School Finance

Voters soundly reject Amendment 66

Check back this evening as returns start to be reported — we’ll be updating the post all night with results and responses from the campaigns and other stakeholders.

12:17 a.m.: We’re going to bed, but you can read our final A66 wrap-up story here. And be sure to check back tomorrow for more coverage about what the failure of the tax measure means for the future of Colorado school funding.

9:34 p.m.: Here are some excerpts from the speeches given at the Yes on 66 party:

Andrew Freedman, Yes on 66’s campaign manager:

“It appears we have lost despite our best efforts,” he said. “Please take tonight not t mourn but to celebrate what we’ve all been through.”

Gail Klapper, one of the brokers of the ballot measure language:

“We did this knowing it would be an uphill climb.”

From Johnston, the architect of the ballot measure and its accompanying legislation, SB-213:

“Democracy is not always easy but it is always right.”

“Both the supporters and opponents of this measure both want the same things … great education, a strong economy and a healthy state. What we disagreed about was how to pay for it, and that was the narrow questions that was decided tonight.”

“We need to restart this conversation as a state.”

From Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia:

“We need to come back, we need to continue to fight for kids. … We know that kids can live up to our expectations. … Our kids have every right to have high expectations for all of us.”

From Gov. Hickenlooper:

SB 13-213 is “an integrated vision of what a modern education system is going to look like.”

“Every great social victory is based on a number of failures. There are always setbacks before we get to that ultimate success.”

“This model is an unbelieveable starting place,” he said. “We’ll keep working on this.”

8:51 p.m.: Amy Oliver Cooke, executive vice president of the conservative Independence Institute, characterized the sound defeat of the amendment as a referendum on the policies of the state’s Democrats.

“Whether it’s gun control or a massive tax increase, people are saying ‘no,'” she said. “And it’s not just in little ways. It’s in very big ways.”
“We didn’t just say no to a tax increase,” she continued. “This wasn’t just a ‘no.’ This was a ‘HELL NO.'”

8:49 p.m.: Here’s the full text of the statement from Colorado Education Association president Kerrie Dallman on the defeat of A66:

“The vote on Amendment 66 is an upsetting result for the children of Colorado and the educators who have worked so hard to meet student needs during years of devastating budget cuts. Colorado’s teachers and school support staff thank every voter who placed their trust in a new system and a new day for Colorado public education. We came up short, and we will need to intensify our efforts for a new statewide funding solution. All Colorado school employees will continue to do the best possible job to serve students.

“Colorado has cut more than $1 billion from our schools over the last five years and spends $2,000 less per student than the national average. Without the new funds, school districts will have difficulty bringing back art, music, physical education and other programs. Our rural districts will struggle to offer the most basic instruction to their students.
“Districts will also continue to carry the weight of implementing education reforms passed during those years as unfunded mandates by the Colorado Legislature. We believe the reforms contained in Amendment 66 are a critical part of improving education going forward, and we’re disappointed that the failure of Amendment 66 leaves these education reforms unfunded. Without proper funding, these laws will struggle to create the intended results, such as state-of-the-art curriculum and assessments, an evaluation system that improves the professional practice of teaching, and more literacy support for our youngest learners. Moreover, our legislators need to understand the burden and stress unfunded mandates have placed on educators across the state. We would caution the upcoming Colorado General Assembly against adding any new education reforms to this over-burdened education system.
“Members of the Colorado Education Association were proud to be involved in all aspects of the ‘Yes on 66’ campaign, from gathering nearly 19,500 signatures for the ballot, to appearing in TV ads, to personally engaging hundreds of thousands of voters across the state. Our members will take the positive energy generated during the Amendment 66 campaign and use it to further build the case for filling Colorado’s enormous shortfalls in school funding. This fight is not over, and we will prevail for our schools and our students.”
National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel also weighed in:

“The disappointing result on Amendment 66 to improve education in Colorado comes at a time when states across the nation are struggling to close achievement gaps between students in lower-income communities with students making greater gains in more affluent school districts. The National Education Association joined CEA as a major campaign contributor behind ‘Yes on 66’ because Colorado is using the right approach to bring more fairness and equality to education funding.

“Colorado educators have been leading the nation on ensuring great public schools for every child, with students consistently showing improved growth and outcomes despite the lack of financial investment in the state’s education system. The nation needs Colorado to try again – the stakes are too high to give up.”

8:25 p.m.: Leaders of the small but raucous anti-66 campaign quickly pivoted to a broader agenda after securing a victory at the ballot Tuesday night. Amendment 66, which would have reformed the state’s funding of education by raising the state income tax, was handily defeated.

