Amendment 66 Heads To The Ballot

FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports, an autumnal battle royale awaits after the recalls:

The proposal to raise income tax rates to generate nearly $1 billion annually to fund a new public education financing model will be on the November ballot, the Secretary of State’s office announced Wednesday.

Initiative 22 will allow voters to decide on whether to approve a two-tiered rate hike to help fund full day kindergarten statewide, along with a number of other reforms.

Moving forward with the blessing of Gov. John Hickenlooper, Amendment 66 is quickly shedding any remaining stigma attached to 2011's failed Proposition 103. Proposition 103 failed in part due to concerns that it wouldn't raise enough revenue to address the longstanding problem of adequately financing education in Colorado. Amendment 66 is not a "band aid," but the most ambitious and comprehensive attempt yet to settle the problem of school finance for the long term. And even after passage, Colorado would remain a low-tax state compared to much of the nation–that fact alone should give voters an idea of the hole the state needs to dig out of.

And in case you didn't know already, no one in Colorado politics gets vacations until mid-November.

Even More Pity For Oppressed CU Conservatives

CU Regent Jim Geddes (R) wants to rescue oppressed conservatives on campus.

CU Regent Jim Geddes (R) wants to rescue oppressed conservatives on campus.

As the Boulder Daily Camera's Brittany Anas reports–didn't the "conservative affirmative action" professorship do enough to make the University of Colorado a safe zone for academically oppressed students of a rightward persuasion? Apparently not:

The University of Colorado Board of Regents later this month will decide whether to expand the school's nondiscrimination policy to include political affiliation — a proposal born out of some regents' concern that there's a pervasive liberal bias, especially on the Boulder campus.

A subcommittee of regents on the laws and policies committee on Tuesday gave approval to the resolution that will go before the full board at its meeting Sept. 16-17 in Boulder.

A few months ago, we noted the University of Colorado's selection of a new "visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy," Dr. Steven Hayward, formerly of the American Enterprise Institute and Ohio's Ashland University. Notwithstanding the amusement of this act of "conservative affirmative action," Dr. Hayward actually does bring significant academic qualifications to the job. We haven't heard anything to suggest that Dr. Hayward is a regrettable choice of a scholar, however one might feel about the underlying "concerns" of Republican CU Regents and CU President Bruce Benson regarding oppression of conservatives on campus.

But apparently "conservative affirmative action" is not enough. Now it's time for political affiliation to be enshrined with race and gender as a protected minority!

Now folks, if we really believed that there was any sort of legitimate discrimination on campus against College Republicans–or for that matter, the Green Party, Libertarians, or LaRouchies–we would be the first to call for a remedy. What we think is going on here has more to do with certain students, perhaps trending conservative but whatever their particular worldview, running up against something we call "reality." This might feel a little like discrimination at first, but in our experience what higher education "discriminates" against more than anything is…well, you know, ignorance.

Hopefully we got our point across here without hurting anyone's feelings.

Colorado Commits to Kids approved for ballot as Amendment 66

Colorado Commits to Kids was officially confirmed by the Secretary of State’s office as Amendment 66 today. The Secretary of State confirmed the campaign collected more than the 86,105 signatures required.

“Coloradans support the critically important improvements that Amendment 66 will bring to  our public education system, like small class sizes, one-on-one attention for each student, and the chance to see where every dollar is going within each district,” said Gail Klapper, director of the Colorado Forum. The Forum has been working with business, civic and educational leaders for nearly two years to craft an initiative with broad, bipartisan support. “This is our  best chance to invest in the future of Colorado and to ensure each child has access to a high-quality education.”

“Momentum and support for the Amendment 66 campaign continues to build and, in the next 63 days, we will work tirelessly to share our message with voters across Colorado, from rural communities to urban centers to suburbs,” said Campaign Director Andrew Freedman.

Amendment 66 will ask voters to approve a two-step state income-tax rate increase to pay for reforms that would make Colorado a national model for PK-12 education:

Step 1: On taxable income up to $75,000, the rate would increase from current 4.63% to 5%
Step 2: Any taxable income above $75,000 would be taxed at a rate of 5.9%
Note: Every taxpayer would pay the 5% rate on their first $75,000 of taxable income

What is a two-step tax?

