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.

Rival Vision

Gubernatorial candidate Noel Ginsburg wants to do away with Colorado’s educator effectiveness law

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)

If elected governor, businessman Noel Ginsburg says he would work to expand apprenticeship programs, raise teacher salaries, send more money to schools – and repeal a signature legislative achievement of one of his Democratic primary rivals.

Ginsburg, who is running for elected office for the first time, currently runs CareerWise Colorado, an apprenticeship program that Gov. John Hickenlooper considers one of the chief accomplishments of his administration.

In its second year, it’s still a long way from reaching its goal of serving 20,000 students statewide. Ginsburg is also the founder and CEO of Intertech Plastics, a company that does custom injection molding, and the co-founder, with his wife Leslie, of the I Have A Dream Foundation, which works to increase the state’s high school graduation rate.

Ginsburg released an education platform this week that calls for putting a lot more money into education and giving teachers more of a voice in policy decisions. Teachers unions have already endorsed former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy.

Ginsburg told Chalkbeat he wouldn’t have minded getting their endorsement, but he understands that as a newcomer to politics, he needs to work hard to “claw my way to viability.”

“The teachers union, whether they support me or not, they will be my partners,” he said. “I don’t believe the unions have all the answers, but boy, do they deserve a seat at the table.”

Ginsburg’s education platform calls for:

  • Expanding high-quality apprenticeship programs
  • Filling the skills gap so that more students graduate into good-paying jobs
  • Convincing voters to approve changes to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to let the state keep more money
  • Convincing voters to approve tax increases for education
  • Restoring trust in government when it comes to education
  • Improving teacher pay
  • Repealing 2010 legislation that requires teachers to demonstrate effectiveness and ties teacher pay to student performance

Former state Sen. Mike Johnston, now a Democratic candidate for governor, was the author of that legislation, Senate Bill 191. A former teacher and school principal, Johnston stood behind the law in a 2016 Chalkbeat interview.

But Ginsburg said that in his view, the law had been used as a “club” against teachers and students.

“You need those measurements, but if you are measured by the measures in 191, you are measured by a system that is flawed,” he said. “It was well-intentioned at the time, but I don’t think it’s met the objectives.”

Kennedy’s education plan does not call for the abolition of Senate Bill 191, but supports giving more weight to teachers’ “perspectives and expertise” in evaluations.

Ginsburg has criticized other candidates in the Democratic primary for making promises that will be hard to deliver, particularly around education. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis wants to provide universal access to preschool, and Johnston wants to provide debt-free college in exchange for community service. Ginsburg said he would love to see both those things, but first the state needs to adequately fund the existing K-12 education system.

To do that, Ginsburg says he would lead a coalition to reform TABOR so that Coloradans keep the ability to vote on tax increases but the state gets to keep more of the money generated by a booming economy.

TABOR reform – a premise on which Kennedy’s education platform also depends – might seem just as unlikely if you look at Colorado history. But Ginsburg said he believes that with the right leadership, voters can be persuaded.

Ginsburg also is pledging to lead a campaign for a tax increase to fund education. Colorado voters have twice before rejected such measures, and a coalition of state and local school leaders want to put a tax increase for education on the ballot again this year. Ginsburg said he supports the general idea, but he’s not sure it’s the right proposal.

TABOR reform and tax increases for education don’t seem unrealistic or undoable to Ginsburg.

“If we cannot raise more dollars for education, it would ultimately leave me speechless,” he said. “We can either say we’re not going to make the investment, and we’re okay with declining opportunity for our students or … I cannot fathom a continuation of the current trends because I think it leads to a Colorado none of us can be proud of.”

Ginsburg sees apprenticeships as key to addressing income inequality and preserving the middle class.

Ginsburg said that as governor, he would use his “bully pulpit” to get more businesses involved in apprenticeship programs and to explain the value of these programs to students. He stressed that CareerWise largely does not depend on taxpayer dollars, nor is it a substitute for a four-year college degree for those who want to pursue one. CareerWise apprenticeships allow students to earn money and college credit as they learn work skills.

He described business and industry as missing players in the education world. Teachers are doing their job, he said, but they can’t possibly show students every way that math, science, reading, and writing will be applied in the work world.

“We put all the burden on K-12 and act as the consumer of the final product, and that’s not right,” he said. “We can share the burden.”

Read more about Cary Kennedy’s education platform here.

Read more about Jared Polis’ plan for universal preschool here.

Read about Mike Johnston’s plan for free college in exchange for community service here.

And read our take-aways from the first gubernatorial forum with an education focus here.

Next Generation

Here’s why advocates want Colorado students to ask the questions at a candidate forum on mental health

PHOTO: Andy Cross/Denver Post

When seven candidates for governor take the stage at a Denver forum on mental health next month, they’ll answer questions from Colorado residents who may still have braces and learner’s permits.

Students, that is.

Leaders of Mental Health Colorado, the advocacy group organizing the candidate forum on March 23, say they’re soliciting student questions because many young people already understand the impact of mental health problems.

“Kids are in some ways the best champions because they’re the closest to this issue,” said Andrew Romanoff, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado. “Even if they’re not old enough to vote, they’re old enough to have a say.”

Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation and several school districts in the state have grappled with multiple student suicides in recent years.

Mental Health Colorado is asking middle school, high school, and college students to submit questions in advance of the event. The lunchtime forum will also feature some questions from adults.

Romanoff said the recent high school shooting in Florida by a 19-year-old with a long history of disturbing behavior has raised awareness about mental health issues, but doesn’t provide an accurate picture of how people coping with mental health problems behave.

“Most people with mental illness are not violent. In fact, they’re more likely to be the victim than the perpetrator,” he said.

There are “a lot of folks now saying we have to do something about mental health, and we welcome their support,” he said. “I don’t want to suggest that that alone will solve the nation’s gun violence crisis.”

So far, the gubernatorial candidates who have committed to attending the forum include Democrats Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg, and Erik Underwood, and Republicans Victor Mitchell, Cynthia Coffman, Lew Gaiter and Stephen Barlock.

To submit questions for the candidates, students can email [email protected] The deadline for submissions is March 19. For more information about the forum, visit the event page.