“Colorado is now sending the right message — not just to the state legislature — but to the nation,” said executive vice president of the Independent Institute Amy Oliver Cooke. “You don’t have to raise taxes, just expectations.”
President of the Independent Institute Jon Caldera told the crowd, “Colorado is waking up and demanding a responsible government.”
Earlier in the evening Kelly Maher of Compass Colorado linked the recent recall of two state Democratic lawmakers and the defeat of Amendment 66 to a cultural sea change in Colorado.

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 8.16.09 PM8:16 p.m.: Our reporter Nic is heading over to a gathering at the Independence Institute, an organization that loosely organized some of the opposition to the tax measure. Here’s a “No on 66” campaign sign posted right outside the building.

8:13 p.m.: Todd reports that Gov. John Hickenlooper, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and State Sen. Michael Johnston are all at the Yes on 66 party. Right now they’re playing a video.

8:10 p.m.: Todd reports that speeches at the Yes on 66 party are expected to start in about 5 minutes.

8:09 p.m.: With a three-quarters of a million votes counted just an hour after the polls closed, A66 was losing by a slightly larger margin that Proposition 103 lost by in 2011.Prop 103, which would have devoted additional money to both K-12 and higher education, proposed a smaller tax increase and was backed by a $600,000 campaign, a fraction of the more than $10 million spent by A66 backers.

8:07: Our reporter Nic, who is reporting from Denver Public School candidates O’Brien, Johnson and Taylor’s party, chatted with DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg about the future of state education funding in the wake of Amendment 66’s loss.

“The state must have a conversation about how we invest in education, whether as a state or at the local property value,” he said.

8:05 p.m.: Amendment 66 is losing even in large counties where voter registrations lean Democratic or unaffiliated. The no vote was 65 percent in Adams County, 51 percent in Boulder, 67 percent in Jefferson and 70 percent in Pueblo. In Denver, the yes vote had lead of less than half a percentage point.

7:32 p.m.: With more than half a million votes counted, Amendment 66 is losing by a nearly 2-1 margin. The modest crowd at the Yes on 66 party has been quiet as returns rolled in. Even before vote totals were available several prominent education figures told EdNews they felt it would lose. What seems surprising to some, however, was the wide margin of defeat in early returns.

7:29 p.m.: Our reporter Nic Garcia ran into Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia at the campaign party for Denver Public School board candidates Barbara O’Brien, Michael Johnson and Landri Taylor. “I’m hopeful, but I know it doesn’t look good,” Garcia said when asked about Amendment 66.

“I’m pleased so many people know why Amendment 66 and education reform is so important,” he said. “I’m sad so many people don’t.”
He said he felt too many people “reduced” A66 to nothing more than a tax increase.
“Colorado has demonstrated it’s reluctant to pass a statewide tax despite supporting them at the local level,” he said. “I don’t think enough people had a deep enough understanding of how Amendment 66 improved the system.”
And how does he think that problem should be fixed? “We need to get more families talking about these issues at the grassroots level. TV commercials aren’t going to do it. We need a grassroots effort committed to talking to their families and neighbors.”

UPDATE at 7:07 p.m.: Amendment 66 was losing with about 40 percent of the vote in the first release of votes from the Department of State Tuesday night, with a bit under 200,000 votes counted. Our reporter Todd Engdahl says that amendment supporters are filtering slowly into the Yes on 66 party at the Marriott City Center. Some commented that they weren’t optimistic about the outcome and expected it to be a short night.

Colorado voters have the final say today on the future funding of Colorado schools — an issue that’s largely been in the hands of policymakers, advocators and politicians for the last two years.

A66 LogoThe amendment that voters will accept or reject was designed to provide the money — $950 million from higher income taxes in the first year – to pay for the significant school funding changes contained in Senate Bill 13-213, a law passed earlier this year. That law can’t go into effect until additional funding is approved.

Backers of the measure, known as Amendment 66, advocated for passage based on two broad arguments. The first was that additional funding is needed for preschool and kindergarten students, for at-risk students, for teacher professional development and for education innovations in order to fully implement the education reform policies that the state has enacted since 2008. The second argument was that the state’s schools needed restoration of the estimated $1 billion in school funding lost during recent years of budget cuts.

Opposition to the measure focused largely on the tax increase, but critics also raised arguments about whether more money would really drive improved student achievement and about whether the extra revenue would be used properly.

The campaigns

The campaigns have been mismatched since the start.

