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August 2011

Man With A Plan

Much like Senator Michael Bennet, Michael Johnston, 36, used his successful tenure as an educator as a springboard into politics. The co-founder and former principal of Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts, representing senate District 33 (northeast Denver), has become one of the leading advocates for educational reform in the state, and beyond. Here are the most compelling story lines he expects to see in Colorado education in the coming years.

5280: What’s the current state of education in Colorado?

We’re in the middle of maybe the largest transition the state has made in a generation. In the next five years, Colorado will adopt a new set of standards for what we teach in every subject at every grade level; we’ll adopt a new set of assessments to replace CSAPs; and we’re building a new set of evaluations for teachers and principals.

5280: Where do you stand on the proposed initiative to raise sales taxes to support schools?

I support it. The current round of educational cuts has left us out of compliance with Amendment 23 [the 2000 law that requires state education funding to increase by inflation plus one percent through 2011], and Colorado spends $2,000 less per student than the average state. We can no longer get the same quality of services and education.

5280: Wouldn't opponents argue that no one wants higher taxes, and that per-pupil spending doesn’t dictate success?

Yes, but we lose all federal stimulus dollars next year. And statewide, we’re about $800 million below what Amendment 23 was supposed to guarantee. That cumulative gap keeps growing, so there’s some urgency. As for per-pupil funding, it’s not the most expensive car on the track that wins the Indy 500, but if you don’t have gas in your tank or wheels on your car, you can’t win. You can’t implement that reform without maintaining some of the basic investments.

5280: So what changes can we expect to see?

Wherever you go in the United States, most people will say Colorado is one of the most, if not the most, ambitious education reform state in the country. We’re also a state that has the highest likelihood of getting breakthrough results the fastest. So all eyes in the country are on Colorado.

-Luc Hatlestad