Colorado teachers union endorses challenger in State Board race

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is shifting its support away from a State Board of Education member it endorsed six years ago.

February 5, 2020

CEA announced its support Wednesday for two candidates for State Board.

In the District 1 race, to represent Denver, CEA has endorsed Lisa Escárcega, the current head of the Colorado Association of School Executives, a group that represents the interests of superintendents and other district administrators.

Escárcega is running in a three-way Democratic primary against incumbent board member Valentina Flores, a longtime Denver educator, and Donna Morganstern, a retired data analyst and accountability manager for the Colorado Department of Education. With Democratic dominance in Denver, the June primary almost certainly will decide who will serve next on the State Board.

And in the District 7 race, to represent the northwest suburbs, CEA has endorsed Democrat Karla Esser, a professor of education and former district administrator. Currently, no one else has filed to run in this race, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. Esser is seeking to replace Jane Goff, who is barred by term limits from running again.

Flores was elected in 2014 with union support in an upset against a better-funded candidate supported by education reform groups.

In a press release, union officials did not address why Flores lost their support, stating only that a committee of CEA members reviewed candidate questionnaires and conducted face-to-face interviews to make their selection. Union President Amie Baca-Oehlert could not immediately be reached Wednesday afternoon.

On the State Board, Flores has pushed back against the state accountability system, which is largely based on test scores, an area where the teachers union generally agrees with her. But her votes can be unpredictable, such as when she sided with Republicans to keep open an online charter school that Democrats wanted to close. In meetings, Flores often struggles to stay on topic, sometimes prompting the board chair to chide her.

Escárcega started her career as a school psychologist and served for many years as the chief accountability and research officer in Aurora Public Schools.

“The State Board of Education requires bold leadership to drive policy change that elevates public education for all Coloradans,” Baca-Oehlert said in a press release. “We need members on the State Board who truly value our students, the educators who tirelessly support them, and the communities that need a greater voice in their children’s futures. Lisa and Karla are the best candidates to provide that vision moving forward and CEA is proud to support them.”

State board members serve six-year terms. The state board appoints the commissioner of education, sets state standards, and handles charter school appeals, requests for waivers from state regulations, teacher licensure, and the administration of many grants approved by the legislature.

The state board also oversees improvement efforts in districts and schools that have struggled to raise student achievement for years on end.

Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat, 2/5/2020.

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