About Amendment 66:

Amendment 66 will modernize Colorado’s P-12 system by:

  • Reducing class sizes to offer more one-on-one time between students and teachers;
  • Ensuring Colorado kids have a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school;
  • Increasing support for gifted and talented students, at-risk students, and English-language learners;
  • Strengthening early childhood education by investing in preschool and full-day kindergarten; and
  • Providing equal funding to charter schools and district schools, ensuring that students receive the same support no matter the type of school they attend.

Money from Amendment 66 will be placed in the State Education Achievement Fund and can only be used for education reforms and enhancements to existing programs.

Amendment 66 also contains unprecedented accountability and transparency measures. If passed, the state will be required to conduct regular reports to assess the cost of our public education system and the effectiveness of our funding efforts in improving student achievement.The initiative will also establish a state-maintained budget transparency system to allow taxpayers to track spending at every school in the state.

More on the Colorado Commits to Kids web site.

Hickenlooper To Kick Off School Finance Campaign Thursday

Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane!

Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

The announcement went out from the Colorado Commits to Kids campaign moments ago–no word yet on how Gov. John Hickenlooper plans to arrive (see photo right), but regardless assuming the public face of the campaign to significantly revamp Colorado's income tax structure to properly fund the state's public education system:

Please join Gov. John Hickenlooper and supporters of the Colorado Commits to Kids campaign for our official kick-off on Thursday, August 15 at 1:00 p.m. Full details are below.
Colorado Commits to Kids is working to provide vital funding needed to improve our state’s schools and ensure a quality education for every child in Colorado…

Who: Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado Commits to Kids supporters
What: Statewide Campaign Kick-off
Where: Green Mountain High School
13175 W. Green Mountain Dr.
Lakewood, CO 80228
When: 1:00 pm

Backers are glad to have Hickenlooper's persuasiveness on their side however it arrives, of course, but we're suckers for a good stunt. And Green Mountain High School's football field is big enough to land on, right?

School Finance Campaign Pre-Buts Opposition

A lengthy release yesterday from Colorado Commits to Kids summarizes and rebuts in advance the arguments against this year's ballot initiative to raise revenue for public education via a two-tiered progressive income tax increase. As an added bonus, what may soon be known as the "Yes on Amendment 66" campaign grabbed an opposition domain name,, and posted the same pre-buttal of opponents' talking points there:

1. FICTION: New money raised from the Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative will go straight to the General Fund where it can be “hijacked” for other purposes  … there’s no guarantee the new money makes its way to teachers, students and classrooms.
FACT: The additional money is locked in a newly created fund – the School Educational Achievement Fund – which is constitutionally protected from any use other than for improvements in the classroom. All other state education spending will be through State Education Fund, which is also constitutionally protected and can't be used for non-P-12 expenditures. (1)
2. FICTION: A business owner will see the taxes on his business and his personal taxes go up. 
FACT: The Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative increases the state income tax rates on “individuals, estates and trusts.” It does not touch the state’s business income tax. Some business owners may pay their taxes via their personal income tax, but no one will be double taxed. (2)


“Colorado Commits to Kids” Turns In 160,000+ Signatures

Photo courtesy Colorado Commits to Kids

coloradocommitskidsThat's the news in a press release a short while ago from proponents of Initiative 22, the school finance ballot initiative headed for this year's statewide ballot with nearly double the required number of signatures:

Backers of the Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative on Monday turned in to the Colorado Secretary of State signatures from more than 160,000 people who support placing a school-finance measure on the November ballot.

“We’re not just delivering petitions today,” said Gail Klapper, director of the Colorado Forum, which has been working with business, civic and educational leaders for nearly two years to craft an initiative with broad, bipartisan support. “We’re delivering a message to our students and our businesses that Coloradans understand the best investment we can make in their economic futures is through our education system.”

The Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative will ask voters to approve a two-step state income-tax rate increase to pay for reforms that would make Colorado a national model for P-12 education…

Details after the jump. 


School Finance Ballot Initiative Raises $1 Million

FOX 31's Eli Stokols:

Lawmakers passed legislation last session, hoping to change the way Colorado funds its schools, directing additional money to full-day kindergarten across the state and distributing more money per pupil to districts with higher percentages of at-risk students.

