Statehouse roundup

Rural AP incentives, school supply sales tax holiday among new bills

Proposals intended to make it easier for rural districts to offer Advanced Placement classes and cheaper for parents to buy school supplies were among 10 education-related bills introduced in the Colorado legislature over the last two days.

The Advanced Placement bill, sponsored by Salida Republican Rep. Jim Wilson, would create a pilot incentives program that would provide money to small rural districts based on the number of students who pass AP classes and take the related tests. Wilson, a former rural superintendent, is the sole sponsor of House Bill 14-1118. He unsuccessfully proposed a similar bill last year.

The tax holiday measure, House Bill 14-1094, would create a three-day August sales tax holiday for school-related purchases such as clothing, school supplies and some sports equipment. It has bipartisan sponsorship.

A third proposal, Senate Bill 14-086, would create a revolving loan fund that new charter schools could tap for facilities expenses. It has bipartisan sponsorship – Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango and Democratic Rep. Paul Rosenthal of Denver.

Two bills would affect school board operations. House Bill 14-1110 would place new record-keeping requirements on board executive sessions, and House Bill 14-1116 would allow compensation of board presidents and vice presidents, if local boards chose to do so.

Here’s the rundown of some other new bills:

  • House Bill 14-1102 – The measure would require school districts to provided gifted education programs “to the extent possible” within available resources and also require districts to designate gifted program administrators, data reporting on gifted students and universal screening of students to determine if they are gifted. It prime sponsor is Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, a longtime gifted-and-talented advocate who’s serving her last term in the legislature.
  • House Bill 14-1124 – Under this bill, college students who are members of American Indian tribes “with historic ties to Colorado” would be eligible for resident tuition rates.
  • House Bill 14-1120 – This measure, sponsored by Republicans Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker and Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray, takes a shot at last session’s Senate Bill 13-213, the school finance overhaul. That law is on the shelf because voters rejected Amendment 66, which was needed to pay for it. Current law gives supporters until 2017 to try again for a tax hike and put SB 13-213 on the books. This bill would set the deadline this year.

The latest set of bills makes 22 education-related measures introduced so far this session. Most have been assigned to the House and Senate education committees for consideration.

But two Republican measures — one to allow tax credits for private school tuition and the other to change retirement eligibility for future Public Employees’ Retirement Association members (including teachers) — have been sent to Senate State Affairs, the so-called “kill committee.”

So far five education bills propose using money from the State Education Fund, foreshadowing upcoming fights over that account. With about $1 billion available in the fund, it’s expected to be the focus of a three-way tussle between lawmakers who want to tap it for new programs, others who want to increase basic district support and a third group that wants to conserve the fund so there’s money for future budget years.

Catch up on the details on the new bills and other education measures in the Education Bill Tracker.

Follow the money

Final Denver school board campaign finance reports show who brought in the most late money

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Victoria Tisman, 8, left, works with paraprofessional Darlene Ontiveros on her Spanish at Bryant-Webster K-8 school in Denver.

Final campaign finance reports for this year’s hard-fought Denver school board elections are in, and they show a surge of late contributions to Angela Cobián, who was elected to represent southwest Denver and ended up bringing in more money than anyone else in the field.

The reports also showed the continued influence of independent groups seeking to sway the races. Groups that supported candidates who favor Denver Public Schools’ current direction raised and spent far more than groups that backed candidates looking to change things.

No independent group spent more during the election than Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. In the week and a half before the Nov. 7 election, it spent $126,985. That included nearly $57,000 to help elect Rachele Espiritu, an incumbent supportive of the district’s direction who lost her seat representing northeast Denver to challenger Jennifer Bacon. Raising Colorado spent $13,765 on mail opposing Bacon in that same period.

Teachers union-funded committees also were active in the campaign.

Individually, Cobián raised more money in the days before the election than the other nine candidates combined. She pulled in $25,335 between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

That includes a total of $11,000 from three members of the Walton family that founded Walmart: Jim, Alice and Steuart. The Waltons have over the years invested more than $1 billion in education-related causes, including the creation of charter schools.

