Republican Senate candidate Joe O’Dea hosted a roundtable with South Carolina Senator Tim Scott on Friday.
Scott, a top-tier potential 2024 candidate, is the latest in a series of high profile surrogates to visit the state on behalf of O’Dea.
The roundtable was focused on education, and in particular how Congress can help students struggling to cope with learning loss from COVID lockdowns.
School choice has emerged as a major issue going into the 2022 midterms, and is deeply personal for O’Dea.
“My dad jerked me out of a public school back in junior high because I wasn’t doing so well, and gave me a [full scholarship] that I had to pay myself with a dishwashing job,” O’Dea told Campfire Colorado recently.
O’Dea, now a successful construction CEO, told the roundtable the trajectory of his life could have turned out far different if not for his family having access to school choice when he was younger.
Instead of continuing on a troubled path, O’Dea attended Mullen High School in Denver where he said he got a healthy dose of discipline from the nuns and brothers at the all boys Catholic school.
On Friday, in an interview with Senator Scott, we discussed O’Dea’s time at Mullen High School and another example of school choice having a life changing impact on students.
On Sunday, O’Dea’s alma mater awarded him with the school’s Alumni Service Award, citing his philanthropic contributions to the community and school that gave O’Dea his shot in life.
At the Friday roundtable Sen. Scott said he was looking forward to getting O’Dea in the Senate to work on policy changes that will increase options and choice for parents and students.
“The two biggest issues: parents being involved, and the lack of quality education, especially for Title I schools, reverberates in every sector of our society and it doesn’t stop,” Scott said.
Title I school performance is an important metric because of high dropout rates in impoverished areas. The population of incarcerated individuals is disproportionately comprised of individuals that didn’t finish high school.
If you want to alleviate the crime problem in America, Scott argued, one of the best tools for policymakers to is to give parents more educational choice earlier on so they can keep kids in a school that fits each student’s needs.
Dr. Dickhoner of Ready Colorado mentioned many of the school districts falling behind in Colorado are communities of color, but that charter schools have shown promise in terms of providing better outcomes for those communities.
“There is a bright spot in Colorado is that some of the charter schools in Denver that serve predominantly communities of color, predominantly low-income students have one hundred percent graduation rates, the highest matriculation rate going into college, and are doing phenomenal work,” said Dr. Dickhoner.
The systemic problems experienced by Title I schools, O’Dea noted, aren’t solely a matter of spending more tax dollars.
“We’ve seen in Colorado that the numbers have gone up per student that we’re investing in but the scores haven’t gone up at the same rate. We’ve got to reshape the system to make sure we help the students that fell behind,” said O’Dea.
School shutdowns during the pandemic have resulted in children falling severely behind in reading, while black and hispanic students have seen their math scores fall at a faster rate than their white peers.
In fact, close to $100 billion from the American Rescue Plan allocated to local schools in March of 2021 hasn’t been spent yet.
Instead of continuing to spend the money in the same way and expecting different results, Scott argued Congress should be looking at investments to increase school choice and help lower income students recover from learning loss during the pandemic.
“To think that there’s close to $100 billion sitting on the sidelines, [my bill] would allow for a percentage of that money to go the parents, to either hire the tutors the kids need so they can catch up from the learning loss, or backpack some of the money and go to a different school. My vision is giving the parents as many options as possible so that their kid has the best chance to succeed,” he said.
State Board of Education Members Steve Durham and Joyce Rankin, State Rep. Colin Larson, State Senator Paul Lundeen, Dr. Brenda Dickhoner of Ready Colorado, and State Board of Education candidate Molly Lamar were also on hand for the roundtable.