policy position

Doug Robinson, GOP candidate for governor, wants more authority to fix state’s struggling schools

Doug Robinson in a campaign photo. (Courtesy Doug Robinson)

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Doug Robinson would like to see a fundamental change to Colorado’s public education system — one that gives the governor’s office far more authority.

Robinson, a former investment banker and nephew of former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said Tuesday in an interview that he believes a lack of gubernatorial oversight has led to stagnation, especially in low-performing schools.

“That’s frankly one of the reasons why we’ve not had a lot of the successes other states have had,” he said. “We have limited tools to encourage them to make changes.”

Robinson spoke to Chalkbeat in advance of the formal unveiling this week of his education platform.

One of several GOP candidates, Robinson is calling for greater investments in charter schools and STEM education, and for reforming the state’s teacher licensure policies.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Your education plan calls for expanding school choice. What does that look like and what role do private school vouchers play?

It looks like the state encouraging all of our local school districts to expand choice to all of our families.

My priority is to advocate for more choice inside the school systems we already have, and making sure all schools are getting the resources they need to compete effectively. I was very supportive of the bill to make sure charter schools got all of the mill levy revenues traditional schools are getting.

I’m open to tax credits and vouchers, but we need to proceed carefully. That might be part of the solution, but you can’t start with that or else you’ll open up a world war within the education community.

What sort of specific resources or policies would you support to improve district-run schools?

The challenge today for the governor of Colorado is that the governor doesn’t have direct control of schools like the governor does in most other states. So the governor doesn’t get to appoint anybody to the state board or the department of education. And we have local control, which is generally a good thing. So the school district gets to decide a lot of things.

A lot of governors have said, “I don’t have a lot to do here.” But what the governor has is the power of the bully pulpit.

I’d encourage statutory changes to do something like what Louisiana has done to create a Recovery School District. I fundamentally believe there isn’t a population in the state that, with the right school leadership and teachers, can’t produce great results for our kids.

I would advocate for the governor to be able to appoint the head of the department of education. And I would advocate for giving the department of education — statutorily — a bigger stick to compel accountability.

Generally, I’m a fan of more local control. You have high standards and you let the local districts get there. But if they’re failing, we need a way to reconstitute those schools. We need to do it for the kids. We cannot allow poor performance to continue.

You’re calling for public-private partnerships to increase access to STEM education. It takes a lot of time and human resources for schools to go out and create those partnerships. How would you ensure that all schools, especially those that might not have an extra teacher or aide to spare, can create those partnerships?

That’s a role where government and the governor’s office, working with the department of education, can help identify businesses or nonprofits in these communities that are looking for talent and a desire to give back and make a difference and connect them together.

Your platform says, “We must improve our (teacher) evaluation system, so we can pay our best more.” But the state’s evaluation system isn’t connected to pay. And that’s something local school districts decide. Are you suggesting this is something the state should take over — teacher salary?

No. This is more of a bully pulpit. I would not suggest the state board of education set compensation. That’s the district’s job. But we should advocate for school districts to make differentiation based on performance and to have incentives.

Even though there is a lot of research out there that suggests it doesn’t work?

There’s also research that shows that it does. I look at the experiences in some of the schools in the metro region. And business experience leads me to believe incentive compensation does work.

You’re calling for teacher licensure reform. This is something that has vexed lawmakers and Gov. John Hickenlooper. What are your ideas around reform and how are you going to succeed where others have failed?

Fundamentally, we want to put our best talent on the field. We ought to allow districts across the state to compensate and incentivize teachers to do well, and pay the physics teachers more than the gym teacher. That’s not universally happening across the state.

Whoever is the next governor, and I hope it’s me, will have an opportunity for a fresh start. It’s around leadership. It’s about a restart with a new governor. And you bring people together. And there is some compromise. And you agree to a plan. And you execute it.

You start with those harder to hire areas, such as STEM, and you provide a way for school districts to hire the talent that they need to fill those jobs and get the best teachers in the classroom. You make the reforms to allow that to happen.

Maybe they would not have to have a full teaching certificate. Districts need to be able to hire people from industry with significant experience, and who are willing to get some additional training, but not have to go back to college to get into a classroom.

Colorado Vote 2018

Polis campaign releases education plan, including new promise about teacher raises

Congressman Jared Polis meets with teachers, parents and students at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver after announcing his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Congressman Jared Polis, one of several Democrats running for governor, released an education plan for the state Wednesday that includes new details on tackling teacher shortages and better preparing high school students for work.

The Boulder Democrat wants to help school districts build affordable housing for teachers, increase teacher pay and make sure that “100 percent of Colorado’s school districts are able to offer dual and concurrent enrollment programs through an associate’s degree or professional certification, and work to boost enrollment in them.”

The education plan includes the congressman’s initial campaign promise to deliver free and universal preschool and kindergarten.

“Part of my frustration is that politicians have been talking about preschool and kindergarten for decades,” Polis said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “It’s time to stop talking … and actually do it.”

Big questions remain, however, about how Colorado would pay for Polis’s plans.

Free universal preschool and kindergarten would cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars the state does not have. Polis has acknowledged that voters will need to approve a tax increase to secure the funding necessary — and voters rejected Colorado’s last big statewide ask to fund education initiatives.

His additional promises, especially providing schools with more money to pay teachers, only adds to the price tag for his education plan. The campaign did not release any projections of how much his teacher pay raise proposal would cost.

“If a teacher can’t afford to live in the community they work in, that is not going to be an attractive profession,” he said. “We need to do a better job in Colorado making sure teachers are rewarded for their hard work.”

Other components to Polis’s plan includes providing student loan relief for teachers who commit to serving in high-need and rural areas, increasing teacher training and building and renovating more.

Polis is the latest Democrat to roll out an education platform.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston released more details earlier this week about his campaign promise for tuition-free community college and job training.

Johnston’s campaign estimates that the initiative would cost about $47 million annually. The campaign provided specifics on how the state would pay for it: by combining existing federal grants and state scholarships, revenue from online sales tax, and state workforce development funding. Savings from volunteer hours put in by tuition recipients also are factored in.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy released her education plan last month.

Like Polis, Kennedy is calling for teacher raises. She wants the state’s average salary to be closer to the national average. The former state treasurer also wants to expand preschool and job training for high school students. A key piece of Kennedy’s proposal to pay for her initiatives: reforming the state’s tax laws to generate more revenue.

Other Democrats running to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, include Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and businessman Noel Ginsburg.

The Republican field to replace Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is also crowded. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced earlier this month that she’s running. Other leading Republican candidates include former Congressman Tom Tancredo, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell. George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, dropped out of the race to instead run for attorney general.

listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools

Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.