Education emerges in elections |

Education emerges in elections

EDWARDS, Colorado ” Candidates from the state house and senate races talked about education Monday in front of an audience of teachers in Edwards, and the conversation was dominated by a central problem ” how to better fund schools in Colorado.

Rep. Christine Scanlan and Ali Hasan, candidates for Eagle County’s state House seat, and Rep. Al White and Ken Brenner, candidates for Eagle County’s senate seat, participated in the forum sponsored by the Eagle County Education Association.

The event wasn’t really a debate ” each of the candidates spoke in turn, without much consistency in the questions they were asked.

Scanlan, a Democrat living in Dillon and a member of the House Education Committee, said school funding is the biggest problem with education in Colorado and wants to fix the school finance act.

She said mountain communities with high costs of living, like Summit and Eagle counties, aren’t able to pay teachers good enough wages for them to stay. Teachers are trained here, stay for five years, then leave, she said.

“I would love to get in and revamp how we fund schools in Colorado,” said Scanlan, a member of Summit County’s school board.

Scanlan expressed frustration with the state justice system, which has a long list of mandatory sentences for offenders, and requires money that could be spent on school instead be spent on jails.

Scanlan supports Amendment 59, which she said would be another source of school funding for the state and would give Colorado some flexibility.

The amendment would create a savings account for education to be used during tough economic times. The savings account would be filled by surplus tax money that would normally be refunded under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, known as TABOR, which caps yearly increases in government spending. Under TABOR, if tax revenues exceed spending limits, that extra revenue is normally sent back to taxpayers.

Scanlan also supports reviewing Colorado’s academic standards, and supports programs aimed at closing so called “achievement gaps” ” those disparities in performance between students who are fluent in English and those who aren’t. She wants to see standards that challenge all students.

“You have to push harder and higher for those high achieving kids, and you have to work hard to raise the others,” Scanlan said.

Asked what he’s done lately to help Eagle County schools, Hasan, a Republican from Beaver Creek, talked about how he worked with a group of teachers to challenge the Teacher Advancement Program, known as TAP, the controversial pay system in the district that bases teacher salary on how well their students do on standardized tests.

Hasan said he supports incentive systems ” where high performing teachers get bonuses ” but didn’t like how TAP didn’t guarantee teachers the security of a pay raise every year, as with more traditional pay systems.

Unlike Scanlan, Hasan doesn’t support Amendment 59, as it would weaken TABOR and actually take away the mandate that Colorado must increase education spending every year, he said.

If the people want to put more money into schools, Hasan said the best way to do that is to put it to a vote on a statewide ballot. He would also be in favor of diverting funds from the prison system to help schools.

“Put it on a ballot,” he said. “If we’re 47th in spending, 47th in test scores ” we need to do something about it.”

Hasan said the top problem in education is “methodology” ” the focus on standardized test scores as mandated by No Child Left Behind.

“We’ve gone into No Child Left Behind hypnosis,” Hasan said.

He supports an education system based more on cooperation and teaching students in a variety of ways, reaching out to the visual learners, the auditory learners, the extroverts and the introverts. He’d support requiring teachers to receive credentials in so called “Cooperative Learning” and “Multiple Intelligence Learning.”

“Make them more well-rounded learners,” Hasan said.

White, a Republican from Hayden who’s served House District 57 the past eight years, talked about his work on the education committee in the state House of Representatives. He said he was never a teacher, and never served on a school board, but he understands the issues.

He said he helped push though a change in the School Finance act allowing school districts in high-cost-of-living areas to give teachers higher wages relative to cost of living.

Ken Brenner, a Democrat from Steamboat Springs, said Colorado schools need a lot of things to be successful ” full-day kindergarten, preschool, after-school programs, smaller class sizes and art, P.E. and vocational programs.

He too thinks that schools need more money, and it can’t be done just by shuffling money around.

“We need new money,” he said. It might have to come in the form of an increase in sales tax or income tax approved by voters, he said, but there needs to be new money.

Brenner said he would be in favor of diverting funds from the prison system into schools, and that if we put more money into education, kids might have the support needed to stay out of the prison system.

He too wants to see much of the mandatory sentencing in Colorado overhauled ” but also said the political climate in Colorado wouldn’t likely support that.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or

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