Just How Tired Will Colorado Legislators Be of Education Reform?

Two days from now Colorado’s state legislature starts the 2010 session. And with a recession cutting into tax revenues, many lawmakers will show up without the enthusiasm to create new programs or boost spending on existing programs. As legislative sessions go, this one has a particularly strange character about it. Tough and unpleasant decisions will have to be made.

But what about K-12 schools? As Todd Engdahl explains in a thorough preview for Ed News Colorado, at least a few lawmakers (Engdahl quoted many more from the majority Democratic Party) are not looking forward to education reform debates when budget cuts are on the table:

Some wish that were the case. “I’m hoping there isn’t too much [education legislation], quite frankly,” said Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora and a member of House Ed.

That wish doesn’t look like it will come true. “The legislature never stops reforming public education,” notes Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, a veteran human-services and education lobbyist who was appointed to Senate earlier this year. He’ll serve on Senate Education.

Based on what EdNews learned during interviews with a wide range of legislators, lobbyists, advocates and executive branch officials, the 2010 legislature will face dozens of education bills.

If nothing else, that last fact will help keep me busy writing here. Some of the education bills — like the drive to reform Colorado’s teacher tenure system — are no doubt driven by the federal Race to the Top grant program. Otherwise, many have a hard time envisioning reform without putting more money on the table.

Yet even as I’m writing this, the Fordham Foundation and American Enterprise Institute are co-hosting in Washington, D.C., the event “A Penny Saved: How Schools and Districts Can Tighten Their Belts While Serving Students Better” (watch live streaming video here). And there’s local interest. At 12:50 PM today Colorado time, commissioner Dwight Jones will take part in a panel titled “Overcoming Barriers to Change.”

Even if the economic downturn has contributed to some education reform fatigue in the legislature, now is not the time to take our eye off the ball but to fix our focus on the vital sweeping changes that can be made in spite of less money in the public school coffers.

Just how tired of education reform issues will legislators be this year? That’s one good reason to tune into the activity down at the State Capitol. With my friends in the Education Policy Center, I’ll be helping to keep an eye on it.