Who Is In Charge

Online bills move into spotlight

There’s been only low-key discussion of online education during the 2012 legislative session, but that may start changing.

Testing illustrationThe House Education Committee on Monday afternoon will consider House Bill 12-1306, which would allow compensation for districts that receive students after the annual Oct. 1 enrollment count. Under current law, districts don’t receive per-pupil funding for such students.

There’s been criticism that some online schools let students go too easily after the count, and that those kids end up in traditional schools.

HB 12-1306 would allow a district to apply for additional funding if its spring count of students taking statewide tests is higher than its Oct. 1 count.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker and Sen. Keith King of Colorado Springs. King believes the problem of unfunded students is less serious than critics argue, and because of that he hints the measure may be more of a “statement” bill than anything else.

The legislative staff fiscal note analyzing the bill puts the annual cost at $875,818, a small amount in the context of more than $5 billion in annual spending on K-12 schools. The fiscal note says, “The majority of school districts and institute charter schools lose enrollment between the October 1 student count day and the administration of the CSAP tests. Over the past five years, an average of 29 districts increased enrollment annually. The total number of additional students is, on average, 150 students.”

Also on tap this week is House Bill 12-1124, scheduled in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. The measure, by Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, would direct the state Department of Education to hire an outside consultant to conduct a comprehensive study of “digital learning,” with the study hopefully providing a basis for later policy decisions.

Massey has tried to keep his bill clear of controversies around the effectiveness, funding and oversight of full-time online education. He wants the study to cover not only online schools but also blended programs that combine online and in-school work and use of technology in the classroom.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver

Watching from the wings is Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, who says he’s considering an online bill to improve oversight of such programs. Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, had promised legislation to “rein in” online programs. But Shaffer is running for Congress, making him a partisan target at the Capitol and putting a handicap on any controversial bill that carries his name.

Steadman said last week he hasn’t decided what to include in his legislation and he’s watching what happens with other bills, including the two being heard this week.

It’s also possible that amendments affecting online education could be added to House Bill 12-1240, a measure whose broad title could include a wide range of education subjects. That bill gained some unexpected amendments last week in House Education, sparking a partisan spat – see story.

Online amendments also could find a home in the annual school finance bill, expected to be introduced later this month, or in a still-to-be-fleshed-out overhaul of school finance laws that Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, is considering.

Last fall, Shaffer sought an emergency audit of online programs but was rebuffed by the Legislative Audit Committee.

Follow the money

Final Denver school board campaign finance reports show who brought in the most late money

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Victoria Tisman, 8, left, works with paraprofessional Darlene Ontiveros on her Spanish at Bryant-Webster K-8 school in Denver.

Final campaign finance reports for this year’s hard-fought Denver school board elections are in, and they show a surge of late contributions to Angela Cobián, who was elected to represent southwest Denver and ended up bringing in more money than anyone else in the field.

The reports also showed the continued influence of independent groups seeking to sway the races. Groups that supported candidates who favor Denver Public Schools’ current direction raised and spent far more than groups that backed candidates looking to change things.

No independent group spent more during the election than Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. In the week and a half before the Nov. 7 election, it spent $126,985. That included nearly $57,000 to help elect Rachele Espiritu, an incumbent supportive of the district’s direction who lost her seat representing northeast Denver to challenger Jennifer Bacon. Raising Colorado spent $13,765 on mail opposing Bacon in that same period.

Teachers union-funded committees also were active in the campaign.

Individually, Cobián raised more money in the days before the election than the other nine candidates combined. She pulled in $25,335 between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

That includes a total of $11,000 from three members of the Walton family that founded Walmart: Jim, Alice and Steuart. The Waltons have over the years invested more than $1 billion in education-related causes, including the creation of charter schools.

Total money raised, spent by candidates
  • Angela Cobián: $123,144, $105,200
    Barbara O’Brien: $117,464, $115,654
    Mike Johnson: $106,536, $103,782
    Rachele Espiritu: $94,195, $87,840
    Jennifer Bacon: $68,967, $67,943
    Carrie A. Olson: $35,470, $35,470
    Robert Speth: $30,635, $31,845
    “Sochi” Gaytan: $28,977, $28,934
    Tay Anderson: $18,766, $16,865
    Julie Bañuelos: $12,962, $16,835

Cobián was supported in her candidacy by donors and groups that favor the district’s brand of education reform, which includes collaborating with charter schools. In the end, Cobián eclipsed board vice president Barbara O’Brien, who had been leading in contributions throughout the campaign, to raise the most money overall: a total of $123,144.

The two candidates vying to represent central-east Denver raised about $5,000 each in the waning days of the campaign. Incumbent Mike Johnson pulled in $5,300, including $5,000 from Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz. Teacher Carrie A. Olson, who won the seat, raised $4,946 from a host of donors, none of whom gave more than $500 during that time period.

The other candidates raised less than $5,000 each between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

O’Brien, who staved off two competitors to retain her seat representing the city at-large, spent the most in that period: $31,225. One of her competitors, Julie Bañuelos, spent the least.

money matters

In election of big spending, winning Aurora candidates spent less but got outside help

Four new board members, Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Marques Ivey, Kevin Cox and Debbie Gerkin after they were sworn in. (Photo courtesy of Aurora Public Schools)

A slate of Aurora school board candidates that won election last month were outspent by some of their rival campaigns — including in the final days of the race — but benefited from big spending by a union-backed independent committee.

Outside groups that backed the winning slate spent more overall during the campaign, but wound down as pro-education reform groups picked up their spending in the last period right before the election. Those efforts were not enough to push their candidates to victory.

According to the last campaign finance reports turned in on Thursday and covering activity from Oct. 26 through Dec. 2, Gail Pough and Miguel Lovato spent the most from their individual contributions.

Together Pough and Lovato spent more than $7,000 on calls, canvassing and consulting fees. Both candidates were supported by reform groups and had been reporting the most individual contributions in previous campaign finance reports.

But it was the slate of candidates endorsed by the teachers union — Kevin Cox, Debbie Gerkin, Kyla Armstrong-Romero and Marques Ivey — that prevailed on election night.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Gail Pough, $12,756.32; $12,328.81
  • Lea Steed, $1,965.00; $1,396.16
  • Kyla Armstrong Romero, $7,418.83; $3,606.12
  • Kevin Cox, $2,785.54; $2,993.07
  • Miguel Lovato, $16,856.00; $16,735.33
  • Jane Barber, $1,510.32; $1,510.32
  • Debbie Gerkin, $4,690.00; $4,516.21
  • Marques Ivey, $5,496.50; $5,638.57
  • Barbara Yamrick, did not file

The slate members spent varying amounts in the last few days before the election. For instance, Cox, who won the most votes, spent $403 while Ivey who recorded the fewest votes of the four winning candidates, spent $2,056.

Most of the slate candidates’ spending went to Facebook ads and consulting fees.

The four also reported large amounts in non-monetary contributions. Collectively, the slate members reported about $76,535 in non-monetary contributions, mostly from union funds, to cover in-kind mail, polling, office space and printing. All four also reported a non-monetary contribution in the form of a robocall from the Arapahoe County Democratic Party.

Other financial support for candidates, through independent expenditure committees, showed that the group Every Student Succeeds which was backed by union dollars and was supporting the union slate, spent less in the last days than the reform groups Raising Colorado and Families First Colorado which were supporting Pough and Lovato.

Overall, the independent expenditure committee groups spent more than $419,000 trying to sway Aurora voters.

Incumbent Barbara Yamrick failed to file any campaign finance reports throughout the campaign.

This story has been updated to include more information about in-kind contributions to the union-backed candidates.