This story by Erica Meltzer appeared on Chalkbeat Colorado on November 8, 2022.
Democrats expanded their majority on the Colorado State Board of Education in an election that many education watchers have said is one of the most important on the ballot.
Two newcomers will join the Colorado State Board of Education and two incumbents will return.
Democrat Kathy Plomer, a past president of the Adams 12 school board, decisively won the election for a new statewide seat on the Colorado State Board of Education. She competed against Dan Maloit, a St. Vrain Valley parent who organized others in support of personal school.
And Rhonda Solis, former Greeley Evans school board member and Latina community activist, won this year’s closest race to represent the new 8th congressional district in Adams and Weld counties.
Two incumbents are also returning to the state school board. In the 6th congressional district, incumbent Democrat McClellan defeated Republican Molly Lamar, a Cherry Creek mother and former teacher. And in the 5th congressional district, representing Colorado Springs and El Paso County, incumbent Republican Durham defeated distant Democratic challenger Joseph Shelton, a campus guard and LGBTQ activist.
Beginning in January, Democrats will hold six seats on the state board, instead of four. The State Board grows from seven to nine members due to Colorado’s growing population.
“I feel very excited and honored,” Plomer said by phone from an election party at the Art Hotel in Denver. “I’m so glad I had the opportunity to speak to people across Colorado about what’s important to them in education.”
The election comes at a time when more voters think the schools are on the wrong track, but they are deeply divided about what the right track would be. Republicans had hoped victories by conservative school board candidates last year could pave a way to retake the state board that Democrats have held since 2016. But Colorado voters up-and-down favored the Democrats in most races.
Plomer said she hoped Democratic victories would help end some of the debates that have dominated the campaign and which appeared to be playing out two days after the election, when the current State Council passed more inclusive standards for social studies in a party-line vote calling on students to learn more about the contributions and experiences of different groups.
The decision ended a protracted process in which a progressive coalition pushed for more inclusive social studies content mandated by state law and conservatives opposed standards they described as divisive and contrary to the values of some parents. Social studies standards became a campaign issue, although the vote was to be decided by the current board.
What does the state school board do?
The state board doesn’t set school funding—those decisions belong to the legislature—and it doesn’t select textbooks or curriculum—those decisions belong to the local boards. But by setting academic standards, overseeing school accountability and teacher licensing systems, hearing charter school appeals, and setting rules for scholarship programs, the state board plays a critical role in Colorado classrooms.
The state board also hires the education officer.
And as an independently elected body, the State Board can support or oppose the will of the legislators whose laws the Board is tasked with implementing.
Republicans proposed—again—to adopt the conservative American birthright citizenship program as the basis for civic standards in Colorado, and Democrats—again—disapproved.
Plomer said she looks forward to working on other issues, such as the school’s accountability system and addressing the teacher shortage.
The next state board will be responsible for overseeing unprecedented government intervention in the long-struggling Adams 14 school district, guiding recovery from pandemic learning disabilities, hearing charter appeals in school districts grappling with declining enrollments and amid a widespread polarization to set academic standards for what schools should teach.
CD-8 is considered the most competitive district in the state and one of the most closely watched. It contains a large proportion of Hispanic voters and independent voters and narrowly lost to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
It lived up to its reputation and was by far the closest race among the four State Council seats. Solis defeated Republican Peggy Propst, a longtime educator and former member of the State Board of Education who previously represented El Paso County, by about 2,000 votes.
The Pagosa Daily Post welcomes submissions, photos, letters and videos from people who love Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Call 970-903-2673 or email firstname.lastname@example.org