But none of it will take effect unless voters approve $950 million in new tax revenues to pay for it.

Initiative 22 would set a flat tax rate of 5 percent — up slightly from the current 4.6 percent rate — for all incomes of less than $75,000 a year.

But the proposal those earning more than that would see their income taxed at two different rates:  the 5 percent flat rate for income up to $75,000 annually and then a 5.9 percent rate for all earnings above that threshold.

And the Denver Post reports today:

Colorado Commits to Kids surpassed the $1 million mark in overall contributions with $739,250 taken in during the July reporting period. Combined with more than $260,000 raised in June, the effort moved to $1,081,550 primarily with the help of a few deep-pocketed donors.

The Post reports diverse funding sources for this campaign, ranging from Democrat Pat Stryker and Sam Gary of the Piton Foundation to the right-leaning education reform group Stand for Children. Along with backing from Gov. John Hickenlooper, Initiative 22's hefty war chest should underscore the seriousness of this effort compared to 2011's Proposition 103–which failed after attracting only tepid support. It's worth noting that some of the lack of support for Proposition 103, particularly on the left, can be attributed to concerns that it doesn't raise enough revenue to address the problem. This latest initiative is no "band-aid," but a real attempt to solve the longstanding and growing problem of paying for public education in Colorado.

And unlike two years ago, this campaign will have the resources it needs to succeed.

Who Will Hick Pick? Colorado Supreme Court Vacancy Looms Large

You might have missed the news last week that Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael L. Bender will retire from the bench, effective Jan. 7, 2014 (full press release after the jump). Bender's retirement, mandated by the Colorado Constitution because Jan. 7 is Bender's 72nd birthday, puts Gov. John Hickenlooper in an important position this fall.

Who will fill the robe of Colorado Supreme Court Justice Michael Bender?

Who will fill the robe of Colorado Supreme Court Justice Michael Bender?

The last time there was a vacancy on the Colorado Supreme Court, Hickenlooper selected Jefferson County Republican Brian Boatright from a list of three names provided by the Colorado Supreme Court Nominating Commission (the list included a Republican, Democrat, and Unaffiliated candidate). That decision rankled Democrats, who were upset that a Democratic Governor would replace an outgoing liberal judge with a solid conservative. Those concerns intensified after the Lobato school finance ruling in May; many observers believe that the decision might have gone the other way had Hickenlooper not appointed Boatright.Hickenlooper-Head

Assuming the Commission provides Hickenlooper with a Democrat as one of the three names (the Commission meets on Oct. 8 & 9), it's hard to see how Hick could really select anyone else. The "political" makeup of the court right now is 3 liberals (Bender, Nancy Rice, Gregory Hobbs), 3 conservatives (Allison Eid, Nathan Coates,and Boatright), and 1 "Unaffiliated" (Monica Marquez).

If Hickenlooper chooses another conservative candidate, the Colorado Supreme Court will make its rulings from the right for years to come. Both Rice and Hobbs are nearing retirement, while Eid, Coates and Boatright should be on the bench for several decades. As we've written before in this space, Hickenlooper can't afford to alienate Democratic voters any more than he already has if he hopes to avoid a nail-biter of a re-election campaign.



Hickenlooper Ramps Up Public Support of School Tax Hike

As the Denver Post reports, Gov. John Hickenlooper is (wisely) becoming more vocal in his support for a school tax increase this fall:

In an interview with The Denver Post, Hickenlooper said he would advocate for passage of the proposed two-tiered income tax by participating in discussions, talking with opponents and, if needed, making television and radio appearances.

Hickenlooper said while tax increases may not be popular, the proposed November ballot measure would pave the way for needed reforms. Reforms, he said, have garnered attention and support from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

"There have been a number of other tax increases that have been proposed and we have resisted it but, in this case, I think the benefits far outweigh the costs of increased taxes," Hickenlooper said. "It's a chance for Colorado to be the No. 1 state for public education in the U.S."

This is a wise move by Hickenlooper to position himself as the leader voters expect to see. Since he was already going to support the $950 million ballot proposal, there was no point in offering his support quietly. As we've discussed before in this space, one of the biggest dangers to his re-election campaign is if Hick allows a narrative to form that he is not a "leader" and shies away from making decisions. Meekly supporting a high profile tax measure would be significantly harmful to Hickenlooper's re-election bid, costing him much more support than he might lose from opponents of the measure (who aren't likely to vote for him anyway).

