From the Statehouse

Ballot measure campaign finally launches

Advocates of a $950 million education tax increase Tuesday kicked off their campaign with a low-key news release.

Stacks of cashThe campaign now has a name – Colorado Commits to Kids.

“It’s no secret that we need to invest more in education in Colorado if we want our students and state to have a bright economic future,” said Barbara Baumann, president of Cross Creek Energy Corp. and identified in the release as “supporter” of the effort.

The release was issued by OnSight Public Affairs, a Denver political consulting firm that has been advising backers of the effort.

As expected, supporters are moving ahead with what’s currently called Initiative 22. That measure would raise state individual income tax rates to generate an additional $950.1 million a year to pay for Senate Bill 13-213, the proposed overhaul of the state’s school funding system. The initiative proposes a two-step increase in rates.

The business-oriented civic group Colorado Forum filed 16 versions of a proposed ballot measure by a state-required deadline last March. Since then there have been prolonged behind-the-scenes debates, primarily within the business community, over which version to propose to voters. There was persistent disagreement over whether to push a flat tax increase or a graduated proposal.

The campaign has until Aug. 5 to gain the 86,105 signatures needed. Political veterans generally feel at least 100,000 signatures should be gathered to provide a cushion for invalid signatures. The petition campaign will use a combination of paid and volunteer circulators, said Curtis Hubbard of OnSight. Paid petition circulation will be handled by FieldWorks, a Washington-based firm.

Some backers of the tax increase, particularly in the education community, had become increasingly nervous as the petition deadline approached without any formal campaign launch. Backers did receive state approval for the format of petitions a couple of weeks ago, petitions were printed and some petitions already have been circulated by members of the Colorado Education Association.

Hubbard said the campaign was launched now, about 40 days before petitions must be turned in, because “We were trying to build a coalition and get feedback … trying to make sure that process was as inclusive as possible. It takes time; now we’re ready to move forward.”

Members of the advocacy group Great Education Colorado also are expected to circulate petitions. “There are more volunteer groups that are coming on board all the time,” Hubbard said.

“We fully expect to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. How hard that will be remains to be seen,” said Hubbard, who recently joined OnSight after resigning as editorial page editor of The Denver Post. He said there isn’t a specific target for an “overage” of signatures.

“We’re focused almost exclusively on qualifying for the ballot,” Hubbard stressed. He said that gathering a formal list of supporting organizations, creating a full-blown campaign organization, fundraising and other tasks will come later.

“The campaign structure is something that’s going to be designed as we go along,” Hubbard said. He did note that Mike Melanson and Ben Davis, founding partners of OnSight, “will be involved in campaign strategy on a day-to-day basis.” In recent years those two have been heavily involved in campaigns for Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, both Democrats.

The initiative would repeal the annual K-12 increase formula contained in Amendment 23, passed by voters in 2000. Instead, a minimum of 43 percent of current tax collections would be devoted to K-12 support. The revenue raised by the new rates, called the “income tax increment,” would go into a special account to be used for “educational reforms and programmatic enhancements” above current levels of school funding.

Colorado’s current income tax rate is 4.63 percent of federal taxable income for all individual taxpayers. Initiative 22 would impose an additional .37 percent on all income up to $75,000 a year. Taxpayers who earn more than that would pay the additional .37 percent on the first $75,000 of income and an increase of 1.27 percent on the amount above $75,000.

Colorado Commits has registered as a campaign committee with the Colorado Department of State. The registered agent is listed as Tracie Moore, an employee of the campaign consulting firm Tightline Strategies, which has office in Washington, D.C., California and Missouri. The campaign also has a bare-bones website here.

awarding leaders

Meet the nine finalists for Tennessee Principal of the Year

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
From left: Docia Generette-Walker receives Tennessee's 2016 principal of the year honor from Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Generette-Walker leads Middle College High School in Memphis. This year's winner will be announced in October.

Nine school leaders are up for an annual statewide award, including one principal from Memphis.

Tracie Thomas, a principal at White Station Elementary School, represents schools in Shelby County on the state’s list of finalists. Last year, Principal Docia Generette-Walker of Middle College High School in Memphis received the honor.

Building better principals has been a recent focus for Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen as roles of the school leaders change under school improvement efforts.

“Successful schools begin with great leaders, and these nine finalists represent some of the best in our state,” McQueen said. “The Principal of the Year finalists have each proven what is possible when school leaders hold students and educators to high expectations.”

The winner will be announced at the state department’s annual banquet in October, where the winner of Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year will also be announced.

The finalists are:

West Tennessee

  • Tracie Thomas, White Station Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Stephanie Coffman, South Haven Elementary, Henderson County School District
  • Linda DeBerry, Dyersburg City Primary School, Dyersburg City Schools

Middle Tennessee

  • Kenneth “Cam” MacLean, Portland West Middle School, Sumner County Schools
  • John Bush, Marshall County High School, Marshall County Schools
  • Donnie Holman, Rickman Elementary School, Overton County Schools

East Tennessee

  • Robin Copp, Ooltewah High School, Hamilton County Schools
  • Jeff Harshbarger, Norris Middle School, Anderson County Schools
  • Carol McGill, Fairmont Elementary School, Johnson City Schools

you better work

Hickenlooper, on national TV, calls for bipartisanship on job training for high school graduates

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke to reporters on the eve of the 2017 General Assembly.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sunday said Republicans and Democrats should work together to rethink how states are preparing high school graduates for the 21st century economy.

“It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue to say we want better jobs for our kids, or we want to make sure they’re trained for the new generation of jobs that are coming or beginning to appear,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, appeared on the Sunday public affairs program alongside Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to discuss their work on healthcare.

The Colorado governor brought up workforce training after moderator John Dickerson asked what issues besides healthcare both parties should be addressing.

“Two-thirds of our kids are never going to have a four-year college degree, and we really haven’t been able to prepare them to involve them in the economy where the new generations of jobs require some technical capability,” Hickenlooper said. “We need to look at apprenticeships. We need to look at all kinds of internships.”

Hickenlooper has long supported a variety of education reform policies including charter schools and linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. Last fall he backed a new program that is expected to this year connect 250 Colorado high school students with paid job training.

Watch Hickenlooper and Kasich here. Hickenlooper’s remarks on job training begin right before the 11- minute mark.