Who Is In Charge

Prop. 103 battle joined

The political fight over raising state taxes to fund schools and colleges started in earnest Thursday with dueling news conferences over an opposition study about the possible impact of Proposition 103 on employment.

Victor Mitchell of Save Colorado Jobs
Victor Mitchell of Save Colorado Jobs

While supporters of the Nov. 1 ballot measure have been organized for some time – they had to gather signatures to get the proposition on the ballot – Thursday also marked the coming-out party for a Republican-oriented opposition group, Save Colorado Jobs.

Victor Mitchell, a GOP former state representative from Douglas County, introduced the group during a Capitol news conference. He was flanked by several current Republican members of the legislature.

Conveniently for reporters, Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, and Wade Buchanan of the Bell Policy Center were hovering in the background, ready to offer their take on Mitchell’s claims.

Mitchell’s focus at the news conference  was on a paper done by economist Eric Fruits of Portland State University in Oregon.



  • State income tax rate would rise to 5 percent from 4.63 percent
  • State sales tax rate would go to 3 percent from 2.9 percent
  • New rates are same as those in effect in 1999
  • Higher rates would end in 2017

Revenue use

  • Proposition would raise an estimated $3 billion over five years
  • Additional revenue could be spent only on preschool programs, K-12 schools and state colleges and universities
  • Legislature would decide how to split revenues
  • Spending would have to be in addition to levels of 2011-12


A Save Colorado Jobs news release claimed the paper found Proposition 103 “would kill nearly 119,000 jobs over the next five years and chase away $218 million in potentially taxable income over the same period.”

That does not mean, as Heath and Buchanan were happy to point out, that current jobs would be lost. Fruits projected that growth in new jobs might be slowed by higher taxes. The paper projects 14.3 percent job growth over five years without new taxes and 12.9 percent if Proposition 103 passes.

The paper actually was written last April and covered Heath’s plan and tax proposals by the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute. (Read full paper.)

Mitchell’s news conference and Heath’s and Buchanan’s subsequent chat with reporters provided a preview of the talking points each side likely will stress during the 45-day campaign.

Proponents: Heath, drawing on his background in business, economic development and government repeatedly argues that there’s no better economic development tool that a strong education system. He believes businesses won’t be deterred by what he calls a “modest” and temporary increase in tax rates. Heath sees the measure as a stopgap to stabilize K-12 and higher education funding, both of which have been slashed in recent years.

Opponents: Mitchell stressed his belief in the “job killing” dangers of the proposal and that tax increases are dangerous in a weak economy. He also said, “K-12 education is not lacking funding, it is lacking structural reform” and suggested vouchers and more charter schools as solutions to education problems. He also invoked a familiar Republican whipping boy – teachers unions – and said, “We are up against the Colorado Education Association.”

The CEA is a powerful political force in Colorado but was initially lukewarm about Heath’s plan and was the last major education group to endorse it – after Heath and his allies had gained enough signatures to get on the Nov. 1 ballot.

The campaign ahead

Sen. Rollie Heath and Wade Buchanan
Sen. Rollie Heath and Wade Buchanan

This is the first statewide election since 1999 with only one initiative on the ballot. There also are no statewide candidate races on the ballot this year.

So voters have only Proposition 103 to focus on.

Mitchell said, “I think we’re going to have a surprisingly high turnout” because of voter concerns about taxes and big government.

Heath didn’t predict turnout but believes voters will support the measure because of rising concerns about school budget cuts.

Mitchell repeatedly declined to say how much his campaign hopes to raise, while Heath said his target is about $300,000.

Both promised, as politicians like to do, that their campaigns would be “grass roots.”


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”