Who Is In Charge

Johnston pitches tax plan, gets some advice

Voters will need a clear, understandable message to gain their support for the proposed $950 million K-12 tax increase, members of a key education advisory panel have told Sen. Mike Johnston, the plan’s leading backer.

Sen. Mike Johnston (right) makes a point as Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia listens.
Sen. Mike Johnston (right) makes a point as Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia listens.

Johnston met Thursday with the Education Leadership Council, which advises Gov. John Hickenlooper on education issues. The session came just four days ahead of the deadline for submitting the petitions necessary to put the measure on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The always-optimistic Johnston was bullish about potential voter support and fundraising. He told the group that private polling shows the measure with support of 52 to 54 percent. On fundraising, he said, “Our target is to raise $6 to $10 million.”

The appointed council, which includes education and business leaders plus assorted civic figures, was a friendly audience for Johnston, and much of the discussion focused on building public understanding and what it will take to pass the plan.

“There’s a lot in this that is hard to explain,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who chairs the group. “That allows people to misstate what’s in it.”

The ballot measure would raise state income tax rates to 5 percent on income up to $75,000 a year. Income above that amount would be taxed at 5.9 percent. The current individual tax rate is 4.63 percent on all income. The measure is needed to fund Senate Bill 13-213, a much more complicated law that would change the formula for funding school districts and direct more money to preschool and full-day kindergarten, as well as to districts with high concentrations of at-risk students and English-language learners.

Johnston, who’s been crisscrossing the state since well before SB 13-213 was passed, said, “There were some misunderstandings” but believes citizens are beginning to understand the plan. “For the most part we’ve gotten a great deal of excitement.”

He added, “There’s going to be massive outreach operation in the next three months,”

Nate Easley, executive director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, said voters will want to know if raising taxes will lead to better education outcomes, and “what’s in it for me.”

Johnston said the campaign will include customized fact sheets that will let voters know what the new system will mean for individual schools districts.

“I think the challenge is the people who don’t have kids,” Easley said.

Johnston replied that the campaign will need to make the case that an improved education system is necessary for future economic growth.

Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson said the campaign needs a clear, simple message. “There’s a lot of information. We’re going to need a focused, factual ‘here’s-what-it-does’ [message],” she said.

Noting that many business leaders seem ambivalent about the proposal, Stevenson said, “Chambers of commerce are going to need some personal attention” and that there needs to be “a particular campaign for small-business people.”

Concerns have been raised about the proposal’s impact on business because many small business owners pay their business taxes on their individual returns. (Johnston said the two-step tax rate proposed in the ballot measure actually places less of a burden on business than one of the alternatives, a flat percentage increase in taxes on all.)

Garcia noted that the group’s discussion indicated that even the well informed have questions about the proposal. “If we aren’t well informed enough to correct some of the misconceptions, we have no chance,” he warned.

Johnston took on some of those criticisms in his remarks.

On the two-step tax rate, he said, “We very intentionally built the tax structure to meet the objections we heard.”

He also said the proposal would provide a more certain source of school funding than the current constitutional provision that requires base K-12 spending to increase annually based on enrollment and population.

The ballot measure and SB 13-213 would devote 43 percent of annual state revenues to schools plus include a reserve fund to cover spending in years when revenues decline.

Some Republican critics of the plan warn that the legislature could use the new revenues to shore up the Public Employees Retirement Association pension system.

Johnston said the provisions of SB 13-213 would prevent that. “There are belts and suspenders and duct tape all over this” to ensure funding isn’t diverted.

The Denver Democrat also dismissed as “pure fiction” concerns that some districts actually would lose funding under the plan.

Contributions to backers top $1 million

Colorado Commits to Kids, the main campaign committee backing the tax increase, on Thursday reported it has raised $1.08 million since it launched in June. Nearly $740,000 was raised in July, according to a monthly report filed with the secretary of state.

