Colorado senator touts education reform efforts

Colorado Sen. Mike Johnston described during Tuesday’s monthly Ed Sessions luncheon a sweeping education reform package that goes before Colorado voters in November.

This package — Amendment 66 — has been in the works for 30 months, 350 public meetings and countless hours at finding consensus between key stakeholders.

United States Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan called it the single most ambitious reform effort in the country, according to Johnston.

Meridian superintendent Linda Clark nodded her support at some of the items in Amendment 66 and the process for its creation during the discussion at the Linen Building.

“It’s time for a state conversation here — what is the model for Idaho,” said Clark, who leads Idaho’s largest school district. “We don’t have a system where every kid gets ‘The Fourth R’ — prepared for the reality of life.”

Johnston said Colorado is in a position to build a national model with Amendment 66, which was approved by lawmakers but now needs approval from more than half of voters. Early polls say the approval rate is 53 percent, Johnston said.

“This will dramatically changes how we fund and what we fund and make sure we make strategic investments that drive real outcomes,” said Johnston, who is driving the Colorado campaign for voter support.

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The legislation is 200 pages long but here are highlights Johnson presented:

  • Provides full-day kindergarten instead of half-day
  • Offers early childhood education
  • Pays for extended school days and years to districts and schools that want it
  • Invests in teacher and administrator retention and recruitment with a statewide “career ladder” that compensates for extra abilities and talents, like mentoring
  • Funds innovative practices
  • Makes all funding fully transparent to taxpayers and parents
  • Forces the system to be budgeted around students so tax dollars follow kids
  • Gives districts additional dollars for students in poverty and with special needs

“You have to invest in education but that investment has to be transparent and accountable,” Johnston said. “Invest where you can drive the biggest change for students.”

This reform package didn’t come together easily, Johnston said. There were some “very, very hard moments” because some at the table said “no more money until schools reform,” while others said “no more reform until schools get more money.”

Johnson insideJohnston told the Ed Sessions crowd that he read about the 21 recommendations that a task force of 31 Idaho leaders gave to the governor. He said Idaho should resist the temptation to think small and to “pick the easy one first” but should instead work through the details of all the recommendations and “never lose sight of how all the pieces have to fit together.”

Johnston was appointed and then elected to the Colorado Senate. He has degrees from Yale University and Harvard, he taught English in Mississippi and was a principal at alternative schools in Colorado. Johnston served as an informal adviser on education policy to the Obama presidential campaign.

Time Magazine ranked Johnston as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” Rising Stars in Politics.

Disclaimer: Idaho Education News and the Ed Sessions are funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.