Colorado PoliticsColorado PoliticsJune 14, 20187min756

Having seen Jared Polis’s misleading campaign ad attacking Cary Kennedy for the umpteenth time, I am sharing some direct insight about his claim that he “led” the effort to increase funding for every school in Colorado – and from where the actual leadership came.  I was the campaign manager for that effort – Amendment 23.  Cary Kennedy conceived the amendment, wrote it and led the effort to explain it, debate it and advocate for it.  Working with a crew of tenacious women, they fought for and won the Amendment 23 election.  Cary’s ability as citizen leader was clear:  She identified a problem, identified a solution and built momentum to fix it.


Associated PressAssociated PressJanuary 12, 201811min500

BOISE — A giant chunk of central Idaho with a dazzling night sky has become the nation's first International Dark Sky Reserve. The International Dark-Sky Association designated the 1,400-square-mile Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve. The sparsely populated area's night skies are so pristine that interstellar dust clouds are visible in the Milky Way.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJanuary 5, 20184min1622

The rule of thumb when it comes to mounting a statewide citizens initiative for public school funding is — don’t bother. Whichever way the political pendulum happens to be swinging in a given election cycle, Colorado voters seldom seem in the mood for giving the state government more money, even for schools.

Local school ballot issues are entirely another matter, of course, but at the state level, the last attempt to raise taxes for schools was shot down by voters 2-to-1, in 2013.

And yet, as Chalkbeat Colorado’s Nic Garcia informs us, some true believers in the quest to up the ante for education funding have boldly stepped forward once again. Garcia reports this week that public-ed activists Martha Olson of Boulder and Donald Anderson of Fort Collins have filed a bevy of ballot proposals with the state, and expect to file more, to raise up to $1.7 billion more for Colorado schools. (All the proposals are variations of one another, a standard tactic in testing the waters for a ballot issue.)

Here’s Garcia with more:

While each proposal varies slightly, each would create a new graduated income tax on individuals making more than $150,000. Some proposals would also create a new corporate tax, while others would make modifications to how personal and commercial property is taxed for schools. Some do all three. …

… Ultimately, though, voters will vote on just one of the various proposals — if Olson and Anderson and their network of supporters can gather enough signatures to place one on the ballot.

Making the bid’s long odds even longer is the fact that the proposals — some of which cleared a procedural hurdle this week when a state panel approved their ballot verbiage — would be constitutional amendments. That means they’re subject to a new, tougher standard passed by the state’s voters: Proponents must gather signatures in each of the Colorado’s 35 state Senate districts, and if they make the ballot, their measure would need the support of 55 percent of ballots cast rather than a simple majority in order to pass.

Meaning, they have to get something closer to a mandate. Squeaking by with a 1-point margin on Election Day won’t do. Neither will staking out the five busiest grocery stores in metro Denver and stalking shoppers to their cars until they relent and sign a petition. They actually have to pitch their proposal to voters across the state.

That’s the simplified version. Read Garcia’s full report — here’s the link again — for more detail as well as his characteristic, nuanced insights. Garcia even talks to an education-reform advocate who thinks more money isn’t the top priority in beefing up our schools.

At any rate, if you’ve been hoping for a chance to help boost education funding, sit tight; petition circulators just might be coming your way. Even if you live in Mancos.


Joey BunchJoey BunchOctober 19, 20174min1011

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy rolled out her education plan for Colorado Thursday.

The plan, her campaign says, will make sure that by the time a Colorado kid turns 19 — “regardless of where they live and how much their family makes” — is prepared for higher education.

“As governor I will make education our top priority,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Great public schools are the only way to make sure that our state’s progress reaches everyone. For every Colorado kid to succeed, we need every classroom to be led by a great teacher, and every teacher to have the support they need to ensure the success of all of their students.”

The education plank of her platform, as presented Thursday, is more a goal than an action document. It doesn’t answer the single biggest question that always sours the blend of politics and schools: how to pay for it.

Her campaign, however, points to her history of raising money for schools. She wrote Amendment 23, the successful constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2000 and required the legislature to increase K-12 per pupil funding by the rate of inflation plus 1 percent each year through 2011.