Notable contributions included $250,000 from David Merage, a businessman and philanthropist; $250,000 for Fort Collins philanthropist Pat Stryker, a longtime donor to Democratic Party and liberal causes; $50,000 from the advocacy group Stand for Children; an additional $150,000 from Gary Community Investment Co. and an additional $10,000 from Dan Ritchie, CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The Gary firm and Ritchie also contributed in June. (See the full list of July contributors here, and read this EdNews story about the group’s June financial report.)

(Three other groups, one in support and two opposed, reported no July activity.)

The committee’s main spending in July was the $491,198 paid to FieldWorks, the campaign firm that is gathering petition signatures for the measure. The company was paid $75,000 in June.

Colorado Commits face a Monday deadline to file at least 86,105 signatures with the Department of State. The campaign hasn’t commented on how the signature gathering has gone, but observers expect it will have more than enough signatures, given the amount spent with FieldWorks, which is using paid petition circulators.

Groups such as the Colorado Education Association and Great Education Colorado have been gathering signatures using volunteer circulators.

A different spin on polling

While Johnston was putting a positive spin on polling numbers, the opposition group Compass Colorado issued a news release citing an April poll with a different take. “Not only do voters oppose the two-tiered tax increase system of Initiative 22, they strongly oppose the initiative across all ages and genders,” the group said.

Compass, which has Republican ties, is organized in such a way that it’s not required to report contributions and spending. It actively opposed Proposition 103 in 2011, a different education tax plan defeated by voters. (Read the Compass news release.)

student activism

Five Chicago student activists on why they will be in your face this summer

PHOTO: Courtesy of Diego Garcia
Diego Garcia outside Trump Tower earlier this week

Trevon Bosley’s brother was murdered while attending band rehearsal at church. Shot from the street while helping a friend with drums in 2006, he was just one of the 471 people killed by gun violence that year in Chicago.

Through a peer youth council at St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham, Bosley, 20, became an outspoken student activist, and tonight he will join hundreds of students converging for an annual peace march that starts at the church. Chicago’s tradition of youth activism will be on full display, but the local students are getting a high-powered boost. Joining them are Chicago musicians Chance the Rapper and Jennifer Hudson and former Arizona House Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in 2011 at a public meeting with constituents. There will also be another set of special guests: the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl., where a February shooter killed 17 students and teachers.

All week long, local student activists have been rallying and some Parkland students have lended an assist. Several staged a sit-in in City Hall on Monday to protest the proposed construction of a $95 million police academy on the West side and call for an elected school board. Others staged a die-in on in front of Trump Tower on Tuesday to commemorate the second anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Chalkbeat sat down with five Chicago student activists to hear why they take action and what they hope to achieve.


"Gun violence isn’t mainly just about mass shootings. These kinds of things happen in Chicago, Baltimore 24/7."Alycia Moaton

East Woodlawn resident Alycia Moaton, 17, attends Kenwood Academy. She’s part of Good Kids Mad City, a new advocacy organization formed by Chicago and Baltimore students. This past Monday, Good Kids Mad City members were central figures in the City Hall sit-in this past Monday.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Alycia Moaton
Alycia Moaton outside City Hall earlier this week

On becoming an activist: I grew up in Oak Park for about 10 years of my life. Then I moved into Chicago. Going to public schools on the South Side, it was like a completely different world. A lot of the students—their first thought is whether or not they’ll be able to go to school that day because they’re worrying about getting shot on the way there. When I got to experience both sides, experience what it’s like to not fear going to school, I could see just how messed up it is.

Starting off around three years ago, I went to a lot of protests and youth summits, and that turned me into wanting to be part of an organization. That’s how I got in touch with Good Kids Mad City. Good Kids Mad City came to be after the Parkland shooting, from the idea that gun violence isn’t mainly just about mass shootings. These kinds of things happen in Chicago, Baltimore, 24/7, and it’s as national as a mass shooting.

