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.

School Finance

Teacher raises would survive $211 million cut from Indianapolis Public Schools funding request

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Indianapolis’ largest school district cut about $211 million Tuesday from its request for extra funding, in a bid to win public support for the proposal.

That lower price tag comes with tradeoffs, district officials said. Even if voters approve the new plan, the district would dip into its cash reserves, put off building maintenance, and ditch expanded transportation plans, such as additional busing for students who move partway through the school year.

The new request also reduces how much the district would raise to pay for services for students with disabilities, though it was initially unclear by how much and how that could affect students.

But district officials said they still expected to be able to give raises to teachers if the referendums pass.

The scaled-back request would raise about $725 million over eight years, significantly less than the initial proposal of nearly $1 billion.

The board voted 6-0 in favor of reducing the amount of money the district is seeking, backing off the number members approved two months ago.

Board member Kelly Bentley said many school districts around the state have asked taxpayers for more money.

“We all own property in IPS. None of us want to see our taxes go up,” she said. But, she added, “I am confident that it’s money that’s going to be well spent, and it’s money that is necessary.”

Instead of pulling back spending on teachers and school staff, the district is making the new plan work by adjusting revenue expectations, said Chief Financial Manager Weston Young. The proposal is built on the assumption that state revenue will increase 1 percent each year, and the district will no longer hold as much money in reserves, he said.

“We are still committed to our students through our compensation for teachers and the wraparound services that serve those kids,” Young said.

Reducing the request could help build enthusiasm for the tax increase, which has not gotten much vocal community support. Instead, the referendums have been met with some concern over the size of the ask. But even though they have pared down their plan, district leaders will still need to persuade voters in May to raise their own taxes.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the new plan is a balancing act between what taxpayers can bear and the cost of providing the level of service that families need. Ultimately, he said, the tax increase would pay dividends by helping the district prepare students for college and careers.

“This is one of those situations where you pay now or you pay later,” he said.

The move cut the potential tax increase for homeowners in IPS to $0.58 per $100 of assessed value, down from the initial proposal of $0.73. For taxpayers with houses at the district’s median value — $123,500 — the new plan would increase property taxes by $17.70 per month for operating expenses and $5.54 per month for building improvements, according to the district.

The referendum the board reduced would pay for operating expenses, such as teacher salaries, and under the new request, it would raise about $66 million per year for eight years. That’s down from the initial request of about $92 million per year.

Under the new plan, about $49 million of the money raised each year would go to staff pay, while the remaining $17 million would help pay for services and supplies, regular maintenance, and transportation.

A second measure, which was not changed, would pay for about $200 million in improvements to buildings, primarily safety updates such as new lighting and door security. Both measures are expected to go before voters in May.

School Finance

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders could scale back their appeal for tax increases

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

With little public support and mounting criticism, Indianapolis’ largest school district may scale back its nearly $1 billion request for increased funding from taxpayers.

Indianapolis Public Schools Board President Michael O’Connor told Chalkbeat on Wednesday that the board would likely consider a proposal next week that would reduce the potential tax increase.

All the board members present voted in favor of asking voters for up to $936 million over eight years at a meeting this past December. But there is a consensus among board members that the original proposal would raise taxes too much, O’Connor said.

“The school system needs more revenue,” O’Connor said. But “we think that’s high.”

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration is working on coming up with a revised proposal, district chief of staff Ahmed Young confirmed. But officials have not yet finalized how much the amount might be trimmed or what services would be reduced to bring down the price tag.

The revelation comes on the heels of stinging public criticism leveled against the district for asking for such a large tax increase. On Wednesday, Indiana State Board of Education member and Indianapolis resident Gordon Hendry slammed IPS’ plan to raise taxes during a state board meeting.

“This may be the most nonchalant billion-dollar tax increase ever approved by anyone,” said Hendry, a Democrat.

The original plan, which was approved by the state for inclusion on the May ballot less than a week ago, includes a measure that would raise up to $92 million per year for operating expenses such as teacher salaries and one that would pay for up to $200 million in improvements to school buildings.

If voters signed off on the operating referendum, their property taxes would rise by as much as $0.59 on each $100 of assessed value, while the capital referendum would raise $0.1384 per $100 of assessed valuation.

The board will not alter the referendum that provides money for building improvements, O’Connor said. But it will consider changing how much it seeks for operating expenses, the part responsible for the bulk of the tax increase.

In the months since the original proposal was unveiled in November, few advocates or community organizations have spoken out in support of the referendums. Instead, groups such as the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce stayed quiet as they discussed the plan internally.

It’s important to the city that the school district is successful, said Mark Fisher, chief policy officer for the Chamber. There also is general agreement that the district needs more funding, he said. But the group is waiting to hear more from the administration about how the money will be spent.

“It’s a large amount,” Fisher said. “Is this the right amount?”

Tony Mason from the Indianapolis Urban League raised similar questions.

“IPS definitely requires more support to serve the vast needs of its diverse student population,” Mason wrote in a statement. But the district must make the case in detail for the substantial amount it is requesting.

“IPS needs to be mindful of the already existing and unique tax burdens of those living in the IPS district,” he added.

The district has said the referendums are essential because of declining federal, state, and local revenue. According to the district, the operating referendum would pay for special education services, transportation, and regular maintenance. But the bulk of the money, 72 percent, would help pay regular raises to teachers. The referendum to pay for improvements to school buildings would fund updates such as new lighting and door security.

If it passed, the original operating referendum would increase the district’s annual revenue by nearly $3,000 per student. By comparison, a referendum passed in Washington Township in 2016 raised annual revenue by less than $600 per student.

When the initial plan was announced in December, Ferebee told Chalkbeat that political considerations were not used to determine the amount of the referendums.

“We didn’t arrive at this number based on what we thought would be politically appropriate and soothing, but what we actually need to continue to thrive as an organization,” Ferebee said at the time.

But it appears the political challenge of asking voters to dramatically raise their own taxes is more salient for the board.

Board members have privately heard concerns from constituents about the size of the referendums, O’Connor said. He said the district also needs to present more detail to taxpayers about exactly how the money would be spent.

Because $92 million per year is the estimated maximum amount the district could raise if the measure passes, it was always a ceiling, said Young. After the board voted to pursue the initial proposal, the district has continued to do “due diligence.”

“It’s an evolutionary process,” he added.

On Tuesday, school board member Kelly Bentley told Chalkbeat that reducing the amount the district is seeking could help increase the chance that voters approve the referendums and reduce the burden on taxpayers.

“I believe strongly that we are asking no more than what we need,” Bentley said. “But I would rather be successful than not successful in the referenda.”

Correction: February 15, 2018: This story has been corrected to attribute the statement from the Indianapolis Urban League to Tony Mason.