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Education needs to be about what is best for our kids and that means raising the level of their achievement in knowledge and skills necessary to be successful adults. We must continue our investment in building a 21st Century education system in Colorado. Without a strong education system, job creation and economic development cannot be sustained. Making Colorado synonymous with innovation has to include supporting great teachers, and engaging parents and local communities as partners to improve our schools.

Key Priorities


  • Build on the work that is currently underway involving the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) to develop a more strategic assessment tool to inform and impact student outcomes and respond accordingly.
  • Improve transparency in our school districts and hold leaders responsible while giving them the authority and tools to effectuate change. 
  • Develop and support better teachers and better principals using more integrated technologies across the State.
  • Create and expand career-oriented partnerships with community-based organizations and businesses.


"Our son is enrolled in the public school system because Helen and I believe that quality public education plays a key role in creating our next generation of leaders in Colorado." -John Hickenlooper


One of the first commitments John Hickenlooper made as mayor was to visit all 151 schools in the Denver Public School System. He made good on that promise because he believes in education and he will bring the same drive and commitment to improving Colorado's schools.

Public education is the foundation upon which our State's long-term economic prosperity and social stability depends. The Governor's role is to work in partnership with administrators, teachers, elected leaders, businesses, students and families to ensure that we deliver on the priorities we set for the State. Education needs to be promoted and supported as a lifetime endeavor-- beginning in early childhood and seamlessly passing through P (preschool)-12 into higher education, and culminating with a variety of other adult and career education options.

Every Colorado family should have a variety of high quality public education options to choose from in order to meet the unique and varied needs of Colorado learners. We need to build on the education reform Colorado started and take stock of what has - and has not - worked over the last 20 years. While we will set ambitious education goals like each of Colorado's previous Governors, our administration will focus on the implementation of practical strategies to improve student achievement, high school graduation rates, and success in higher education.

In addition to significant budget issues, we know that the next Governor will have to address topics related to infrastructure, teacher compensation, school readiness, class size, and other tangential challenges such as health care and housing, to do what is in the best interest of our kids. The next governor will also need to work to ensure that implementation of new legislation is done in collaboration with local school districts, teachers and principals to support a fair, credible evaluation system based on reliable data and accompanied by meaningful mentoring and professional development.

Given budget constraints, improving education in Colorado is not an easy task and there are no easy solutions. Yet in talking with students, families, teachers, administrators and education experts in the field, we know there is great opportunity for Colorado to do better. We are committed to working in close partnership with Colorado teachers, principals, elected officials, business and civic leaders, and community members to create an education system for our students that will make them competitive in a global economy.


To meet the federal mandate that students achieve 100% proficiency in subjects like math and reading by 2013, schools are investing more to serve an increasing number of Colorado students who are overcoming poverty, language barriers and special needs. However, despite our advances in reform, Colorado has had little change in achievement as compared to some other states and is typically in the middle of the list of states for P-12 performance data. Often referred to as the Colorado Paradox we rank toward the bottom of the country for education spending while our success in importing talent means that we rank among the top for adults with college degrees. On the other hand, Colorado's chance of success, based on feedback from current grant applications puts us among the top 20% in the country in terms of policies and investments to improve education.

We know that more than 830,000 students are enrolled in Colorado's public schools in 178 school districts; those with a bachelor's degree earn almost $1 million more than high school graduates over a lifetime. The good news is that Colorado has the third highest percentage of college graduates in the nation. The concerning news is that we rank 24th in sending our own high school graduates to college.


  • Over 1.3 million children under-18 live in the State and 38% qualify for free or reduced-price lunch; Colorado has the nation's fastest growing rates of childhood poverty. 
  • In 2009, the high school graduation rate in Colorado was 74.6%; Hispanic students' graduation rates hover around 50%; Colorado has the fourth worst White-Hispanic Achievement Gap in the country. 
  • Twenty-six percent (26%) of schools in Colorado (108 schools) account for 70% of all dropouts.
  • In 2009, Colorado ranked 7th in the nation in preschool access for three year-olds and 20rd in access for four year-olds.
  • Twenty-nine percent (29%) of high school graduates entering college need remediation; in many Colorado high schools, the percentage of students needing remediation is closer to 40%.