What she hopes to achieve: One of my main goals is that [the rally tonight] gets a lot of national coverage. The Parkland students are allowing us to make the narrative about Chicago. I hope people leave with the idea of not treating gun violence as just a local issue, with the idea that this isn’t normal. This shouldn’t be viewed as “Oh, this is just how Chicago is, Chicago is just a violent city.”

The big goal is to have people change their narrative about what gun violence in Chicago is, that it has to be taken way more seriously than just a local issue.


"When people think of Chicago, they think of the most violent city. I hope that they think of it as the home of the young leaders."Diego Garcia

Brighton Park resident Diego Garcia, 16, led 15 local teenagers to the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. in March. Earlier this week, he participated in the die-in outside Trump Tower. He is also a member of Chicago Strong, the citywide youth group organizing tonight’s rally.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Diego Garcia
Diego Garcia outside Trump Tower earlier this week

On becoming an activist: The parents in my community are immigrants, and so are my teachers and my friends. After Trump became president, they felt like, if they speak up for what they believe in, they’re putting themselves in danger of being targeted by the government.

I decided that if I really had nothing to lose, then I would be the voice for them. I’m a citizen of the U.S., and just being a citizen, I have many rights that a lot of other people feel like they don’t have—the right to voice my opinion, to vote about my future.

After the Parkland shooting, my priest said that he would support me in taking 15 teenagers to Washington, D.C., for March for Our Lives. It was one of the best times that I’ve had in my life, because not only were my peers standing up for what they believe in, but also I knew that I wasn’t alone. There was, visually, all around you, people who cared about you.

What he hopes to achieve: I hope that, after the rally, people realize that we young people in Chicago, we want something to change. A lot of the adults like normalizing the violence. The 14-year-old that got shot, or the adult that was going to the store and got shot for no good reason—no one talks about these small things because it happens so often.

I hope that people’s perspective of Chicago changes, because when people think of Chicago, they think of the most violent city. I hope that they think of it as the home of the young leaders.


"It takes everybody. We need people from every region to contribute so we can get total change."Alex King

Austin resident Alex King, 17, just graduated from North Lawndale College Prep. At North Lawndale, he was a Peace Warrior, a youth ambassador for violence prevention. After the Parkland shooting, he traveled to Parkland to visit student survivors. Alex is also part of Chicago Strong.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Alex King
Alex King on a radio interview

On becoming an activist: It started with me wanting a shirt. At North Lawndale College Prep, we have to wear these button-up shirts with collars, and it’s hot. One Thursday, I was seeing these different shirts, regular long-sleeve shirts. It had “Peace Warriors” going down the sleeve, a peace sign on the back, and I was like, “I want one of those.” Then I also heard that Peace Warriors get pulled out of class sometimes, and I’m like “Yeah, if we can get out of class, for sure!”

After joining Peace Warriors, it got to a point where I felt that family connection—these were some of the people I went to when I couldn’t even go to my own family. I’ve been shot at multiple times and I didn’t go to my family, because I didn’t want to put that burden on their shoulders. I went to the Peace Warriors because I knew some of them experienced the same thing, and it’s also easier to connect with people in your age range.

My nephew was shot and killed on May 28, 2017. Shot twice: once in the back of the head and once in the back. I feel like I would have done something that would have put me in a way worse spot than I’m in now if I didn’t have Peace Warriors. They came to me every day, and were like “We are here for you no matter what.” I was known as the one with all the energy. When those people saw me down, they told me,”‘You were always the one to cheer everybody up, so we have to be here for you, to get you back like that.”

What he hopes to achieve: I want people to walk away [tonight] and believe that change can happen. We might be different in a lot of ways, but we are alike in more ways than we are different. I want people to see the fact that we can’t be independent, if we want to make change across the world, we all have to come together to make this work.

We can’t try change the world with only Chicago, we can’t try to change the world with only Florida. It takes everybody. We need people from every region to put their input on so we can get total change.


