachlan, Durango
Vice-Chair, rep.-elect Bri Buentello, Pueblo
Rep. Janet Buckner, Aurora
Rep. James Coleman, Denver
Rep.-elect Lisa Cutter, Jefferson County
Rep. Tony Exum Sr., Colorado Springs
Rep.-elect Julie McCluskie, Dillon
Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, Commerce City
Ranking member: Rep. Jim Wilson, Salida
Rep.-elect Mark Baisley, Roxborough Park
Rep.-elect Tim Geitner, Colorado Springs
Rep.-elect Colin Larson, Ken Caryl
Rep. Kim Ransom, Littleton
Senate Education Committee:
Chair: Nancy Todd, Aurora
Vice-Chair: sen.-elect Tammy Story, Conifer
Sen. Daniel Kagan, Cherry Hills Village
Ranking member: Sen. Owen Hill, Colorado Springs
Sen.-elect Paul Lundeen, Monument