Strategies & Solutions

Accountability: The State and local school districts compile an enormous amount of data and statistics. While we are data rich, we are also analysis poor. We must better assess our student outcomes and respond accordingly to ensure that we are truly helping students succeed. We will start by building on the work currently underway to replace the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) with a more strategic assessment tool to inform parents, impact student outcomes, and drive key decisions for schools, principals, and teachers. Accountability systems should monitor academic progress and performance over time and include fair prescriptions for poor performance along with meaningful rewards for outstanding performance (e.g., in closing the achievement gap). Accountability systems should collect information and monitor progress in Colorado's schools toward improving graduation rates and making more kids ready for college and the workforce; otherwise known as "Postsecondary and Workforce Ready" as adopted by the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

Standards & Assessments: Colorado students deserve rigorous standards assessments and opportunities to explore career options that realistically reflect the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in college and in the workforce. While Colorado has been a national leader in establishing standards, we need to do more. Local districts should determine how to best ensure that all students are reaching those standards. Assessments should measure growth in student learning outcomes including skills, habits and knowledge in all academic disciplines across grade levels and be readily available on-line wherever possible. They should inform classroom instruction, respond to the academic needs of students, and support the bold measures necessary to improve student achievement and close performance gaps.

Effective Governance & Local Control: Governance structures should hold leaders responsible while giving them the authority and tools to effectuate useful change within their local community. We will work with the State Board of Education and local districts to identify best practices across school districts and encourage policies that demonstrate effectiveness for our kids. Collaboration and communication between local districts and educators can be enormously helpful. For example, we should look to the following goals:


  • Expand broadband access statewide to allow greater access to the web and share best practices about innovative and effective ways to integrate mobile learning with classroom-based instruction. 
  • Provide more resources to teachers through high-tech, on-line venues and 21st Century learning tools.
  • Build a high quality and accessible on-line course content library at a secondary level using the best teachers and classrooms in the State. Content is shared at little to no added cost to districts and schools.
  • Provide high quality dual-enrollment and remedial online courses for high school students and adults reentering college. Courses should have assessments that measure college readiness and quality. 
  • Ensure that students and families understand the importance for planning for postsecondary readiness and success and provide access to relevant Career and Technical courses for all students.


Effective Teachers & Principals: We want the best and the brightest educators in our classrooms and running our schools, and that means supporting creative and high-quality teaching practices and encouraging strong leadership in our schools. We should encourage new forms of teacher and principal compensation that are developed collaboratively and locally and with sustainable sources of funding to attract and retain a top notch, effective education workforce. To support the development of effective teachers and principals, we should:


  • Build on partnerships with parents and develop more integrated approaches to families and schools to foster better student outcomes. 
  • Support both higher education and alternative teacher and administrator preparation programs. 
  • Support rating and rewarding leadership programs that produce high performing leaders for the schools in Colorado that are in the most need. 
  • Encourage businesses to provide financial incentives to Colorado educators through innovative public-private partnerships.
  • Work closely with our teachers, principals, state legislature and local school districts to build on the work that has begun on "teacher effectiveness" and ensure that implementation of new legislation is successful. 
  • We must ensure that our programs and requirements for educator preparation and professional development meet the needs of 21st Century students and classrooms.


Create Great Schools: We should create the best public schools possible in Colorado. We should encourage school principals and their school communities to participate in the selection of their teams of educators, hold them accountable for student performance, and allow them the flexibility to exercise sound, professional judgment. We should stimulate the creation of new, highly accountable public schools that may also be positioned to simultaneously turn-around and/or replace the State's lowest performing schools. Equitable choice policies and mechanisms should allow all parents to select excellent public schools for their children and ensure that education dollars follow each child to their public school or program of choice. Policies for charter authorization should reflect "best practices" to ensure that charter schools are developed and managed for quality performance. An agenda we think makes sense includes the following:


  • Support the Colorado Department of Education's capacity to disseminate user-friendly, online information about school quality and options statewide. 
  • Ensure a fair level of support for all public schools, including charters with good working environments and an emphasis on teacher and administrator preparation. 
  • Provide support to districts to ensure high-performing public schools. 
  • Support the work of new and existing education entrepreneurs to respond to district and school-level needs and/or to start new innovative programs and initiatives in Colorado. 
  • Expand online content and instruction in order to give all students, regardless of address, access to high quality public school/program options.