"Be smart with campaigns. If you’re gonna march, make sure you’re doing it in a community that can really change something."Trevon Bosley

Roseland native Trevon Bosley is a rising junior at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He joined Bold Resistance Against Violence Everywhere, or B.R.A.V.E., a peer youth council run through the St. Sabina youth program, in 2010. He is also a member of Chicago Strong.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Trevon Bosley
Trevon Bosley at March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. earlier this year

On becoming an activist: On April 4, 2006, my brother was murdered while attending band rehearsal at church. He was outside helping a friend with drums. Someone fired shots at them and he was shot in the shoulder. After that, my parents got in contact with (the Rev.) Michael Pfleger at St. Sabina, and he introduced me to B.R.A.V.E.

The main things that the older B.R.A.V.E. members told me was to be smart with campaigns. If you’re gonna march, make sure you’re doing it in a community that can really change something. They told me to just be effective when you’re planning and strategizing your movement.

A while back [around three years ago], we did a voter registration campaign. The strategic thing was how we planned to tackle violence. We know that we have a lot of gun violence in Chicago, but we have to understand why. We noticed that the elected officials at the time weren’t allocating resources to anti-violence initiatives, and the only way you can get politicians to listen to you is to vote. We identified what the problem was and how to go about addressing it.

What he hopes to achieve: We’ve been doing this for a long time and we’ve been fighting for change in the community for a very long time. Tonight’s rally is going to be bigger because of the Parkland influence. We’ve been fighting in Chicago for a very long time for peace, but only recently has the national media really wanted to cover our everyday shootings. The Parkland influence is giving us the platform, it’s led to our voices finally being heard about everyday shootings.


"I want to make sure that we tell our stories ourselves, and not have social media or the news tell our stories because they always twist it around, and then you’re like: That’s not me."RieOnna Holmon

RieOnna Holmon, 15, attends Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep in Rosewood, and she lives in Woodlawn. She joined B.R.A.V.E in 2017, where she received mentorship from older members such as Trevon. Most recently, RieOnna became the president of B.R.A.V.E.

PHOTO: Courtesy of RieOnna Holman
RieOnna Holman speaking at St. Sabina in March

On becoming an activist: I joined B.R.A.V.E. last summer when I did an internship at the ARK of St. Sabina. I just started going to the meetings and taking part in all of the rallies. I see myself in these children [that I mentor], how I was naïve and didn’t really know anything. Being able to teach them about what is really happening out there really shows me that the youth need to be educated about what’s going on.

What she hopes to achieve: [Tonight,] I want to make sure that we tell our stories ourselves, and not have social media or the news tell our stories for them because they always twist it around and you’re always like, “That’s not me.”

It happens a lot. People will talk about someone they lost, and [media outlets] will turn it around being like, this “x” gang member. But we didn’t tell you that. I know now that I have to actually get out there and tell it for myself, because otherwise what’s out there could not be true or another side of the story.

Colorado Votes 2018

Where candidates in the Colorado Democratic primary stand on education issues

The Democratic candidates for governor of Colorado have been sniping at each other over education policy. (Courtesy Colorado Public Television)

Four candidates are vying for the chance to be the Democratic nominee for governor of Colorado. Education has emerged as a key issue on the campaign trail, a point of debate and even a subject of negative campaign ads. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face the victor of an equally competitive Republican primary.

They’ll be trying to hold on to an office that Democrats have controlled since 2007. Gov. John Hickenlooper cannot run again after serving two terms.

The primary is June 26. Ballots have already been mailed, and they must be received by your local county clerk no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day. For the first time, unaffiliated voters, who make up a third of Colorado’s electorate, can participate in the primary. Unaffiliated voters must pick ONE ballot. If you vote both a Democratic and a Republican ballot, neither will count.

Find voter registration information here.

Colorado’s next governor will have an important role to play in shaping education policy. To better understand their positions, we asked the candidates about their own educational experiences and choices, how they would close the achievement gap, whether Colorado should fund full-day kindergarten, and more.

Find their answers below. You can sort by candidate. They have been lightly edited for grammar, style, and length.

You can read the Republican candidates’ responses here.