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Education Reporter

Colorado welcomes Tough Choices with enthusiasm

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"No state has expressed more excitement," said William Brock, a member of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. The commission issued the "Tough Choices or Tough Times" report in December, calling for a complete restructuring of the nation's educational system along the same lines as Marc Tucker's famous 1992 "Dear Hillary" letter. Coloradans in high places are making plans for their state to move quickly toward implementation of Tucker's controversial ideas.

"I'd like to see us be first in line," said Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver). "I think there is an opportunity for Colorado to lead the world in education." Romanoff plans to create a statewide commission to implement "Tough Choices" in Colorado. He will also introduce a measure to increase early childhood programs in the state, an important element of Tucker's reforms. Federal grants may be available to bolster Romanoff's plans, since the authors of the report intend to lobby Congress to incentivize experimental states.

Tucker and Brock traveled to Colorado for three days in January and met with legislators and the public. A "town meeting"-style event at the Colorado Convention Center drew much more interest than anyone had expected, requiring a last-minute change of venue to accommodate 500 community members. The original convention room would have hosted about 50 attendees.

Massachusetts and Connecticut have also expressed special interest in "Tough Choices." The three states may compete to become the pilot program for Tucker's ideas.

Not every Coloradan, however, is equally enthusiastic about redesigning the state's public education system. "It's lofty. It's theoretical. It's untried," commented State Senator Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), a senior member of the Senate Education Committee. Rep. Michael Merrifield (D-Colorado Springs), who chairs the House Education Committee, said he has received dozens of emails from citizens concerned about "Tough Choices." Merrifield encouraged the state to take a year to discuss and evaluate the report before making any major changes to educational policy.

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