He Can Skydive Later, That’s Fine

See you in October.

See you in October.

The Durango Herald's Joe Hanel reports on the word yesterday by Gov. John Hickenlooper that he will, as fully expected, support the school finance ballot measure set to dominate Colorado politics for much of the rest of this off-year:

The governor already had committed to supporting a ballot initiative this fall to fund reforms to the school-finance system that he signed into law in May.

But he has been silent since education advocates settled on Initiative 22, which raises income taxes and creates a two-bracket income-tax system. It was one of nearly two dozen options that the campaign had filed as possible ballot initiatives…

“I’m not sure it is my exact preference. You know, the bottom line is you’ve got to have something on there that’s winnable,” he said. “In that sense, in all that array of ballot language that could win, I think this is the best.”

Adds FOX 31's Eli Stokols (who first reported the news about Hickenlooper's "official" support):

“The governor has been talking to business leaders about how transformative the new school finance law will be for Colorado kids,” said Alan Salazar, Hickenlooper’s chief strategist, in a text message to FOX31 confirming accounts from other sources who heard Hickenlooper’s remarks Wednesday.

Salazar called Hickenlooper’s support for the proposal, however tacit, “probably the worst kept secret in town.”

Republicans are making as much as they can out of Hickenlooper's "quiet" announcement to business leaders yesterday, but the truth is his endorsement was never in doubt. It took time for proponents to settle on the one initiative everyone could agree on. Now that they have, there will be a united push for Initiative 22, a much more ambitious education funding proposal than 2011's failed Proposition 103. And unlike Proposition 103, Gov. Hickenlooper and a broad coalition–including some of those same business leaders–are on board. It's increasingly clear a repeat of the stillborn Proposition 103 is not in the cards: maybe the next Referendum C, the 2005 "TABOR timeout" measure that passed with Hickenlooper's charismatic support (above right)?

Either way, Hickenlooper can wait until Labor Day, when voters start paying attention, to turn on his fabled charm.

Brian Watson Inserting Himself Into Jefferson County Education Policy, For Some Reason

You may recall the case of Republican Brian Watson, whose apparent failure to pay his taxes led to his defeat in a bid for the state legislature (HD-3) in 2012 and is now dragging on Rep. Mike Coffman's re-election bid in CD-6.

Brian Watson

Brian Watson hates him some facts

Watson lives in Greenwood Village, which is in Arapahoe County, but has apparently decided that Jefferson County needs his help to fix education problems that don't really exist — at least not in the manner in which he explains. Watson hosted a fundraiser at his home last night for a group called "Jeffco Students First," which is sort of a euphemism for "Vouchers for Jeffco Students First." The full invitation is after the jump, but here's the part that really jumped out at us:

Patricia and I are pleased to invite you to our home for a discussion about public education in Jefferson County where nearly 40% of students either don't graduate on time or are not prepared for college when they graduate.

This could be a laudable goal — if it had anything to do with, you know, facts and stuff. According to the Colorado Department of Education, Jefferson County's 2012 graduation rate was 81.4%, higher than the state average of 75.4%. Jefferson County graduation rates are also trending upward (79.1% in 2011 and 78.1% in 2010); it's worth noting that Jefferson County is also the largest school district in the state.

Well, what about dropout rates? Jefferson County's dropout rate in 2011-12 was 2%, which is the exact same as the Cherry Creek 5 School District surrounding Watson's home residence.

But what about the "Remediation Rate," or college readiness statistics? Maybe that explains Watson's figures? In a way, it does, since the new STATEWIDE report from the CDE shows a Remediation Rate of 40% (an increase in recent years attributed to a change in the way the CDE calculates these figures). Those numbers are not broken out by county, as far as we can tell, so there's no apparent way that Watson or anyone else could calculate that "nearly 40% of students either don't graduate on time or are not prepared for college when they graduate" from Jefferson County schools.

Maybe Watson mean to say that 40% of all Colorado students are not prepared for college, which would be accurate but irrelevant to a fundraiser for working on policy in Jefferson County Schools. Whatever Watson meant to do, perhaps he should just do it somewhere else — like, near where he actually lives, for starters.