Despite getting what many observers saw as a slow start, the pro-66 campaign ramped up with a large salaried staff, plenty of paid outside consultants, an extensive TV ad campaign, lots of field offices, neighborhood canvassing and a reasonably lively social media effort. The main campaign group, Colorado Commits to Kids, had raised more than $10 million as the campaign came to close, and there was additional – but not reported – spending by allied groups.

Top Democratic officeholders, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, both mainline and reform advocacy groups, many teachers and school administrators lined up behind the amendment. School boards and business groups were divided.

The opposition, loosely organized around the conservative think tank the Independence Institute, managed to mount a modest (if indirectly messaged) TV advertising campaign. Partisans also tried to make their voices heard on social media. It’s estimated opponents spent less than $1 million, although the total isn’t know for sure because it was spent in ways that didn’t have to be reported to the Department of State.

The opponents also threw the dice on a last-minute court challenge to some of the paperwork in the petition campaign that got A66 on the ballot. That was tossed out by a Denver judge, and the opposition didn’t appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

The proposals

The feel-good Yes on 66 campaign focused on simple messages – that passage of the amendment would reduce class sizes, provide more individual attention for students and restore programs like art, music, physical education.

It’s hard to communicate complex policy messages in 15-second TV spots, and the combination of A66 and SB 13-213 is about as complex as you can get.

What the new system would do

Here are the most important elements of A66 and SB 13-213. For more details, see the EdNews Guide to Amendment 66.

Key features of A66

  • Requires that 43 percent of state general fund revenues be devoted to P-12 education
  • Removes the requirement for annual inflationary increases from the constitution
  • Raises the individual income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent on incomes up to $75,000
  • Income above $75,000 would be taxed at 5.9 percent
  • Small business owners who file taxes as individuals would be affected

Key features of SB213

  • Changes the current single-date enrollment count to a system called average daily membership, intended to provide more accurate student counts
  • Significant changes in the weights used to calculate individual district funding
  • Full funding of state program for at-risk preschoolers and for full-day kindergarten
    Increased funding for charters
  • Somewhat more flexibility for principals in spending at-risk funds
  • $411 per student for districts to spend on reform implementation
  • Grant program to fund innovations and measures such as longer school days
  • More funding for special education and gifted and talented
  • Increased flexibility for districts in seeking local tax increases
  • Detailed reports required on spending and effectiveness

Funding for some parts of the bill may fluctuate depending on actual revenues, and many observers think additional legislation will be needed to fine-tune the bill.

Future of Schools

CPS $1 billion capital budget hearings: Questions, demands, and mixed feelings

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Community members gave passionate testimonies at a public hearing at Malcolm X College for the proposed capital budget.

Chicago Public Schools surprised many when it dropped its biggest facility spending plan a few weeks ago with a big “B”—that stands for billion—in the headline.

Considering that the district had planned to spend less than $200 million on capital needs for the 2018-2019 school year, this plan represents a five-fold increase. It relies largely on bonds to pay for building improvements and introduces new schools amid steadily shrinking enrollment, mostly in areas around gentrifying neighborhoods.

Divergent opinions surrounding the capital budget emerged at three concurrent community meetings CPS held Thursday night at City Colleges sites around Chicago: Malcolm X, Harry S. Truman, and Kennedy-King. The Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the district’s $7.58 billion budget, including the capital plan, on July 25.

At the Malcolm X meeting, CPS Senior Policy Advisor Cameron Mock presented a map showing capital budget projects distributed evenly throughout the city, but, as CPS Chief Financial Officer Jennie Bennett acknowledged, “not all projects are equal.”

Bennett explained that “the allocation of these projects were really in large part due to feedback about need.”

Chalkbeat mapped out the costliest capital projects, and found that the West side, particularly the Southwest side, received the smallest concentration of large investments.

The map shows investments in facility needs over $5 million, all programmatic investments, all investments in overcrowding relief, investments in site improvements over $500,000, as well as sites of the two new classical schools. The map does not show the two new schools in Belmont Cragin and the Near West Side, because the district has not yet specified exact locations. The district also has not yet identified schools for many of its capital projects, such as technology and facility upgrades. See the full plan here.

At Thursday’s hearings, parents from schools that did receive significant funding, such as Christopher Elementary School in Gage Park and Hancock High School in West Elsdon, expressed thanks. But others asked for for more investment.

Residents questioned the plan to build a new $70 million high school on the Near West Side. Lori Edwards, a Local School Council member at Crane Medical Prep on the Near West Side, said that Crane desperately needed air conditioning and heating, doors with windows, and security cameras.

