This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Colorado. More at chalkbeat.org.
Colorado’s State Board of Education is growing from seven to nine seats, and political control of the body that sets education policy could be at stake in November’s election.
The addition of two seats due to Colorado’s growing population — one representing a new 8th Congressional District that includes Adams and Weld counties and another statewide at-large seat to maintain an odd number of board members — introduces new dynamics into the election.
The new 8th Congressional District is considered the most competitive in the state, with a large share of Hispanic voters. The at-large seat will require candidates to appeal to a broad cross section of voters and raise money to get their message out.
On the State Board of Education, Democrats say they have a track record of positive change and will focus on student needs rather than ideology. Republicans say they’ll center parents’ rights and school choice, focus on core academic skills, and block efforts to promote a more inclusive approach to teaching race, gender, and sexuality. Republicans are seizing on issues that have animated voters nationally and locally in a backlash to more progressive approaches in the classroom.
While races at the top of the ticket — governor, U.S. House, U.S. Senate — will draw far more attention and money, Republicans hope they can leverage voter concerns about education — alongside inflation and public safety — to gain ground in a state where Democrats control all levers of state government.
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A recent Magellan Strategies poll found more voters think schools are on the wrong track: Democrats because they believe public schools are underfunded and under attack and Republicans because they believe left-wing ideology has supplanted academics.
The election comes as schools are still grappling with the effects of the pandemic and on the heels of contentious school board races in 2021 that saw more conservative candidates take control in many Republican-leaning parts of the state, even as more progressive candidates prevailed in many large Front Range communities.