SBOE Primaries Set Up Interesting November Battles

I apologize for my absence over the last week, friends. I was in Nashville eating delicious barbeque and attending the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference. This year is a special year to hang out with charter leaders, advocates, and policy wonks, as it marks the 25th anniversary of the American charter school movement. Minnesota passed the first charter school law in 1991. Since then, the movement has grown to include nearly 7,000 schools serving roughly three million students across 42 states and the District of Columbia. Yeehaw!

I learned three things at the conference. First, that Nashville’s hot, sticky weather offers a compelling argument that we should regard air conditioning as the single most important invention in human history. Second, that southern food puts all other regional foods to shame. And finally, that the American charter school movement is absolutely stuffed with inspirational people from a thousand different walks of life and of a thousand different philosophical persuasions who wake up every day thinking about how they can fight for children’s futures. Seriously, these folks are amazing.

But as much fun as I had wandering around Nashville and chatting with real-life educational superheroes, I couldn’t fully unplug from Colorado issues. In particular, readers who are politically inclined may have noticed that Colorado completed its primary elections on Tuesday. There was lots of hubbub around the Republican pick for the U.S. Senate race, and a good deal of chatter around some surprising state legislative primaries on both sides of the aisle. But very few people seem to have paid attention to primary results in one of the most important edu-areas: the Colorado State Board of Education.

A sort of strange microcosm of American politics played out during the SBOE primaries, with insurgent candidates, some of whom are deeply opposed to reform, challenging more moderate candidates for a shot at a seat on SBOE.

In the 3rd Congressional District Republican primary, ever-present Common Core opponent Anita Stapleton lost to incumbent Joyce Rankin by about 5,000 votes. Some of you may remember that Rankin was appointed to SBOE by a vacancy committee after former board president Marcia Neal loudly resigned her position in 2015. She beat out a pretty crowded field of folks hoping to fill Neal’s seat, and it looks she intends to hang on to it. She’ll face Democrat Christine Pacheco-Koveleski in November. Those who follow Colorado politics know that Rankin is married to Representative Bob Rankin, a Republican who sits on the General Assembly’s powerful Joint Budget Committee.

Meanwhile, the 6th Congressional District race is shaping up to be very interesting. Two Democrats, Illana Spiegel and Rebecca McClellan, squared off for a chance to unseat Republican Debora Scheffel, who has been on the board since 2011. Scheffel is the dean of the Colorado Christian School of Education and holds a Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Communicative Disorders from Northwestern University.

Spiegel is perhaps known for her staunch grassroots opposition to testing and accountability in public education. McClellan, on the other hand, previously served as Mayor Pro Tem of Centennial, and also served on the Centennial City Council between 2006 and 2014.

Republican Chairman Steve Durham, who was appointed by vacancy committee in 2014 to fill the seat of former SBOE chairman Paul Lundeen after Lundeen was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives (you may remember him as the representative who engineered this year’s student data privacy bill). Durham will face Democrat Jeffrey L. Walker Sr. in November’s 5th Congressional District contest.

The 6th CD race will be the one to watch in November, as control of that seat will likely decide which way the currently 4-3 Republican board swings politically. However the majority lands, it will have a major impact on choice, accountability, and other edu-issues. Then again, I suppose SBOE does have a habit of surprising me with oddly configured bipartisan votes, so I guess we’ll have to see how it shakes out. It’s going to be interesting.

I am thankfully precluded from being involved in or taking sides during political contests, so my role in the coming months will be to do what I do best: watch and provide policy commentary (and snark where appropriate).

Oh, and Happy July 4th! I’ll see you next week, when we’ll celebrate independence Little Eddie style.