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.

money matters

Why Gov. Hickenlooper wants to give some Colorado charter schools $5.5 million

Students at The New America School in Thornton during an English class. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

If Mike Epke, principal of the New America School in Thornton, had a larger budget, he would like to spend it on technical training and intervention programs for his students.

He would buy more grade-level and age appropriate books for the empty shelves in his school’s library, and provide his teachers with a modest raise. If he could really make the dollars stretch, he’d hire additional teacher aides to help students learning with disabilities.

“These are students who have not had all the opportunities other students have had,” the charter school principal said, describing his 400 high school students who are mostly Hispanic and come from low-income homes.

A $5.5 million budget request from Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, could help Epke make some of those dreams a reality.

The seven-figure ask is part of Hickenlooper’s proposed budget that he sent to lawmakers earlier this month. The money would go to state-approved charter schools in an effort to close a funding gap lawmakers tried to eliminate in a landmark funding bill passed in the waning days of the 2017 state legislative session.

Funding charter schools, which receive tax dollars but operate independently of the traditional school district system, is a contentious issue in many states. Charter schools in Colorado have enjoyed bipartisan support, but the 2017 debate over how to fund them hit on thorny issues, especially the state’s constitutional guarantee of local control of schools.

The legislation that ultimately passed, which had broad bipartisan support but faced fierce opposition from some Democrats, requires school districts by 2020 to equitably share voter-approved local tax increases — known as mill levy overrides — with the charter schools they approved.

The bill also created a system for lawmakers to send more money to charter schools, like New America in Thornton, that are governed by the state, rather than a local school district.

Unlike district-approved charter schools, which were always eligible to receive a portion of local tax increases, state-approved charter schools haven’t had access to that revenue.

Terry Croy Lewis, executive director of the Charter School Institute, or CSI, the state organization that approves charter schools, said it is critical lawmakers complete the work they started in 2017 by boosting funding to her schools.

“It’s a significant amount of money,” she said. “To not have that equity for our schools, it’s extremely concerning.”

CSI authorizes 41 different charters schools that enrolled nearly 17,000 students last school year. That’s comparable to both the Brighton and Thompson school districts, according to state data.

Hickenlooper’s request would be a small step toward closing the $18 million gap between state-approved charter schools and what district-run charter schools are projected to receive starting in 2020, CSI officials said.

“Gov. Hickenlooper believes that working to make school funding as fair as possible is important,” Jacque Montgomery, Hickenlooper’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This is the next step in making sure that is true for more children.”

If lawmakers approve Hickenlooper’s request, the New Legacy charter school in Aurora would receive about $580 more per student in the 2018-19 school year.

Jennifer Douglas, the school’s principal, said she would put that money toward teacher salaries and training — especially in the school’s early education center.

“As a small school, serving students with complex needs, it is challenging and we need to tap into every dollar we can,” she said.

The three-year old school in Aurora serves both teen mothers and their toddlers. Before the school opened, Douglas sent in her charter application to both the Aurora school board and CSI. Both approved her charter application, but because at the time her school would receive greater access to federal dollars through CSI, Douglas asked to be governed by the state.

Douglas said that her preferred solution to close the funding gap would be to see local tax increases follow students, regardless of school type or governance model. Until that day, she said, lawmakers must “ensure that schools have the resources they need to take care of the students in our state and give them the education they deserve.”

For Hickenlooper’s request to become a reality, it must first be approved by the legislature’s budget committee and then by both chambers. In a hyper-partisan election year, nothing is a guarantee, but it appears Hickenlooper’s proposal won’t face the same fight that the 2017 charter school funding bill encountered.

State Rep. Jovan Melton, an Aurora Democrat who helped lead the charge against the charter school funding bill, said he was likely going to support Hickenlooper’s proposal.

“You almost have to do it to be in alignment with the law,” Melton said. “I don’t think with a good conscious I could vote against it. I’m probably going to hold my nose and vote yes.”

Payment dispute

Fired testing company seeks $25.3 million for work on TNReady’s bumpy rollout

PHOTO: TN.gov

Tennessee officials won’t talk about the state’s ongoing dispute with the testing company it fired last year, but the company’s president is.

Henry Scherich

Henry Scherich says Tennessee owes Measurement Inc. $25.3 million for services associated with TNReady, the state’s new standardized test for its public schools. That’s nearly a quarter of the company’s five-year, $108 million contract with the state, which Tennessee officials canceled after technical problems roiled the test’s 2016 rollout.

