DENVER – The Republican primary for State Board of Education in the 3rd Congressional District comes down to a candidate who aligns with tea party interests, and another who is fighting to keep control of her seat.
Anita Stapleton – who has revolved her campaign around drives to eliminate certain testing and curriculum standards – is trying to unseat Joyce Rankin, who was named last year to fill a vacant seat.
The seat was vacated by State Board of Education chairwoman Marcia Neal of Grand Junction, who resigned citing dysfunction on the seven-member board.
Whoever wins the primary will take on Democrat Christine Pacheco-Koveleski, who is not facing a primary on June 28.
Rankin, a former teacher and principal from Carbondale, is the wife of state Rep. Bob Rankin, a Republican member of the powerful Joint Budget Committee.
Rankin, 68, serves as an aide to her husband, which she says offers her an advantage to understanding the bureaucracy that can revolve around school funding and other issues.
“We make rules that go with the legislation, and with Bob on the Joint Budget Committee, and how the money is disbursed and how much money is allocated to the different departments, I feel I have a leg up,” Rankin said.
Stapleton, a 49-year-old registered nurse from Pueblo, has maintained a laser-like focus on Common Core, standards that set guidelines for K-12 education. The state adopted the standards in 2010.
“We really started getting involved with local liberty groups,” Stapleton said. “I’m not a tea partier, but I have mixed many times with members of tea party groups.”
She said the larger issue is that the Republican Party has lost its way, pointing to the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed Congress last year to replace the unpopular No Child Left Behind Act.
“In my opinion, the Republicans handed to America a facade, that we’re all about limited government, when we are not, not today,” Stapleton said, suggesting that the Every Student Succeeds Act is simply Common Core “on steroids.”
She also believes that digital learning drives a national curriculum under the guise of developing 21st-century skills.
“They sell it as a bag of goods that we need to be competitive,” Stapleton said. “But they want to change American culture from a free-thinking society.”
The candidate also had strong words for Dan Snowberger, superintendent of Durango School District 9-R, who supports School Vault, an online platform to map teacher and student academic success. The program has served as a model to other districts in Colorado and across the nation.
Snowberger said of the program, “Like medical records that help drive our health care, wouldn’t it be helpful for teachers to be able to see patterns of success and adjust instruction throughout the school year to maximize all students’ learning?”
But Stapleton has a different take: “What I see is, Durango is developing a monopoly over the rural schools.”
For her part, Rankin believes assessments are important for tracking progress. She thinks there may just be a disconnect.
“Maybe our tests aren’t clearly understood or explained to the district, to the parents, to the stakeholders, to the teachers – why they are doing it,” Rankin said.
“I think of these failing schools, the turnaround schools, the schools and districts that aren’t serving all of the students well.”