Colorado’s State Board of Education faces critical decisions, including supporting schools through a pandemic, advancing a major initiative to improve reading instruction, and ensuring low-performing schools improve.
Three seats on the seven-member board are up for election, and at least two new people will join the board in January.
Democrat Lisa Escárcega is seeking to represent District 1, which includes Denver, as well as Glendale, Englewood, Sheridan, and Cherry Hills Village. Escárcega, recently retired as the head of the Colorado Association of School Executives, has a long career in education, including as chief accountability officer for Aurora Public Schools. She would replace current board member Val Flores, who failed to make the ballot.
Republican Sydnnia Wulff, an attorney, is also running for the District 1 seat. Wulff did not respond to our questionnaire. On her own website, she describes herself as an attorney and an immigrant whose father instilled in her the importance of education.
In District 3, which encompasses most of western Colorado, incumbent Republican Joyce Rankin is seeking a second term. A former elementary school teacher and principal, Rankin has made improving reading instruction one of her top priorities. Seeking to replace Rankin is Mayling Simpson, a former Steamboat Springs school board member with a long career in public health and humanitarian work.
In District 7, which includes Denver’s northwest suburbs, Democrat Karla Esser, a retired college administrator and education professor, and Republican Nancy Pallozzi are seeking to replace current board member Jane Goff, who is barred by term limits from running again.
In 2016, Democrats took control of the seven-member State Board of Education for the first time in 50 years. This election is very unlikely to change the partisan balance on the board. However, it could usher in changes to how the State Board weighs the importance of standardized tests and thinks about holding low-performing schools accountable.
A key job of the State Board is overseeing improvement efforts in districts and schools that have struggled to raise student achievement for years. Several of the candidates on this year’s ballot have raised questions about the use of standardized tests to measure school quality.
State board members serve six-year terms. The state board appoints the commissioner of education, sets state standards, and handles charter school appeals, requests for waivers from state regulations, teacher licensure, and the administration of many grants approved by the legislature.