“I’m surprised that we can’t just get basic things instead of building a new high school,” she said.

Questions also surrounded the $44 million assigned for a new elementary school in Belmont Cragin on the Northwest Side to address overcrowding. A sophomore at Prosser High School in Belmont Cragin asked for investment in her school instead. At Prosser, she said, “there needs to be reconstruction in the classrooms, the paint on the walls is falling off.”

Leticia Neri, a mother of two students at Camras Elementary School in Belmont Cragin, was wary of adding a school to the neighborhood. Her children used to attend Burbank Elementary, which is also in Belmont Cragin. When Acero Roberto Clemente, a charter school, opened just two blocks down in 2013, she said that Burbank lost pupils.

However, Mock said the proposed new school was a response to demand in Belmont Cragin. And in fact, several miles north in Uptown, where CPS’s Chief Operating Officer Arnie Rivera and other officials led a meeting Thursday, a handful of Belmont Cragin residents argued in favor of the school.

Parent Mariela Estrada said Belmont Cragin Elementary, which her 9-year-old attends,  is overcrowded. While the district’s formula doesn’t label any Belmont Cragin school overcrowded, the numbers paint a different picture. Belmont Cragin Elementary’s 414 students share a building with Northwest Middle School’s 545 pupils.

“I am really, really grateful right now for what we are getting,” she said.

The North Side, as the map above shows, will receive the most capital funding. Several attendees expressed gratitude for investments in area schools, especially a new ADA compliant gym at McCutcheon Elementary in Uptown, and an expanded test-in Decatur Classical School program in West Ridge, that will add seventh and eighth grades. Students have to test into the city’s five highly competitive classical schools, and hundreds are turned away every year.

Even so, not all North Side residents felt their schools would receive what they need, and many questioned CPS’ process for planning improvements.

A mother of a student at Schurz High School, in Old Irving Park, thanked CPS for a plans to install a new athletic field, but mentioned the school’s leaky roof, faulty heating system, green and black mold under carpets, and peeling paint in the auditorium. “It’s gross,” she said.

Parent Dawne Moon, said Kilmer Elementary School in Rogers Park is “not currently a safe environment.” Moon, a Local School Council member,  complained of rusted lockers, “bathrooms that smell like urine, even after they are cleaned,” temporary covers over holes in the roof that keeps water from pouring into classrooms, and of bricks falling from the ceiling in the school’s gym.  

“We can hope that the next brick doesn’t fall on a kid,” she said.

Betsy Vandercook, co-chair of the education committee at Network 49, a progressive neighborhood group based in Rogers Park, said schools in her neighborhood would get less than what adjacent communities like Edgewater and West Rogers Park would receive.

“Rogers Park is not, for whatever reason getting the same resources that many other North Side communities are getting,” she said about the capital budget proposal. “Take this back, look at it again, look at what is and isn’t needed.”

budget season

New budget gives CPS CEO Janice Jackson opportunity to play offense

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson announced the district's $1 billion capital plan at Lázaro Cardenas Elementary School in Little Village.

Running Chicago’s schools might be the toughest tour of duty in town for a public sector CEO. There have been eight chiefs in a decade – to be fair, two were interims – who have wrangled with mounting debt, aging buildings, and high percentages of students who live in poverty.

Then there’ve been recurring scandals, corruption, and ethics violations. Since she was officially named to the top job in January, CEO Janice Jackson has had to clean up a series of her predecessors’ lapses, from a special education crisis that revealed families were counseled out of services to a sexual abuse investigation that spotlighted a decade of system failures at every level to protect students.

But with budget season underway, the former principal finally gets the chance to go on the offensive. The first operations budget of her tenure is a $5.98 billion plan that contains some good news for a change: 5 percent more money, courtesy of the state revamp of the school funding formula and a bump from local tax revenues. CPS plans to funnel $60 million more to schools than it did last school year, for a total of $3.1 billion. Put another way, it plans to spend $4,397 per student as a base rate — a 2 percent increase from the year prior.

CPS’ total budget comes out to $7.58 billion once you factor in long-term debt and an ambitious $1 billion capital plan that is the focus of a trio of public hearings Thursday night. When it comes to debt, the district owes $8.2 billion as of June 30, or nearly $3,000 per every Chicago resident.

“The district, without a doubt, is on firmer footing than it was 18 months ago, but they’re not out of woods yet,” said Bobby Otter, budget director for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. “When you look at the overall picture (the $7.58 budget), they’re still running a deficit. This is now the seventh year in a row they are running a deficit, and the amount of debt the district has, combined with the lack of reserves, leaves them with little flexibility.”

