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Silly Season Won’t Last, So Find Out Candidate Stances on Key K-12 Issues

Oh, it’s the silliest, silliest season of the year. How do I know? My grandpa muttering under his breath when one more irritating political ad interrupts his otherwise enjoyable viewing of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. And the other night my mom crumpling up the latest campaign attack flier that came in our mailbox and finally telling dad they need to turn in their ballots “to stop the madness.” Yes, it’s less than two weeks until Election Day 2014.

Above the fray comes the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess and Max Eden noting how little this year’s prospective political officeholders are saying about the things that affect my world, things like Common Core standards, tenure reform, and school choice:

A systematic analysis of campaign Web sites for the 139 major party candidates for governor or U.S. senator (there is no Democrat running for the Kansas Senate seat) shows that most hopefuls have little to say on any of these pressing questions.

Call me curious, or call me crazy. This little piece prompted me to check out Colorado’s own major party candidates — including two guys running for governor and two running for U.S. Senate. What do they have to say about K-12 education matters? After all, maybe we’re part of the exception here, or maybe there’s more to the story that AEI seeks to tell.

Let’s start with the elected leader of our state. On his campaign website, Gov. John Hickenlooper touts some past initiatives on early literacy and financial transparency. While he is one of only three Democratic candidates to mention charter schools (Hickenlooper signed a bill that included extra funds for charters), he’s not one of the three identified nationwide who brings up the dreaded topic of Common Core.

Hess and Eden note that “just four Republicans [sic] gubernatorial candidates suggest that money should follow students to the school of their choice” (I wish every candidate would say that!), but Hick’s challenger Bob Beauprez isn’t one of them. He does tout his supporter of charter schools and other education options, though, and includes as a goal to repeal and replace Common Core in Colorado. Interestingly, Beauprez also “supports the creation of a Teachers’ Bill of Rights.”

The two major U.S. Senate candidates talk even less about important school issues. But frankly, since they’re running to make decisions from an office in faraway Washington, D.C., that doesn’t entirely bother me. Sen. Mark Udall offers a throwaway line about the need to “invest in [higher] education,” but has absolutely nothing to say about K-12. His challenger Cory Gardner mentions backing “efforts to entrust parents and educators with improving curriculum in their communities,” a glancing blow at the whole Common Core debate.

To repeat, I’m just fine with voters not leaning heavily on Congress to fix education policy, which helps to explain why the two U.S. Senate hopefuls have very little or nothing to say about schools. It would be interesting to compare the rhetoric and level of interest in education issues with statements made by past Colorado Senate candidates. But here’s guessing that in 2014 it just has become less popular to talk about what D.C. can do for (or should it be to?) education.

The state’s role, on the other hand, is significantly more important than the Feds’ role. There’s more than just the governor’s race. People who serve in the state house and state senate make important decisions. Coloradans in three of the state’s seven Congressional districts also shouldn’t overlook the important job of the State Board of Education and what those candidates have to say.

While I know it’s tempting to send in the ballots as soon as possible to make some of the madness stop, I do hope parents, grandparents, taxpayers, and community members across Colorado give a careful look and listen to what all the state candidates have to say about K-12 education. They also need to help hold the winners to their promises once elected. Long after the silly season ends, decisions about the futures of kids like me will loom important.