changing of the guard

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia resigning two state posts

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia (Manual Martinez/Viva Colorado)

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the Hickenlooper administration’s most prominent voice on education issues, is resigning both his elected post and as head of the Department of Higher Education.

Garcia will become president of the Boulder-based Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, an organization of 15 western states that works to improve access to higher education. The timing of his leaving the state roles is to be determined.

Garcia told Chalkbeat Colorado he decided to leave state service because of the timing of the career opportunity. Longtime President David Longanecker is retiring and urged Garcia to seek the job.

“It was tough, because I love what I’m doing now,” Garcia said. But moving to the new position “gives me the opportunity to work on the same things I’ve been working on for the state,” such as college access, completion and affordability.

Asked if he felt any dissatisfaction with his current roles, Garcia said, “Not at all. This governor has been great to work for. Most lieutenant governors don’t have the kind of support I’ve had.”

Garcia, a former president of both Colorado State University-Pueblo and Pikes Peak Community College, was something of a surprise pick when Hickenlooper chose him as running mate in 2010. Garcia hadn’t previously run for elected office.

Hickenlooper popped another surprise in January 2011 when he named Garcia executive director of the Department of Higher Education. The lieutenant governor’s office has few duties of its own, and appointing the lieutenant governor to head a state agency was unprecedented.

The appointment signaled a key administration role for Garcia on education issues, including implementation of K-12 reforms, early childhood education and college affordability, which the governor and Garcia made their top education priorities.

Garcia has been closely involved in such issues and initiatives as coping with college and university budget cuts, creation of a higher education master plan and implementation of the higher education performance-funding system mandated by the legislature in 2014. He also was a leading voice on issues of higher education access, affordability and completion.

He’s also had a high profile on early childhood issues, including centralization of state early childhood education programs and the state’s ultimately successful bid for federal Race to the Top early childhood funding.

Last January, as criticism of testing and other state requirements mounted ahead of the 2015 legislative session, Garcia spoke out and urged state leaders not to back down on education reforms.

Garcia said he is most satisfied with his role in passing education legislation, including READ Act early literacy law and early childhood education bills.

“I’ve been very pleased with the progress we’ve made,” he said.

Asked about future education challenges for the state, Garcia cited lack of investment in education.

“We should not be cutting higher education and K-12 in a time of rising prosperity,” he said. “… One of the biggest challenges will be convincing the people to invest in our future by investing in our educational institutions.”

Hickenlooper has joked that Garcia was the more glamorous half of the team. Garcia’s shaved head, goatee and fondness for motorcycles made him a distinctive figure.

Garcia said he kept Hickenlooper informed about the opportunity with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education all along.

“I listed him as a reference,” Garcia said. He was offered the new job about a week ago.

Hickenlooper said in a statement, “Joe will be nearly impossible to replace. He has been an exceptional lieutenant governor and in leading education efforts for Colorado. He has given five years selflessly to the success of this state and the future education of our children.”

The state constitution requires Hickenlooper to nominate a candidate for lieutenant governor who must be confirmed by majority vote of both houses of the legislature. The terms of Hickenlooper and the new lieutenant governor will end after the 2018 election.

Garcia said he’ll stay in office as long as Hickenlooper wants him to but needs to start his new position by July 1.

Asked about any future interest in elected office, Garcia said, “I have not thought about it. I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m not sure it is the right role for me.”

Higher ed leaders praise Garcia

Other higher education leaders were complimentary in their assessments of Garcia’s work. Here’s a sampling:

  • “Lt. Gov. Garcia has been a great advocate for higher education in Colorado and will truly be missed. I wish him well at WICHE and know that he will continue to be a leader nationally in higher education and a strong advocate for student access and success.” – Nancy McCallin, president of the community college system
  • “I am sincerely happy for Lt. Gov Garcia. His unique background as a community college and university President, as well as the executive director of CDHE will be a true asset to WICHE. I look forward to continuing to work with him to enhance student opportunities and higher education policy among the WICHE institutions and states.” – Steve Jordan, president of Metropolitan State University
  • “Joe Garcia has had a long history of service to education and has added much to the discussion.” – University of Colorado President Bruce Benson

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.