Total money raised, spent by candidates
  • Angela Cobián: $123,144, $105,200
    Barbara O’Brien: $117,464, $115,654
    Mike Johnson: $106,536, $103,782
    Rachele Espiritu: $94,195, $87,840
    Jennifer Bacon: $68,967, $67,943
    Carrie A. Olson: $35,470, $35,470
    Robert Speth: $30,635, $31,845
    “Sochi” Gaytan: $28,977, $28,934
    Tay Anderson: $18,766, $16,865
    Julie Bañuelos: $12,962, $16,835

Cobián was supported in her candidacy by donors and groups that favor the district’s brand of education reform, which includes collaborating with charter schools. In the end, Cobián eclipsed board vice president Barbara O’Brien, who had been leading in contributions throughout the campaign, to raise the most money overall: a total of $123,144.

The two candidates vying to represent central-east Denver raised about $5,000 each in the waning days of the campaign. Incumbent Mike Johnson pulled in $5,300, including $5,000 from Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz. Teacher Carrie A. Olson, who won the seat, raised $4,946 from a host of donors, none of whom gave more than $500 during that time period.

The other candidates raised less than $5,000 each between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

O’Brien, who staved off two competitors to retain her seat representing the city at-large, spent the most in that period: $31,225. One of her competitors, Julie Bañuelos, spent the least.

money matters

In election of big spending, winning Aurora candidates spent less but got outside help

Four new board members, Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Marques Ivey, Kevin Cox and Debbie Gerkin after they were sworn in. (Photo courtesy of Aurora Public Schools)

A slate of Aurora school board candidates that won election last month were outspent by some of their rival campaigns — including in the final days of the race — but benefited from big spending by a union-backed independent committee.

Outside groups that backed the winning slate spent more overall during the campaign, but wound down as pro-education reform groups picked up their spending in the last period right before the election. Those efforts were not enough to push their candidates to victory.

According to the last campaign finance reports turned in on Thursday and covering activity from Oct. 26 through Dec. 2, Gail Pough and Miguel Lovato spent the most from their individual contributions.

Together Pough and Lovato spent more than $7,000 on calls, canvassing and consulting fees. Both candidates were supported by reform groups and had been reporting the most individual contributions in previous campaign finance reports.

But it was the slate of candidates endorsed by the teachers union — Kevin Cox, Debbie Gerkin, Kyla Armstrong-Romero and Marques Ivey — that prevailed on election night.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Gail Pough, $12,756.32; $12,328.81
  • Lea Steed, $1,965.00; $1,396.16
  • Kyla Armstrong Romero, $7,418.83; $3,606.12
  • Kevin Cox, $2,785.54; $2,993.07
  • Miguel Lovato, $16,856.00; $16,735.33
  • Jane Barber, $1,510.32; $1,510.32
  • Debbie Gerkin, $4,690.00; $4,516.21
  • Marques Ivey, $5,496.50; $5,638.57
  • Barbara Yamrick, did not file

The slate members spent varying amounts in the last few days before the election. For instance, Cox, who won the most votes, spent $403 while Ivey who recorded the fewest votes of the four winning candidates, spent $2,056.

Most of the slate candidates’ spending went to Facebook ads and consulting fees.

The four also reported large amounts in non-monetary contributions. Collectively, the slate members reported about $76,535 in non-monetary contributions, mostly from union funds, to cover in-kind mail, polling, office space and printing. All four also reported a non-monetary contribution in the form of a robocall from the Arapahoe County Democratic Party.

Other financial support for candidates, through independent expenditure committees, showed that the group Every Student Succeeds which was backed by union dollars and was supporting the union slate, spent less in the last days than the reform groups Raising Colorado and Families First Colorado which were supporting Pough and Lovato.

Overall, the independent expenditure committee groups spent more than $419,000 trying to sway Aurora voters.

Incumbent Barbara Yamrick failed to file any campaign finance reports throughout the campaign.

This story has been updated to include more information about in-kind contributions to the union-backed candidates.