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COLORADO Democrat visits Mississippi to offer insights on charter schools

Peter Groff

Peter Groff (Image via Flickr)

Peter Groff is likely a name few have heard, but back in Colorado he was one of the state’s leaders for education reform. The former Colorado lawmaker was a strong voice for school choice, equitable funding and providing more freedom for individual districts and schools.

The Denver Democrat made history by becoming the first African-American president of the Colorado Senate. However, he was known as a moderate voice, not afraid to push back against teachers unions and able to build real bipartisan consensus on important issues.

He left Colorado to head up President Barack Obama’s faith-based initiatives during the president’s first term, after which Groff became president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Today, he is a consultant focusing on education policy.

So why do you care about Peter Groff?

Because even though charter school legislation has passed the House and Senate and a compromise bill is likely to land on Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk by the end of March, Groff just finished up his second trip to Mississippi talking to Democratic leaders — particularly members of the Legislative Black Caucus — about his experience with charter schools.

“I’m not down here to lobby for their vote. It’s more about sharing information and talking to them about what it was like for me as an African-American lawmaker in Colorado working on charter schools and education policy,” Groff said Tuesday.

Earlier this year Groff met with members of the Senate. This week, his meetings focused on House members. Both times, he said, the conversations were promising.

“It was a lot of policy talk, more wonkish conversations,” Groff said. “I was heartened by the fact that I’ve been asked very few political questions. Mostly we talked about policy questions.”

Groff said lawmakers focused predominantly on funding issues, virtual charter schools and how charter schools in Colorado have been able to recruit and retain teachers.

When asked if he changed any minds, Groff said he wasn’t sure but it wasn’t really his intent. “I just wanted to have conversations about education policy.”

One mind Groff has changed, however, is that of his father.

Groff was serving in the Colorado House of Representatives in 1993 when he was appointed to the seat in the Senate once held by his father. Later in his term as a senator, lawmakers were debating the idea of forming a statewide authorization board to which organizations could appeal if they were denied a charter by the local school district.

“One of my caucus members started reading this speech,” Groff said. In it, Groff’s fellow Democrat outlined reasons why charter schools would damage Colorado public schools and lead to a decline in public education.

“My colleague asked me what I thought of that speech. I told him I thought it was elegantly written and asked if he wrote it,” Groff said. “He looked at me and said, ‘No, your father wrote it.’ ”

Groff’s father had led the charge against charter schools in Colorado when the law was passed in the 1970s. Groff’s support of charter schools and other education reforms led to “some interesting conversations between dad and I,” he said. “But I convinced him. That’s at least one person.”

As for Mississippi, Groff says the state is in an enviable position when it comes to charter school laws.

“Forty-two states and the District of Columbia have passed charter school laws,” Groff said. “(Lawmakers) here can go back and pull from the best practices.”

Colorado has continually tweaked their charter school law as new challenges, concerns or opportunities present themselves. The state is ranked as having the fifth most effective charter law in the country by NAPCS, something of which Groff is proud.

“I know they are effective, and I’ve seen the positive impact they have, especially for children of color and for poor children,” Groff said.

But more so, Groff is proud of the opportunities children in Colorado have because of the progressive educational reforms lawmakers there have passed.

Source: ClarionLedger.com – by Sam R. Hall

View more articles on Colorado charter schools

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This entry was posted on February 27, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Colorado and tagged .

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