At campaign launch, ballot measure supporters stress economics

Supporters of a $950 million tax increase for K-12 public education publicly launched their campaign on Thursday by arguing that the tax is a smart investment that will eventually drive improved economic outcomes by producing a more skilled workforce.

Gov. John Hickenlooper addresses supporters of a $950 million tax increase for K-12 education at the campaign's official launch event.
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Gov. John Hickenlooper addresses supporters of a $950 million tax increase for K-12 education at the campaign’s official launch event.

The campaign, which got off the ground quietly in June under the name Colorado Commits to Kids, officially filed the signatures it needs to get the measure on the November ballot earlier this month and has been working on honing a clear message to voters.

State Sen. Mike Johnston, who spearheaded the school finance reform legislation that complements the tax proposal and who has been the main public face of the measure, emphasized both the public outreach that occurred as the school finance reform proposal was developed and the continued outreach that will be needed to generate support for the measure.

“I want to invite you to rest for about 10 minutes after this, and then work your butts off for the next 82 days,” the Denver Democrat said, echoing some of his earlier promises of a robust and energetic campaign.

The campaign also recruited Mike Ferrufino, the general manager of the Spanish-language radio station KBNO and chairman of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Denver, to represent business interests in developing a skilled workforce.

“Like any business, when you invest intelligently and correctly, you get amazing results,” Ferrufino said

Much of the debate centers around whether taxpayers should shoulder the nearly billion dollar burden of the proposal, but Ferrufino argued the sacrifice for individuals is small compared to the benefits of improved educational outcomes.

“Not much is needed from us,” Ferrufino said, saying that the average family would pay roughly an extra $2.50 a week towards the education tax.

Supporters and opponents disagree on how much the measure would change Coloradans’ overall tax burden compared to other states, with advocates arguing that even with the tax increase, citizens will still pay far less in taxes than they would elsewhere in the country.

“Some people say we can’t afford this,” Gov. John Hickenlooper told the crowd. “We [will] still [be] competitive with every one of our neighboring states and we’ll be able to say that we have the most robust, innovative education system.”

Historically, general tax increases for education have not fared well at the ballot box, with only two ballot measures related to education passing since the early 1990s. But Hickenlooper later told reporters that he believes that voter support for local tax increases for education indicates that there is a public willingness to increase spending on public education.

“Even last year, if you look at the mill levy increases, there were over a billion dollars, $1.2 billion of mill levy increases that pass, and that’s all real estate tax – that is a very disproportionate burden,” Hickenlooper said. “Do you want to just keep going on and doing mill levy after mill levy, or do you want to solve this on a statewide basis?”

The governor also argued that the current tax proposal is qualitatively different from previous tax-increase campaigns because it is coupled with a plan – laid out in SB-213 – that delineates exactly how the new revenue will be spent.

“When is the last time we tried something on this scale, a reform with specific details about how the money is going to be spent?” Hickenlooper said. “The previous efforts were, ‘let’s raise our taxes, and we’ll spend the money wisely.’ People don’t like that.”

Kelly Maher of Coloradans for Real Education Reform displays the school supplies the group claims could be bought with the funds an average family would be taxed under the proposed ballot measure.
Kelly Maher of Coloradans for Real Education Reform displays the school supplies the group claims could be bought with the funds an average family would be taxed under the proposed ballot measure.

Opponents of the ballot measure, who have organized under the group Coloradans for Real Education Reform, picketed across the street from the launch event at Green Mountain High School in Jefferson County. Using estimates that the tax would cost Colorado families an average of $250 a year, they displayed a table stacked with the school supplies they said a hypothetical family could buy with those funds instead.

“We need to reform the system first before we raise taxes on Colorado families,” said Kelly Maher, the executive director of the anti-tax group Compass Colorado. Maher argued that many of the provisions, like increased transparency on school-level expenditures, could be accomplished without new taxes using funds from the state education fund’s current surplus.

“The fact that they are holding these ostensible reforms hostage to a billion dollar tax increase is unacceptable,” she said.

But Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson dismissed the argument that an influx of new tax dollars won’t necessarily drive better academic outcomes, arguing that strategic investment in efforts like class size reduction, improved teacher training and longer school days.

“It’s not just that you disperse the funds in a random fashion,” Stevenson said. “I think it’s sophistry to say that money doesn’t make a difference.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.