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.

year in review

In 2017, Colorado’s public schools were a major theme for Colorado gubernatorial hopefuls

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)

Colorado’s 2018 gubernatorial contest got off to a red-hot start this year, and the state’s public schools have been a major part of the debate so far.

One reason why could be that many of the Democratic candidates have deep roots in education.

Before becoming a state senator and one of Colorado’s leading education reform advocates, Michael Johnston was a high school principal in the Mapleton School District, just north of Denver.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy wrote the state constitutional amendment that requires funding for schools to increase each year. She also created a grant program to help build new schools across the state.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis is the former chair of the State Board of Education and helped launch and lead the New America charter school network, which has schools in Colorado and New Mexico.

Businessman Noel Ginsburg helped start a new apprenticeship program for Colorado students called CareerWise. And Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne has served on a number of boards for education advocacy groups, including Democrats for Education Reform’s Colorado chapter.

Ties to the state’s education community are thinner among Republican candidates. But that doesn’t mean they’re sitting on the sidelines of the education policy debate. Ready Colorado, a nonprofit that advocates for conservative education reform policies, has hosted a series of conversations about education with leading GOP candidates.

So far, a handful of candidates have released full education plans for the state. Polis is calling for universal access to preschool, Kennedy wants to give teachers raises, and Republican Doug Robinson wants the governor and state education department to have more authority over low-performing schools — a rare position for a conservative in a local control state.

While Johnston has not released a full education plan, his central campaign promise is to provide two years of tuition-free college to all Colorado residents.

The race is only expected to intensify in the new year. The primaries — the first-ever in which unaffiliated voters can participate — are scheduled for June.

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.