Education Finance: We should assess Colorado's education funding and the direct ties it has to economic development. We should also develop long-term strategies to build a 21st Century school system that keep pace with comparable states while also competing for new federal grant funds. Education funding mechanisms should allow for steady long-term development of education and a more seamless transition from P-12 through to higher education. One of the biggest challenges we face is that other states are spending more on education than we are. Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming all spend more per pupil than Colorado. In fact only two neighboring states (Arizona and Utah) spend less on education than we do.

Early Childhood Education (ECE): We know that if a child gets a good early start with education it can make a huge difference in whether they are successful later in their life. All children in Colorado should have access to quality, affordable early childhood education. ECE should be regarded as a part of an educational continuum with seamless transitions and sharing of information and data between Pre-K through K-12 and into post-secondary education. ECE programs should adhere to high standards of accountability and quality and teachers should receive proper training and support to excel in the classroom and best serve their students. We will explore options to grow access to these programs statewide and work to create state-level standards and assessments to ensure school level readiness upon completion of ECE.

Higher Education

Colorado is at a crossroads in higher education. If we don't find a way to appropriately reform, fund and support higher education in Colorado, we will fall behind other states and cripple our ability to attract high-paying jobs in the future. It's that simple and that stark. Nobody in Colorado wants to see our schools close down at the expense of our students and communities.

Key Priorities

  • Employ existing innovations and improve efficiencies in the system through partnerships between public and private colleges and universities.
  • Create more flexibility across our higher education systems.
  • Improve Remedial Education and student readiness for college or university.
  • Support Public-Private Collaboration and Concurrent Enrollment.
  • Direct existing and new funds through private sector and federal partnerships.
  • Connect with Career and Technical Education, Trades Apprenticeships and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.


We need to strengthen the role of the higher education coordinating board (the Colorado Commission on Higher Education) and its policies to focus on improving access and student success in our public institutions. When we speak of higher education in Colorado we are not just referring to the research institutions of Colorado University, Colorado State University and the Colorado School of Mines, but also the many regional state colleges and community colleges that make up a larger system. This system has served Colorado well over many years, but we are also entering a new era of global competition, advanced technology, tightened budgets and changing demographics that present both challenges and opportunities.

We owe it to the people of Colorado to provide high quality and accessible higher education and we owe it to Colorado's employers, businesses and communities to develop the next generation of leaders and highly skilled employees. Few factors are more important to new jobs and the economic growth of Colorado than our higher education system. Around the country, any significant improvement to higher education was led by the State's Governor and we are committed to leading the improvement of Colorado's higher education in Colorado. To achieve our goals, we need to measure our progress and hold institutions accountable.

Two decades ago, higher education was 20% of the State budget. Today, Colorado's higher education receives approximately 9% of the State budget. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money is providing temporary dollars to higher education in Colorado and we expect to face significant resource challenges when these resources end in 2011. Again, as in our work with the budget, we need to look to long-term solutions. We need to find ways to fund Colorado's 30 public institutions (three technical colleges, 15 two-year community colleges, five research universities, and seven regional comprehensives). Colorado ranks 48th in the nation in local support of higher education - this has to change.

Colorado has a highly educated workforce, but we are at risk of losing this competitive advantage. We import much of our talent and continue to decrease our investment in Colorado's colleges and universities. This jeopardizes the future of Colorado's talented workforce. Over the past decade, and with the current economic environment, fewer State dollars are available to fund higher education. We cannot expect the economy to change overnight but we must secure more resources for our Colorado students or we will begin a slide to mediocrity that will be hard to reverse.

