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.

grand bargain

Colorado lawmakers think they can still find a school finance fix that eluded them for two years

Two years ago, Colorado lawmakers established a special committee to dig deep into the state’s complex school finance problems and propose legislation to fix at least some of them.

Near the end of their tenure, instead of proposing solutions, lawmakers are asking for more time.

If a majority of legislators agree to keep the committee going, its work will take place in a new political environment. For the past four years, Democrats have controlled the state House and Republicans have controlled the state Senate. The makeup of the committee reflected that partisan split. Now Democrats control both chambers, and they ran on an agenda that included increasing funding for education.

But Amendment 73, a tax increase that would have generated $1.6 billion for schools, failed, leaving lawmakers with roughly the same pot of money they had before.

School district and union leaders have warned against changing the way the state distributes money to schools unless there’s more money in the system. Otherwise, efforts to make the formula fairer will end up reducing funds to some districts. Put another way: They want a bigger pie, not different-sized pieces of the same pie. But Colorado voters didn’t bake a bigger pie.

For state Rep. Alec Garnett, the Denver Democrat who serves as vice chair of the committee, that’s an indication lawmakers need to develop a bipartisan proposal that voters would pass.

“We are where we are because none of the ideas have been right,” he said. “The ideas that have been brought forward have been rejected by the legislature and by the people of Colorado. It’s really important that this committee be seen as the vehicle that will get us a solution.”

Republican state senator-elect Paul Lundeen, the committee chair, said he sees broad consensus that Colorado’s school finance formula needs to put the needs of students rather than districts first.

“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I believe we will achieve a formula that is more student-centered.”

State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat, agreed that a bipartisan approach is important to showing voters that “all voices were heard,” but she also pointed to a political landscape that has changed. The committee should be bipartisan, she said, “as long as we are able.”

Not everyone thinks it makes sense to keep going.

We obviously support improving our school finance formula and appreciate the work and discussions of the committee, but without meaningful new money, we don’t believe in creating winners and losers,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “This is a new day. It’s time to get fresh perspectives from a new legislature. We believe the committee should not continue and is outdated. It is no closer to real funding solutions than when it started two years ago.”

A representative of the Colorado Association of School Executives, which represents superintendents, said the organization would take up this question with its members later in the month.

Discussions among lawmakers on the committee have been frustrating and circular at times, with consensus elusive not only on the solutions to the problem but on which problem is the most important to address. A consulting firm that worked with the committee for most of that two-year period ultimately failed to produce the simulation model lawmakers hoped to use to test new funding formulas because a key staff member left. Then decisions got put on hold to see how the election would turn out.

Legislators said the last two years of work have not been a waste at all but instead have laid the groundwork for coming discussions. They put on an optimistic face.

“The key is bipartisanship across the board,” Garnett said. “If Republicans and Democrats and the General Assembly say to voters, ‘Here is how we want to change the formula, but we need your help,’ that is the Colorado way.”

Garnett said those who have been at the table so far — a reference to school district superintendents who brought their own proposal last year — cannot continue to control the conversation.

“The tables have not been big enough to get support,” he said. “We can’t do this alone, but no one else can do it alone either.”

The committee unanimously supported an extension, but could disagree at the next meeting, set for mid-December, on changing the makeup or scope of the committee. Right now, it has five Democrats and five Republicans, with five members from the House and five from the Senate.

The original authorizing legislation was extremely broad. Zenzinger said it might make sense to set aside issues about which there has been stalemate. That would give Republicans less room to press their priorities.

Also in the mix: governor-elect Jared Polis has made his own education promises, especially funding full-day kindergarten. Some people question whether that’s the best use of scarce education dollars, which they might like to spend on special education or expanding preschool.

Garnett said he doesn’t think asking voters for more money is off the table, but it should be part of a broader conversation about changing constitutional limits on the growth of Colorado’s budget. A new formula could be created with a trigger, should voters agree to that change.

“This challenges everyone,” he said. “It requires Republicans to dig into the crisis, and it requires Democrats to dig into what needs to happen at the classroom level.”

school facilities

Cold temps close Memphis state-run schools, highlighting bigger issue of repairing costly, aging buildings

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary was one of four school closed Tuesday due to heating issues.

More than 1,200 students in Tennessee’s turnaround district stayed home from school on Tuesday because their school heating systems weren’t working properly.

Temperatures dipped below 35 degrees, and four schools in the Achievement School District opted to cancel classes because of boiler issues: Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary School, Frayser Achievement Elementary School, Corning Achievement Elementary School, and Martin Luther King Jr. High School. In addition, Kirby Middle School decided to close Wednesday.

Aging school buildings in Memphis have caused headaches and missed school time for Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District, which occupies buildings rent-free from the local district. Just last week, Hamilton High School in Shelby County Schools closed for two days after a power outage caused by heavy rain, and Kirby High School remains closed because of a rodent infestation. Kirby’s students are being housed in different schools for the rest of the semester while repairs are made to rid the school of pests. And Shelby County Schools had to deal with the dropping temperatures on Tuesday as well, with Westwood High School and Oak Forest Elementary ending classes early due to their own heating issues. Westwood High will remain closed Wednesday.

But Tuesday’s closures for state-run schools point to a larger issue of facilities: In a city full of older school buildings needing expensive updates, who pays, and who does the work? There is a formal maintenance agreement between the two districts, but the lines that divide responsibilities for repairs are not always clear.

Shelby County Schools is responsible for bigger fixes in the state district, such as new roofs or heating and air conditioning systems, while the state district’s charter operators are responsible for daily maintenance.

Bobby White, chief of external affairs for the Achievement School District, said they are working with Shelby County Schools to resolve the heating problem at the three elementary schools, two of which share a building. But he said that the issues won’t be fixed by Wednesday, and the schools will remain closed.

“We know it throws off our teachers and students to miss class,” White said. “It’s an unfortunate situation. And it underscores the larger issue of our buildings not being in good shape.”

The charter organization Frayser Community Schools runs MLK Jr. High School as part of the Achievement School District, and a spokeswoman for Frayser said they were handling the boiler repairs on their own as opposed to working with Shelby County Schools. School will remain canceled at the high school on Wednesday.

“Currently our maintenance team is working with a contracted HVAC company to rectify the heating issue,” Erica Williams told Chalkbeat. “Unfortunately, it was not resolved today, resulting in school being closed Wednesday. While our goal is to have school as soon as possible, we want to make sure it’s in a comfortable environment for our students.”

The state district was created in 2012 to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools by taking over local schools and giving them to outside charter organizations to run. Shelby County Schools has a crippling amount of deferred maintenance for its school buildings, including those occupied by the state district, that would cost more than $500 million. The Shelby County district prioritizes how to chip away at that huge cost based on how many children are affected, the condition of the building, and the type of repair, spokeswoman Natalia Powers told Chalkbeat, adding that the district has made some major repairs at state-run schools.

But Sharon Griffin, chief of the Achievement School District told Chalkbeat previously that one of her goals is to resolve problems more quickly with Shelby County Schools when a major repair is needed to avoid lost class time.