Earlier this week, standing in front of an audience of executives at a City Club of Chicago luncheon, Jackson acknowledged that it had been an “eventful” seven months and said she was ready to focus on strategies for moving the district forward. “I won’t be waiting for next shoe to drop or wasting time and resources waiting for next problem. I want to design a system to educate and protect children.”

“I’m not in crisis mode,” she added.

Here’s what that looks like in her first year when you just consider the numbers. The biggest line items of any operating budget are salaries, benefits and pensions: Taken all together, they consume 66 percent of CPS’ planned spending for the 2018-2019 school year. Rounding out much of the rest are contracts with vendors ($542.6 million, or 9 percent), such as the controversial janitorial deals with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC; charter expenditures ($749 million, or 13 percent); and spending on transportation, textbooks, equipment, and the like (12 percent).

A closer look at how some of those items are allocated offers a window into Jackson’s vision. The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the plan July 25.

Investing in choice

Earlier this month, the district announced a nearly $1 billion capital plan, funded by bonds, that would support new schools, technology upgrades, and annexes at some of the district’s most popular campuses. The operating budget, meanwhile, accounts for the people and programs driving those projects. It proposes nearly doubling the staff, from 10 to 17, in the office that manages charters, contract programs, and the creation of new schools. It reestablishes a chief portfolio officer who reports directly to the CEO. And it adds expands access to International Baccalaureate programs and Early College STEM offerings. In a letter at the beginning of the 2019 Budget Book, Jackson said such expansions “move the district closer to our goal of having 50 percent of students earn at least one college or career credential before graduating high school.” 

Advocating for students

The budget seeds at least two new departments: a four-person Office of Equity charged with diversifying the teacher pipeline, among other roles, and a 20-person Title IX office that would investigate student abuse cases, including claims of student-on-student harassment.

Leaning into high schools

Fitting for a budget designed by a former high school principal – Jackson was running a high school before age 30 – the plan leans in to high schools, establishing $2 million to fund four new networks to oversee them. (That brings the total number of networks to 17; networks are mini-administrative departments that track school progress, assist with budgeting, and ensure policy and procedures are followed.) And it earmarks $75 million across three years for new science labs at neighborhood high schools. What’s more, it supports 10 additional career counselors to help campuses wrestle with a graduation mandate – set forth by Mayor Rahm Emanuel – that seniors have a post-secondary plan to graduate starting with the Class of 2020.

Throwing a lifeline to small schools

The budget also sets forth a $10 million “Small Schools Fund” to help schools with low enrollment retain teachers and offer after-school programs. It also earmarks an additional $5 million to help schools facing precipitous changes in enrollment, which can in turn lead to dramatic budget drops.   

Supporting modest staff increases

After a round of layoffs were announced in June, the budget plan adds at least 200 teachers. But the district would not provide a clear accounting of whom to Chalkbeat by publication time. Earlier this week, it announced plans to fund additional school social workers (160) and special education case managers (94).

The district plans to add positions for the upcoming 2018-2019 year.

As Chicago Teachers Union organizer and Cook County Commissioner candidate Brandon Johnson pointed out in an impromptu press conference earlier this week in front of district HQ, the budget is still “woefully short” on school psychologists, nurses, and counselors. And it doesn’t address the calls from parents to restore librarians and instructors in such subjects as art, music, physical education — positions that have experienced dramatic cuts since 2011. “What is proposed today still leaves us short of when (Mayor Emanuel) took office,” Johnson said. “The needs of our students must be met.”

Principal Elias Estrada, who oversees two North Side schools, Alcott Elementary and Alcott High School, said he was still figuring out how the additional staffing would work. He’s getting another social worker – but he oversees two campuses that sit three miles apart, so he figures he’ll have to divide the person’s time between campuses. Estrada asked the board at Monday’s budget hearing to help him understand the criteria it uses to determine which schools get extra staff or additional programs, like IB. “I need a counselor, a clerk, and an assistant principal,” he said; currently those positions also are shared between the elementary and the high school.

After the meeting, he said that schools might have gotten slightly bigger budgets this year, but the increase was consumed by rising salaries and he wasn’t able to add any positions. What’s more, his building needs repairs, but it didn’t get picked for any of the facilities upgrades in the $1 billion capital plan that accompanied the budget.

“What is the process?” he asked. “The need is everywhere.”

At two public hearings on Monday, fewer than a dozen speakers signed up to ask questions of the board, central office administrators, or Jackson.

To see if your school is getting one of the newly announced positions or any funding from the capital plan, type it in the search box below.