Democrats want to make education the next hot topic in Colorado’s governor race

5 min. read
Cary Kennedy speaks as Colorado legislators and members of the Colorado Education Association rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis on the Capitol steps, Sept. 4, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Democrats are shifting attention to a topic they believe will give gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis an edge over his Republican foe Walker Stapleton: education.

They’ve even launched a catchy slogan and campaign, “Fund Schools, Not Prisons,” which supporters introduced Tuesday during a rally outside the Capitol.

The event included Polis’ former primary opponent and former state treasurer Cary Kennedy, who now appears to be in full Polis surrogate mode after taking some time off following June’s election. Her presence was even more notable considering a political ad attacking Polis released by a teachers' PAC backing her created all sorts of drama when it was released in May.

“Jared and I have worked together on behalf of public education for many, many years,” Kennedy said. “He has a detailed and thoughtful plan to build a world-class public education system here in our state so that every child, no matter their zipcode, gets the quality education that they deserve."

It was her first appearance on behalf of Polis, who wasn’t in attendance. Supporters, which included state lawmakers, the Colorado Education Association (who endorsed Kennedy during the primary) and teachers, are hoping to draw a clear line between Polis’ and Stapleton’s educational plans. Both candidates are parents to school-aged kids.

The slogan is a reference to comments made by Stapleton in 2010. Colorado Democrats on Tuesday released an excerpt from a video showing Stapleton speaking at a Progressive 15 forum during his run for state treasurer.

In the 16-second video, Stapleton says, "in my opinion, because of automatic ratchets in our budget, we're already spending too much unchecked money as it is on education and we don't have enough money to go around.” He adds that the money could be used for correction services and infrastructure. (The video doesn’t show what question or comment prompted his response.)

Colorado Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran speaks as legislators and members of the Colorado Education Association rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis on the Capitol steps, Sept. 4, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Stapleton campaign spokesperson Jerrod Dobkin called Tuesday’s events “a political stunt.” Dobkin said in a statement that Stapleton has always advocated for accountability in education spending and has a plan to ensure education dollars are used for teacher pay, “not out-of-control administrative costs.”

“In response to Walker's common sense education agenda, far-left democrats decided to play political games and are being dishonest with Coloradans in the process,” Dobkin said in the statement. “If Cary Kennedy and Jared Polis really cared about student success, they would be talking about where taxpayer money is going, instead of asking taxpayers for more."

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat, said there are “major, major contrasts,” between the two candidates plans for education.

“Unlike Walker Stapleton, we don’t want more money to be going to prisons,” Duran said. “Instead, we want to make sure that they are investments in classrooms and teachers, so boys and girls across the state of Colorado have the opportunity to be able to reach their full potential.”

Stapleton released his education agenda last week.

His goals include paying teachers more, helping save parents money and providing more opportunities for kids. Stapleton, who likes to mention his three kids as the primary reasons he’s running for governor, said in a statement detailing his policies that he’s confident they, “will help hardworking Colorado families and, most importantly, help our students succeed.”

As governor, Stapleton says he will work with the General Assembly to incentivize school districts to cut administrative costs, which he said will make sure money reaches the classroom and teachers. He referenced data from the Colorado Department of Education, which his campaign said shows the number of administrators grew by 34.6 percent between 2011 and 2017.

He also wants to create a tax holiday for back to school shopping in August to help with costs. Another plan of his — one that was criticized by Kennedy at Tuesday’s rally — is his proposal to open tax-free education savings accounts. The money saved in the account could be used for education-related expenses.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton waits to speak at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association's annual energy summit at the Colorado Convention Center, Aug. 22, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

“Providing parents with the ability to save for things like early childhood education, career and technical programs, and even tutoring and music lessons makes it easier for parents to plan for their child’s future,” Stapleton said. “This will help students access programs to improve their education.”

Polis has been discussing one big education policy plan since his primary days.

It’s an idea Stapleton has called out for its potential cost: Polis wants to provide free, full-day preschool and kindergarten to Colorado students. Polis’ latest ad (his third so far) discusses his goal to invest more in public schools and reduce class sizes.

Kennedy said Stapleton, who defeated Kennedy to become state treasurer in 2010, hasn’t done anything to address the inequities and underfunded schools. She said the state needs a governor who will make public education the state’s top priority.

“The choice in this election is clear,” Kennedy said. “If you care about public schools, vote for Jared Polis.”

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