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DFER Colorado: Post-Election

By Moira Cullen, DFER Colorado State Director

Let’s start at the top: We are proud and elated over the re-election of President Barack Obama. President Obama has been a true and vibrant supporter of education reform, and an ardent and persuasive champion of many of the issues at the core of the DFER platform. This was an outstanding win for Obama, and the appeal of his education policies - including funding for key education reforms like Race to the Top and a pathway for undocumented students to go to college - were popular with the coalitions that drove his victory.

Likewise, Colorado’s strong support for school funding increases across the state was impressive and voters in Denver, Jeffco, Cherry Creek, Aurora, St. Vrain, and Sheridan made this clear at the polls. Voters approved ballot measures such as Denver’s Mill Levy (3A) and Bond (3B) that provided more high quality classroom seats (through new district and charter schools), improved facilities in older schools, and target programming that includes increased arts and tutoring for students below grade level.

We often look to Denver as a leading indicator for the state, and in retrospect, the fairly easy passage of these measures should hardly be a surprise. Denver voters have shown consistent support for increases in school funding and reform and these wins should be rightly seen as the victory of a strong majority. Denver voters have voted overwhelmingly for candidates running for mayor and school boards in the last two election cycles that have explicitly called for reform with carefully targeted resources. Tuesday’s vote was further evidence that voters expect more from our schools and are willing to support the allocation of more resources when it’s tied to improvement.

Overall, the success of these funding initiatives suggest that voters are receptive as long as revenue increases are tightly coupled to specific spending and constituents can see clear and tangible benefits. Previous education legislation which failed has been viewed by voters as simply more money into the same system. Last year’s effort, Proposition 103, would have increased education funding across the board, but did not allocate funds to targeted areas. It was hammered by nearly a 2 to 1 margin. Colorado voters do recognize the need for more funding in education but they want to ensure it makes a difference. As Colorado continues to address the continued pressure on school finances, this distinction for targeted funding offers a path forward, and we hope the new legislature will take notice.

The breadth of success for school financing ballot initiatives carried through to Democrats running for the State House, where most observers expected a pencil-thin margin for either party. Instead, Democrats now sit comfortably in control with a 37-28 majority in the House and a 20-15 majority in the Senate.

In the House, six of the seven Democrats supported by DFER CO prevailed, including incumbents such as Millie Hammer (D61) and promising newcomers like Brittany Pettersen (D28). One DFER CO endorsed candidate, newcomer Dominick Moreno (D32), has been elected House Assistant Majority Caucus Chair.

In the Colorado Senate, DFER endorsed candidates won two of three races, with both Mary Hodge (D25) and Linda Newell (D26) winning comfortable victories. Crestina Martinez (D35) lost in a close race. She is a rising star, however, and we are confident that Democrats will hear from her in the future.

The pendulum of electoral politics rarely holds still, but for all of DFER Colorado’s friends and supporters, celebrate this moment as the result of your hard work. For this new day for Colorado’s Democrats and education reformers is stunningly bright.

Moira Cullen, DFER Colorado State Director, specializes in advocating for education reform, higher education, non-profit advocacy, and children's policy issues as a lobbying expert in Denver, CO. Read more about Moira here.