So far, the state has paid the Durham, North Carolina-based company about $545,000 for its services, representing about 2 percent of the total bill, according to a claim recently obtained by Chalkbeat.

Measurement Inc. filed the claim with the state in February in an effort to get the rest of the money that it says it’s owed. Since then, lawyers for both sides have been in discussions, and the company filed a lawsuit in June with the Tennessee Claims Commission. The commission has directed the State Department of Education to respond to the complaint by Nov. 30.

“We’re moving forward,” Scherich told Chalkbeat when asked about the status of the talks. “… We’re simply asking to be paid for the services we provided.”

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen declined last week to discuss the dispute, which she called “an ongoing pending lawsuit.” A spokesman for the attorney general’s office also declined to comment on Monday.

Scherich said he and other company officials have not been called to Nashville for hearings or depositions.

“Our lawyers and the state’s lawyers are still skirmishing each other,” he said. “…They argue about lots of things. It’s kind of like we’re establishing the ground rules for how this process is going to proceed.”

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced the firing of Measurement Inc. and the suspensions of most testing in April 2016.

Tennessee’s dramatic testing failure started on Feb. 8, 2016, when students logged on during the first morning of testing and were unable to load TNReady off the new online platform developed by Measurement Inc. The fallout culminated several months later when McQueen fired the company and canceled testing altogether for grades 3-8. In between were months of delays after McQueen instructed districts to revert to paper-and-pencil materials that would be provided by Measurement Inc. under the terms of their contract. Many of those materials never arrived.

The company’s claim suggests that the state was hasty in its decision to cancel online testing and therefore shares blame for a year of incomplete testing.

The Tennessee Department of Education “unilaterally and unjustifiably ordered the cancellation of all statewide electronic testing that occurred on February 8, 2016, following a transitory slowdown of network services that morning,” the claim says.

(In an exclusive interview with Chalkbeat the day before his company was fired, Scherich said Measurement Inc.’s online platform did not have enough servers for the 48,000 students who logged on that first day — a problem that he said could have been fixed eventually.)

The claim also charges that McQueen’s subsequent order to substitute paper test materials was “unnecessary and irresponsible” and impossible to meet because of the logistical challenge of printing and distributing them statewide in a matter of weeks.

In her letter terminating the state’s contracts with Measurement Inc., McQueen describes daily problems with the company’s online platform in the months leading up to the botched launch. “This was not just a testing day hiccup; the online platform failed to function on day one of testing,” she wrote.

McQueen said those experiences contributed to her department’s conclusion that Measurement Inc. was unable to provide a reliable, consistent online platform and left her with no option but to order paper and pencil tests. She also cited the company’s failure to meet its own paper test delivery deadlines for her ultimate decision to terminate the contracts and suspend testing.

The last sentence of the four-page termination letter says the state would “work with (Measurement Inc.) to determine reconciliation for appropriate compensation due, if any, for services and deliverables that have been completed as of the termination date after liquidated damages have been assessed.”

In addition to its invoices for work under the contract, Scherich said his company is owed another $400,000 for delivering test-related materials to the state after its contract was ended.

“We didn’t want to be a company that stood in the way of the programs of the state of Tennessee, so we provided all the information they requested,” Scherich said. “We were told we would be paid, we provided the information, and then we’ve not been paid.”

Founded in 1980, Measurement Inc. had been doing testing-related work for Tennessee for more than a decade before being awarded the 2014 TNReady contract, its biggest job ever. The company had a fast deadline — only a year — to create the state’s test for grades 3-11 math and English language arts after a vote months earlier by the legislature prompted Tennessee to pull out of PARCC, a consortium of other states with a shared Common Core-aligned assessment.

Scherich said the loss of the TNReady contract was “a major hit” for his company, but that Measurement Inc. has paid every employee and subcontractor who worked on the project. “We have had to go into debt to keep ourselves viable while we wait for this situation with Tennessee to be resolved,” he said, adding that the company continues to do work in about 20 other states.

To pursue its claim, Measurement Inc. has hired the Tennessee law firm of Lewis, Thomason, King, Krieg & Waldrop, which has offices in Nashville and Knoxville.

“I’m sure we’ll work out something amicable with the state over time,” he said. “I’m an optimistic person. But I think our lawyers and their lawyers will have to have a lot of negotiations.”

Below are Measurement Inc.’s claim against the state, and the state’s letter terminating its contracts with the company.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with details about the claim’s status.