Follow the money

Denver-based libertarian group adds $75,000 to fight Jefferson County school board recall

PHOTO: YouTube/IIonKBDI
Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, interviewed Jefferson County school board president and recall target Ken Witt, left, on his CPT12 television show "Devil's Advocate."

Big money continues to pour into the fight over who controls Jefferson County classrooms, new campaign finance records show.

Since the recall effort was launched in June, an estimated $1 million has been raised by groups on both sides of the fight.

The latest round of reports filed with the Secretary of State — which covers a small window of Oct. 16-22 — continues to show supporters of the recall have the edge in reported donations. But a new contribution to the committee opposing the recall has narrowed that gap slightly.

Colorado Independent Action, a nonprofit linked to the libertarian think tank The Independence Institute, contributed $75,000 to Kids Are First Jeffco, the political committee that opposes the recall of the three conservative school board members, in the latest filing period.

The donation from Independent Action to Kids Are First Jeffco was the single largest donation during the reporting period. Reports from campaigns and committees involved in the Jefferson County school board recall were due at midnight Tuesday.

Kids Are First Jeffco spent all $75,000 on advertising with a Denver-based company called Colorado Media Group, according to records.

Data Center | Track contributions to players in the Jefferson County school board recall election and see how much everyone has raised in spent since June here.

While donations to recall supporters slowed down during the latest reporting period, the groups still holds an edge in total reported contributions.

Jeffco United for Action, the organization that initiated the recall, reported raising $3,110 in the period. It spent $23,997, mostly on advertising.

Jeffco United Forward, the committee that is backing a slate of candidates to reset the entire board, raised $630 in non-itemized contributions. Tapping into money it had previously raised, it spent $9,980, mostly with the consulting firm Strategies 360.

Contributions to recall targets and the candidates seeking to replace them were more mixed.

Recall targets continued to raised little campaign funds on their own. Jeffco school board president Ken Witt raised $575. John Newkirk raised $1,345. Julie Williams didn’t report any new contributions.

By contrast, members of the so-called Clean Slate who are seeking to replace the conservative school board majority raised and spent impressive sums. Ron Mitchell raised $10,783. Brad Rupert recorded $14,198 in contributions. And Susan Harmon added $5,515 to her war chest.

Big contributors to their campaigns include the county’s teachers union’s small donor committee and a rancher from Boulder, John Powers, who has given generously to Democrats in the past, according to records.

The union’s small donor committee donated $9,000 to Rupert and $6,000 to Mitchell during the seven-day reporting period. During the same time, Powers donated $4,000 to Harmon and $3,500 to Mitchell.

The three candidates, who are also backed by recall supporters, continued to spend thousands of dollars on advertising with Mad Dog Mail, a Democratic marketing company in Florida.

Other candidates in the recall election raised considerably less money — if any.

Regan Benson raised $200, according to records. Neither Paula Noonan nor Matt Dhieux recorded any new contributions.

The final reporting deadline for committees in the recall election is Dec. 3.

Candidates and committees involved in the regular election that features two school board seats in the state’s second largest school district are due at midnight Friday.

The total amount spent on the recall will never be known because organizations like the Colorado Independent Action and Americans For Prosperity, which supports the school board majority’s policies, aren’t required to file with the secretary of state so long as they don’t expressly advocate for or against particular candidates.

Recall supporters have a nonprofit of their own that is not required to disclose its donors. That nonprofit, Jeffco United made an early donation of about $90,000 to the recall effort.

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See disparities in how Colorado schools are serving black, Hispanic, and white students

Ismael Mora raises his hand on the first day of school at McGlone Academy in Denver on Aug. 15, 2018. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Chalkbeat continues its closer look today at recently released state test scores. The scores are one way to measure whether schools are doing a good job serving different groups of students, including students of color. This story focuses on students by race and ethnicity.

This database is the third of three that Chalkbeat published this week. The first looks at student growth scores by family income, and the second looks at growth scores by disability status.

On the whole, black and Hispanic students in grades 3 through 8 scored lower on literacy and math tests taken this past spring than white students did. Those gaps have persisted for years in Colorado and across the nation.

But the raw scores don’t tell the whole story. While they show whether or not students are at grade level, they don’t show how much academic progress students made in the year leading up to taking the tests. Take, for instance, a fifth-grader who jumped from reading at a first-grade level to a fourth-grade level. The student made a lot of progress but still isn’t at grade level.

