Pam Mazanec is passionate about school choice. So much so that the Larkspur resident is taking a seat on the Colorado State Board of Education, a six-year obligation she finds both daunting and exciting.
“I think I'm healthily nervous,” she said. “I have a healthy respect for the job in front of me. I'm humbled and in awe of where I am and what I'm doing.”
Mazanec, sworn in in early January, represents the 4th Congressional District on the seven-member board. Unlike most of the other members, she has limited experience in education. Mazanec runs a small business with her husband, served as the president of Larkspur Elementary's Parent Teacher Organization when her children were students there, and in the last couple of years became a supporter of the Douglas County School District's education reform efforts.
Pro-choice supporters, impressed by Mazanec's enthusiasm, approached her about filling the seat vacated by former board chairman Bob Schaffer.
“I was asked to run (for the state board) by friends in the choice community and I thought `Who? Me?,'” she said.
But Mazanec, a former legal assistant intrigued since childhood by the law, quickly warmed to the idea.
“I see my role as being a voice for parents and taxpayers like me,” she said. “My major interest is school choice. I would like to see more innovation percolate.”
Movements like education reform “go back to the founding of our nation,” Mazanec said. “One of the principles of federalism is, let states figure out new ways to tackle the challenges. Education is a big challenge for us nationally. We're falling behind other countries, and what we're doing isn't the answer. We can evolve our thinking about education in this country.”
Mazanec is a firm believer in DCSD's voucher or choice scholarship program, which allowed students to use public funds to help offset tuition at private schools. The program was halted by a court injunction shortly after its 2011 introduction and now is pending in the Colorado Court of Appeals.
As a state board member, she said, “I'll represent Douglas County by supporting the choice scholarship program and any other avenues of choice.”
Despite her belief in the program, she respects those who question it.
“It's a fair argument to ask if public dollars should be used for that purpose,” she said. “I'm of the belief you can allow your child to go to private schools with public dollars and not harm public schools at all. I am interested in giving choice a chance.”
She questions some of the arguments against DCSD's reform efforts.
“I think there is a lot of fear,” she said. “Fear of the unknown and untried is understandable. But I think we all need to practice some intellectual honesty. It truly is about kids and families. We want them to have the best education that fits them. Go where you fit, where you'll grow.”
Citing “motives like privatizing, destroying public schools, the notion there are evil folks trying to destroy public schools — I think it's a false argument. It's not about us and them. It's about everybody.”