The education funding battle enters its next round with a new online database supporting superintendents across the state in their effort to convince legislators to spend more money on their districts.
Although schools have been calling for more money since the 2008 recession spawned the “Negative Factor,” this most recent campaign first started shortly after the November election with the superintendent of Littleton Public Schools mailing a flyer to 47,000 residents in his district.
The Negative Factor is a budgeting mechanism used by the Colorado General Assembly to restrain total spending on public education while still allowing base spending to rise by enrollment plus inflation each year. The negative factor reduces funding to school finance factors not covered by Amendment 23, which include school district size, local cost-of-living, and the number of low-income kids in a district. The Colorado Supreme Court recently ruled that the negative factor is constitutional.
The flyer, which cost the district nearly $10,000, urged residents to contact legislators and support reclassifying the Hospital Provider Fee as an enterprise fund so it falls outside the requirements of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). The move would free up hundreds of millions of dollars under TABOR, despite the fact that many view the “fee” as a tax.
LPS Superintendent Brian Ewert told the Parent Teachers Association that he expects 168 of the state’s 178 school districts to do the same.
It now appears that the head of the state’s second-largest district has joined Ewert in the effort.
Dan McMinimee, superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools, has sent out emails to some within the district asking for their support for an upcoming rally on Monday at the state capital and linking to a website with all the information.
“On Monday, January 11 at 11:30 am, superintendents will come together with parents, business and community leaders to call on Colorado’s policy makers to find new solutions to the challenges ahead so every Colorado student receives the education they deserve,” reads the petition McMinimee links to in his email, which is sponsored by Great Education Colorado.
The website includes a petition to sign showing support.
Great Education Colorado says on its site it is a, “nonpartisan organization that does not endorse political parties or candidates.” However, they partner with Salsa Labs on the petition, which Complete Colorado reported last year works solely with organizations on the left side of the political spectrum.
“Our company policy is that we work exclusively with left leaning and progressive organizations,” said Brian Hoffman a Salsa Labs account executive in an email to Liberty Watch, Colorado and obtained by Complete Colorado. “I certainly don’t want to waste your time, and after browsing through your website it doesn’t appear that Liberty Watch and Salsa are a good fit for each other.”
The connection is one reason many see this as primarily a Democratic effort to increase spending outside the limits of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
John Newkirk, a former Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education member who was recently recalled, said that just as he didn’t believe in skirting TABOR by using Certificates of Participation to build new schools, he believes any increase in revenue should be approved by the people, not “obtained by sleight-of-hand methods such as legislative workarounds.”
“A few short weeks ago, we were told that the Jeffco recall was a ‘grassroots, parent-led effort, when it turned out to be 99 percent union funded. When these same voices start asking for higher taxes, it leaves me understandably skeptical,” Newkirk said.
On Thursday, Arapahoe High School Principal Natalie Pramenko sent out an email to parents of her students urging their support.
“Regardless of your political beliefs, there is one thing upon which we all agree: the importance of effective schools to the future of Colorado and our country,” she said in the email. “LPS Superintendent, Brian Ewert, is leading the charge in our state in bringing the vital issue of school funding to the top of our legislators’ agenda … the Colorado superintendents will release their advocacy statement at a media event in the capitol rotunda. Let’s ensure they are backed by a large and enthusiastic crowd of LPS supporters.”
Littleton resident Lori Horn said she wonders when educators will get back to educating children and stop campaigning, and when parents will get tired of their administrators and teachers putting so much of their time into politics.
“This is just a veiled attempt to get rid of TABOR” Horn said.
Meanwhile, the future of the effort to exempt the Hospital Provider Fee from TABOR is uncertain in the wake of a nonbinding legal opinion from Colorado’s nonpartisan office of Legislative Legal Services. Republican Senate President Bill Cadman requested an opinion from LLS on whether or not such a move would be legal. The response from Legislative Legal Services said, in part, “Short answer: No.”