While she was state treasurer from 2006 to 2010, she worked with the legislature to create the Building Excellent Schools Today, or BEST, competitive grant program to help schools with education services and construction.

She is vowing to make education her top priority as governor, but she will, of course, have to negotiate with tax-stingy Republicans. In an e-mail to supporters, Kennedy said she would seek to repeal the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the 1992 constitutional amendment that puts a cap on state spending. Many Democrats have sought to do that, but none have gotten very far. Colorado voters would have to decide the issue, not the governor or legislature.

Her plan as released Thursday calls for addressing teacher shortages by paying them like professionals. Kennedy’s campaign said teachers should be able to afford to live where they work without a second job or government assistance to get by. They should earn at least the national average, her platform contends.

The average starting salary for teachers in Colorado is $32,126 a year, the National Education Association says. Pay is lower in rural communities, making it hard for them to attract faculty.  Nationally teachers start out earning on average $36,141.

Among surrounding states, Colorado is somewhat in the middle. Wyoming pays an average of $43,269 to starting teachers, while Utah and Kansas both pay a bit more than $33,000 a year. New Mexico pays $31,960 and Nebraska pays $30,844, according to NEA.

Kennedy also vows to expand the “talent pipeline” and bring more diversity to Colorado’s teaching ranks.

“Research has shown significant benefits for students served by teachers who better represent the demographic makeup of their student populations,’ Kennedy’s campaign said in an announcement Thursday.

Kennedy would work to increase scholarships, apprenticeships and other incentives to attract people to teaching and provide teachers of color in their respective communities.

It’s worth noting that the elected state school board retains most of the authority over education programs, not the governor.

The full plan is available by clicking here.

(Editor’s note: This story was updated to include information from Kennedy’s e-mail to supporters.)

Peter MarcusMay 10, 20174min513

A last-minute compromise to fund charter schools crossed the finish line in the legislature Wednesday after days of back-and-forth negotiations.

House Bill 1375 was introduced in an effort to save overall school funding in the School Finance Act after a bipartisan effort was proposed to amend the school finance bill to add the charter school component.

Fearing that the critical School Finance Act would fall victim to political wrangling – as the charter issue crosses political lines – lawmakers introduced a separate bill on the subject and stripped the charter proposal from the larger mandated school funding bill, which would provide $6.5 billion for K-12 education.

Integral in that process was Colorado Springs Republican Sen. Owen Hill and Lakewood Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen.

“My priority is to always seek out new ways in which we can shift the focus on education in Colorado from a discussion about systems and institutions to one that emphasizes each students’ individual needs, goals, and dreams,” Hill said in a statement. “We are one giant leap closer to putting Colorado’s children and families first in all education decisions.”

The bill requires school districts to develop a plan before the 2019-2020 school year to equitably share mill levy revenue in a given district.

House Bill 1375 passed the House Tuesday 49-16 and then the Senate Wednesday – on the last day of the legislative session – 31-4. It now heads to Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, for his signature.

The idea is to eventually distribute revenue from local property taxes equally to charters on a per pupil basis. It would address revenue from additional property taxes that are used to pay for operations.

Districts that charters are tied to have been known to withhold from charters the additional tax money, which comes from mill levy overrides.

In addition to the attempt in the School Finance Act, a separate bill this session on the issue, Senate Bill 61, was lost in a House committee on Tuesday to make room for the compromise.

When the conversation started, charter supporters attempted to require that districts share both mill levy revenue as well as an equal share of per pupil funding. But the compromise asks districts to first develop a plan for sharing the revenue, while allowing them to continue to withhold 5 percent of per pupil revenue.

Colorado charters have experienced a 30 percent increase in enrollment since 2013, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

Much of the concern around the charter measures dealt with financial impacts to school districts and issues surrounding local control. But supporters of the compromise believe they have found a way to fairly begin the process of sharing money.

Pettersen said of the effort, “I’m thrilled after months of negotiations, we were finally able to come together to solve this outstanding issue in a fair way that prioritizes equity for all of Colorado students.”