Rosario C. de Baca to Challenge Andrea Merida

When the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) announced an early list of endorsed candidates for Denver School Board in late May, notably absent was controversial incumbent Andrea Merida. At the time, Ed News Colorado noted that DCTA might be waiting to see if other candidates emerged before backing Merida again.

The rumored candidacy of Rosario C. de Baca became official last week, which is bad news for Merida. While some candidates can get elected to the Denver School Board without the help of the DCTA, Merida is not one of them; if DCTA backs de Baca, Merida will have trouble finding the resources and financing needed to win re-election.

Full press release after the jump.


DCTA Announces Endorsements, With Notable Exception

Last week the Denver teachers union (DCTA: Denver Classroom Teachers Association) announced its first wave of endorsements for the 2013 campaign season. And as Ed News Colorado reports, there was one particularly notable exception:

The Denver teachers union isn’t wasting time getting ready for the November election, opting to announce three endorsements four months earlier than normal. Those endorsements are: Meg Schomp, Roger Kilgore and Michael Kiley.

The 3,000-member Denver Classroom Teachers Association Thursday announced three endorsements but conspicuously did not endorse anyone running for the southwest Denver seat now held by Andrea Merida. Merida has announced plans to run for re-election. DCTA endorsed Merida four years ago. But DCTA Fund Chairperson Michelle Miller said DCTA hasn’t had an opportunity to interview people who may run against Merida, such as union organizer Rosario De Baca. Miller said DCTA expected to make its final endorsement by the end of the school year.

Merida has been a polarizing figure on the School Board since she was first elected in 2009. She regularly engages in nasty back-and-forth discussions online with detractors, getting particularly angry when anyone questions whether or not she has paid back the staggering $12,000 she charged to her Denver Public Schools credit card in 2011. After initially pledging to pay back the charges, which included questionable charges for fast food and expensive electronics, Merida backed off that promise in favor of some weird explanation that by not using her credit card she was going to make it all equal, or something. 

It would certainly be no surprise if DCTA withheld another endorsement for Merida in hopes that another, less ethically-questionable candidate will emerge.

Colorado Supreme Court Rules Against Lobato Plaintiffs

UPDATE: FOX 31's Eli Stokols, who had the story first:

“This ruling is a devastating blow to the children of Colorado,” said Kathy Gebhardt, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, in a statement to FOX31 Denver Monday. “Today the Court closed its doors to the children of Colorado. The court has bowed out, so the constitution cannot provide these children with any protection. The Court said that we must now trust our politicians to address the acknowledged and enormous resource needs of children throughout the state.

“It is difficult to imagine how the judges could read the facts found by the trial court below and find that the system meets the constitution’s “thorough and uniform” requirement,” Gebhardt continued. “The trial court found after a five-week trial that Colorado’s school finance system was so inadequate and inequitable that it was not just unconstitutional but unconscionable."

Here's the text of the ruling.


We're accidentally made aware this holiday, as 9NEWS reports:

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the state in a landmark education lawsuit.

9News has confirmed the court ruled in a 4 to 2 decision that state education funding is constitutional, even though per student spending is more than $2,000 below the national average…

The court was supposed to officially announce its decision Tuesday, but the ruling was posted on the Supreme Court's website Monday before it was quickly taken down.

A ruling with enormous significance, and we're not doing justice on such short notice. We'll update shortly.

At Least She’s (Hopefully) Not Your School Board Member…

(The battle of Andrea Merida vs. everybody else rages on – promoted by Colorado Pols)

It’s always good to see our elected officials take to the interwebs to engage in some good ol’ interaction with the people they are supposed to be representing.

Of course, for most politicians, that might mean responding on twitter or engaging on facebook. But for a select few, it might just mean getting down in to the trenches, and starting a good old flame war.

And few are more likely to be engaging in some good ol’ blog-post-comment-wars (general belief is she had quite a few sock puppet accounts here on Pols back in the day) or general online "trolling" than the Denver school board’s very own elected super-troll, Andrea Merida (when she isn’t busy imploding in some other way, of course).

What follows is almost too ridiculous to be true. It's simply incredible that she’s (still) an elected officia, and in a job that’s important!

So, check out the kind of elected official her constituents are lucky enough to enjoy!