The state aims to measure such academic progress with something called a “growth percentile,” or growth score. State education officials have focused on growth scores as a better gauge of teaching and learning than raw test scores, which tend to be correlated to race or family income.

That’s why the state heavily weighs growth scores when assigning quality ratings to districts and schools. That’s also why we’re featuring them in the searchable database at the bottom of this story.

Growth scores work like this: Each student’s raw test score is compared with the scores of students who performed similarly to them in previous years. The growth score is a percentile: A 99 means a student did better than 99 percent of students with similar test score histories.

The state also calculates growth scores for entire districts, schools, and groups of students by ranking from highest to lowest all of their growth scores and then finding the midway point, or median, among the students.

In the charts below, you’ll see median growth scores for 15 metro area districts. For each district, you’ll see three scores: One for black students, one for Hispanic students, and one for white students.

Including the scores of white students provides an indication of whether districts are serving students of color as well as they’re serving white students. Testing experts caution that growth scores are just one piece of the puzzle when measuring a school’s quality.

Credit: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

In most districts, white students showed more academic progress than black or Hispanic students did. But there were some exceptions. In the Mapleton school district, located north of Denver, black students showed far more progress in literacy than did white or Hispanic students. About 2 percent of the district’s nearly 9,000 students are black.

Credit: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

The database below goes even deeper to show median growth scores at all Colorado elementary and middle schools for black students, Hispanic students, and white students. Those three groups are the biggest in Colorado. We did not include growth scores for smaller groups of students, including Asian and Native American students, because of the technological limitations of our database and because Colorado’s student data privacy rules obscure many of the scores for those students.

A note about the numbers themselves: The median growth score for the state is always about 50. The state considers growth scores between 35 and 65 “typical,” meaning students made a typical amount of academic progress that year.

Scores higher than 65 suggest students are making above-average academic progress – evidence, perhaps, that a school’s curriculum is working for those students or their teachers are getting the training, support, and resources they need to be effective

Scores lower than 35 suggest the opposite.

Look up your elementary or middle school in the database below. The database also allows you to pull up several schools at once and see their scores side-by-side.

A “-” symbol means a score is not publicly available. The state obscures test results for small groups of students in what has been a controversial effort to protect student privacy.

school by school

Look up disparities in how your school is serving students with special needs

Zachary Tucker, a 5th grader in Colorado Springs, answers questions in class with his service dog, Clyde, in 2014. Clyde helps Zach with his Aspergers syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Some of the largest gaps in test results in Colorado are between students who have special needs, and students who don’t.

Chalkbeat has been looking at data released earlier this month from state tests students took this spring.

Students with special needs historically underperform the general student population on state tests. However, advocates say that with the right help, students with non-cognitive disabilities should be just as likely to score as well as their peers.

The database below provides a breakdown of test data for students in third through eighth grade. The tool is an easy way for you to compare gaps among schools and the statewide average.

This database is the second of three that Chalkbeat plans to publish this week.
  • To look up disparities by poverty, read our first story here.
  • To look up disparities by student race and ethnicity, read our third story here.
  • What you’ll see is a growth score — it’s a number calculated by the state that shows how students did year-over-year when compared only with students with similar academic histories. The scale is created to set the state median growth at about 50. If a school has a growth score of 55, for instance, that means the students in that school, on average, improved more than 55 percent of their academic peers.

    The state has been weighing growth heavily when rating schools each year, but is now reconsidering that calculation.

    Last year, looking at achievement data, Chalkbeat found some of the widest gaps in school districts such as Poudre, Boulder Valley and St. Vrain. But looking at the growth scores this year, the widest gaps in how much students improved from year to year are in Adams 14 and Denver.

    Denver’s school district often has some of the state’s largest disparities when it comes to the education of different students. Adams 14, which actually had no gap when it came to the growth of students on math tests, but a very large gap in literacy, had a troubled year when it came to special education. The program director left in the spring, and several parents said they discovered late in the year that their children hadn’t received the help they should have according to their education plans.

    Credit: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

    Some districts remain unique cases. For instance, while the gap in Littleton is wide, its students with special needs had the highest growth in literacy among special needs students in other metro-area districts.

    In Englewood, students who have an individualized education plan had, on average, higher growth in math than students who did not require such a plan.

    Credit: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

    Some school-level data is obscured by the state in a controversial attempt to protect student privacy. Below, if you see the “-” symbol, that means the score for that group of students at the school is not publicly available.

    In the tool, “IEP” refers to the growth scores of students with Individualized Education Program plans required for students with special needs.

    Look up your school here: