Johnston launches gubernatorial bid with proposal for debt-free college, career training

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston kicked off his gubernatorial campaign Tuesday with a proposal that would promise two years of debt-free college or career training in exchange for community service.

Former State Sen. Michael Johnston announced his gubernatorial campaign. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat)
Former State Sen. Michael Johnston announced his gubernatorial campaign. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat)
Former State Sen. Michael Johnston announced his gubernatorial campaign. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat)

By Nicholas GarciaChalkbeat

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston kicked off his gubernatorial campaign Tuesday with a proposal that would promise two years of debt-free college or career training in exchange for community service.

“Today a high school degree won’t prepare you for the economy for the next 50 days,” Johnston said. “This means we must create a workforce that is as nimble as our rapidly changing world — where people can upgrade and change their skills over time to keep track of an economy that moves faster than ever.”

Johnston did not say how he planned to pay for the program.

Johnston, a Denver Democrat, is a nationally recognized education reformer who is best known for rewriting the state’s teacher evaluation law.

After graduating from Yale, the Vail native got his start in education policy by joining Teach For America, a nonprofit that recruits college graduates to teach in some of the nation’s poorest schools. He went on to become a high school principal in the Mapleton School District in Adams County. And he was an education adviser for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Johnston was first appointed to the state legislature to represent northeast Denver in 2009.

Johnston is one of the state’s first Democrats to announce a bid to succeed Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited. The open seat in 2018 race is expected to attract all-stars from both political parties.

While Johnston has attracted national media attention in the past, his name recognition in Colorado is lower than that of other politicians considering a run, such as former Interior Secretary and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar.

Johnston’s speech was peppered with references to his role in shaping the state’s education reform movement. But he also touted his work on a rural economic package and criminal justice reform.

He also stressed the importance of bipartisanship and compromise.

“Between east and west, urban and rural, liberal and conservative, Colorado has always been the bridge that holds this country together,” he said.

After Tuesday’s announcement, Johnston set off on a two-day tour of the state with stops in Pueblo, Durango and Costilla County.

This story will be updated.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.