Strategies and Solutions

A New Strategic Plan for Higher Education: As part of a non-partisan committee, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and select gubernatorial appointees convened to draft a Higher Education Strategic Plan (HESP) and are currently engaged in making recommendations that Colorado's next Governor should find useful. In addition to reviewing the recommendations of this group, we believe the next Governor should consider the following strategies:

  • Building incentives for acceleration of learning; 
  • Improving transfer and completion rates;
  • Focusing more resources on remedial education; 
  • Expanding and creating more effective partnerships among the education sectors in credit transfers; 
  • Reviewing high-cost programs;
  • Supporting online education.


Public-Private Collaboration & Concurrent Enrollment: In addition to reviewing the recommendations of HESP (above) we will bring together public and private leaders from across the State to create a vision for Colorado higher education and to solve our most important challenges. For example, we will challenge our school boards and community colleges to build on success with concurrent enrollment. Concurrent enrollment will better leverage our P-12 and Community College education assets and ready our high school graduates for a 2-year or 4-year college education. We need to engage and excite our high school students about continued education and remove the barriers that keep them from taking the next step.

Student Readiness, Persistence and Completion for College or University: We need to do more to help the transition from high school to community college or four-year universities. We need to help high school students understand the higher education options that are available to them - both through academic readiness and financial support. We need to do more to help two-year students' transition to four-year institutions, if they choose to pursue that path. We will create coalitions between two-year and four-year colleges - taking a wider view of the ultimate achievement of a student.

We also have the opportunity to build a stronger relationship between our colleges and universities, and the employers that hire these students by connecting with Career and Technical Education, trades apprenticeships and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Colorado has a college dropout rate just as concerning as its high school counterpart. We must invest in programs that support not only college access but persistence and completion for all, particularly students of color, low-income and first-generation students.

Workforce Readiness and Adult Students: Connecting students and employers will happen if our degrees are relevant. We need to work collaboratively with the private sector to emphasize the degrees that meet the needs of Colorado's economy; both today and in the future. This means creating partnerships with industry to provide relevant, real world experiences for Colorado students. Ninety percent (90%) of the family-wage jobs of the 21st Century will require some postsecondary training. We must ensure that our colleges provide adequate student support and career planning services to all students to prepare them for a lifetime of success. We must also address the unacceptably high number of adults without either a high school diploma, GED or college degree of any kind. Colorado ranks last in the nation in investing in adult education. This must change.

Efficiencies in the System: We will ask our two-year and four-year colleges and universities to share resources in providing relevant degrees. We should look at ways to rationalize curriculums by program and location, and we will take advantage of technology to provide courses across institutions. We must develop a comprehensive broadband network across our community colleges and four-year institutions. Through public-private partnerships we can provide financial incentives for institutions to collaborate on curriculum and degrees. We need to look at the student experience (from the outside in) and make it easier for students to access the higher education system. For example, we must facilitate the process for students to transfer credits and access the right courses regardless of enrollment location.

Investing in Institutions: We will take an end-to-end approach to education; doing more to connect our efforts between Preschool and K-12, and on through higher education at our community colleges and universities. We need to build on the early success of the P20 Council, which was appointed to ensure that a seamless education system from preschool to graduate school is in place to prepare our students for the demands of the 21st Century. We will make sure our scarce resources are targeted as strategically as possible to support the demand for Colorado higher education - moving to a performance-based model that supports higher education institutions for the success of their student achievement.

Directing New Funds: We will continue to seek out opportunities where Colorado can be competitive for new federal funds that specifically assist us in advancing our goals. When additional funding becomes available, we will balance these new resources between the institutions that provide education and the students who need financial aid to attend college. We have to provide better access to education for all Coloradans. If our students are performing well in high school or two-year institutions, financial limitations should never be the reason why they discontinue their education.

As Governor, we want to see more of our students attending and succeeding in Colorado colleges and universities. We will measure the results and hold ourselves accountable. We can accelerate learning for our students and achieve more productivity from our higher education system. In turn, we can also deliver new jobs and economic growth to our State.

Download a complete version of all of our issue papers here.