EDlection2018: Jared Polis Becomes CO Governor as Democrats Flip Control of State Senate. Will Unified Control Change Face of State’s Ed Reforms?
EDlection2018: This is one of several dozen races we’ve analyzed for the 2018 midterms that could go on to influence state or federal education policy. Get the latest headlines delivered straight to your inbox; sign up for The 74 Newsletter.
Colorado Democrat Jared Polis has become the first openly gay governor in U.S. history, defeating Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, ABC News has reported. The five-term congressman leveraged his prodigious wealth to become the third consecutive Democratic governor elected in Colorado, which has historically been a swing state.
— The Hill (@thehill) November 7, 2018
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Under previous Democratic Governors Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper, the state has embraced key elements of education reform (charter schools, a new teacher evaluation model) while eschewing taxpayer-funded school voucher programs and attacks on teachers unions . Polis himself is a charter school founder, though his stated education agenda has emphasized progressive priorities like funding universal, free pre-K. Polis has also pledged to “end decades of shameful underinvestment” in the state’s public schools, perhaps through a possible tax increase passed by statewide referendum.
One major boost to to Polis’s plans came in the elections for state Senate, which erased a one-vote GOP margin and flipped the chamber from red to blue. That Republican majority, while narrow, stymied Democratic efforts to alter the state funding formula and decrease the number of student suspensions. Polis’s party now holds unified control over the state government for the first time since 2014.
Yet some reform advocates worry that unified Democratic control may endanger the generally pro-reform bent that has prevailed under divided government. While both Polis and his primary opponent, former Democratic State Senator Mike Johnston, have been squarely in favor of promoting cooperation between charters and traditional public schools, former State Treasurer Carrie Kennedy soaked up the support of the state’s teachers unions by lamenting the charter sector’s expansion.
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The Democratic debate on schools exploded at the party’s state assembly in April, when a large portion of the audience lustily booed Jennifer Walmer, the head of the state’s chapter of Democrats for Education Reform. Kennedy won 62 percent of the assembly’s non-binding vote, though it didn’t help her top Polis in the primary several months later.
Given the ramped-up energy among Democratic groups this year, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the party pulled together after Polis won its nomination; the congressman never trailed in the polls running through Election Day, and concerns about intra-party division around charters have largely abated.
Reached for comment Tuesday night, Colorado DFER chief Walmer said she was elated at Polis’s win.
“Governor-elect Polis has long been a stalwart for progressive ed reform, from starting schools to serving on the state board of education to his time in Congress. We are thrilled with his victory and know he will do great things for Colorado kids,” she told The 74 in an email.
EDlection2018: This is one of several dozen races we’ve analyzed for the 2018 midterms that could go on to influence state or federal education policy. Get the latest headlines delivered straight to your inbox; sign up for The 74 Newsletter.Submit a Letter to the Editor