2020 election guide: Education issues on your Colorado ballot

Education issues on your Colorado ballot

Your vote matters for the future of Colorado’s children. On your ballot this month, there are decisions to be made that affect the educational opportunities for all students in Colorado, including the 911,536 students enrolled in the public school system.

Education in Colorado has been funded in the same way since 1994, when the Public School Finance Act was adopted, which dictates how schools are funded. For example, DPS receives, on average, $7,400 per pupil per year. According to the US Census, the average 2018 nationwide funding per pupil was $12,612 – almost double Colorado’s funding. In short: The current funding system for education in Colorado is failing students. 

At A+, our mission is to ensure a child’s zip code no longer dictates their educational opportunity. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that every student in Colorado receives an excellent education. Our kids deserve it, and our collective prosperity depends on it.

How can you join in on our mission, and help drive more equitable funding for our districts? Vote. Many of the ballot initiatives on your ballot tie directly to student funding. We put together a guide for these initiatives and A+’s position on key ballot initiatives. Plus, info on the State Board of Education race. 

Here’s what you need to know (a quick explainer, more on each of these propositions below). 

There are four ballot measures on your ballot that directly affect students. 

  • Proposition EE | Tobacco tax: Voting “Yes” ✅  on the tobacco tax increases revenues for preschool, the state education fund, the rural schools cash fund, and the tobacco education programs fund.
  • Amendment B | The Gallagher Amendment: A “Yes” ✅  vote on Amendment B will effectively maintain existing revenues from property taxes (minus destabilizing effects from COVID-19 loss of revenues from property tax collections) and support existing maintenance of funding for a variety of state funded mandates, including education.
  • Proposition 116 | Decrease in state income tax: Given the current financial status of school districts across Colorado, a decrease in the income tax rate will exacerbate the current school funding crisis. Therefore, a “No”🚫 vote will maintain existing state revenue streams to help fund education.
  • Proposition 117 | Voter approval of enterprises over $100M: This measure increases the strain on the state budget and decreases resources for education in Colorado. A “No”🚫 vote will maintain existing state revenue streams to help fund education. 

Bond Mill and Levy (DPS) 

If you’re in Denver, you’ll see that a Bond and Mill Levy on your ballot, which is “a $795 million bond that would provide funding to build and maintain schools, and a $32 million Debt-Free Schools ballot initiative that would provide operating dollars to fund priorities such as mental health, nursing, and special education supports.”

  • Voting “Yes” ✅  on these measures will  increase funding for Denver’s 93,815 public school students. 

The State Board of Education 

The Board has 7 members that serve staggered six-year terms. This year, candidates from districts 1 (Denver), 3 (Western Slope) and 7 (North and West Denver-Metro) are up for election. The State Board of Education yields an extraordinary amount of power within the public school system. In particular, they:

  • are “tasked with general supervision of public schools. They create and vote on the policies that govern the Colorado Department of Education.  This includes public education – pre-kindergarten through 12th grade – adult education, and public libraries.”
  • distribute federal funding to schools, accredit public school districts, and so much more.

In short, the State Board of Education is like the U.S. Congress, with anyone who cares about Colorado’s public schools and students  as the constituents. So, these positions are extremely important. We’ve included summaries of each candidate in our full guide linked below. 

– We’re hosting a webinar called “Voting on the State Board of Education: Why it matters,” where we’re bringing together a group of State Board of Education experts to inform voters on what the role of the State Board is, and why this campaign matters for the future of Colorado student’s. Join on Oct. 21, from 4:30-5:30 p.m. MST. Register here.

Read on for more details about the State Board candidates, initiatives, and bonds. Forward to a friend, and share on social media to help a fellow neighbor fill out their ballot. ⬇️

What is the State Board of Education?

The Colorado State Board of Education is tasked with “general supervision of public schools.” There are 7 board members, they serve staggered six-year terms, and are elected in districts corresponding to Colorado’s congressional districts. 

The Constitution of Colorado was amended in 1948 to “provide for an elected state board of education with powers to set up qualifications for and selection of the Commissioner of Education and a professional staff for the Department of Education.” The first elections took place in November 1950 and the board began its work in January 1951.

What do they decide?

According to the CDE, the Colorado State Board of Education is the governing board of the Colorado Department of Education. Within its jurisdiction, the State Board:

  1. Provides educational leadership for the state
  2. Appoints the Commissioner of Education and the Director of State Board Relations;
  3. Employs personnel of the Department of Education
  4. Approves the Department of Education budget
  5. Makes rules, regulations, and policies that govern the Colorado Department of Education, public education including pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, adult education, and public libraries
  6. Accredits public school districts
  7. Facilitates the provision of library services to the citizens of Colorado through the State Library
  8. Distributes federal and state funds
  9. Regulates educator licensing
  10. Supervises adult basic education and public libraries
  11. Appoints advisory committees
  12. Grants waivers of Colorado education law and regulations
  13. Exercises judicial authority with regard to appeals by charter schools
  14. Submits recommendations for educational improvements to the General Assembly and Governor

Is it paid? 

According to the Colorado Department of Education, Board members serve for six years without pay. However, during election years, candidates can solicit donations to fund their campaigns. 

Why do board members run under political parties?

According to research by Evan Crawford, Asst. Professor of Political Science at University of San Diego, two-thirds and three-fourths of all U.S. localities use “non partisan” ballots for State Board of Elections (where candidates are not affiliated with a political party). Colorado is part of the minority where candidates run with a political party, and therefore there is only one candidate per party. 

A+ Colorado consulted with the Colorado Department of Education’s Senior Policy Consultant and the Colorado Attorney General’s office in the search for why this is. While they couldn’t address underlying policy rationale, we learned the direct reason party affiliation information is included is because it is statutory.  

CRS 1-4-502 lists state board among offices filled by party nomination of candidates, including the State Treasurer, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and the Governor.

“Nominations for United States senator, representative in congress, governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, attorney general, member of the state board of education, regent of the university of Colorado, member of the general assembly, district attorney, and all county officers to be elected at the general election may be made by primary election under section 1-4-101 or by assembly or convention under section 1-4-702 by major political parties, by petition for nomination as provided in section 1-4-802, or by a minor political party as provided in section 1-4-1304.” 

One note here, is the difference in this process between local and state-level board of education races. According to CRS 22-31-107, local board of education positions (such as Denver Public Schools Board of Education) are not elected affiliated with political parties. 

Current office holders 

The board has seven voting members, who are each elected to six-year terms from Colorado’s seven congressional districts. Elections are staggered – with Districts 5 and 6 holding elections in years divisible by six, followed two years later by Districts 2 and 4, and two years later by Districts 1, 3, and 7. It’s an arguably confusing system, but the important note here is that this year Districts 1, 3, and 7 are elected, and next election in 2022, Districts 5 and 6 will be elected. 

The 2019-2020 members of the board are:

Who is running? 

Below are the candidates running for State Board of Education seats in the 2020 election. Candidates are listed by the districts they are running to represent. You can confirm your district location here. Information for candidates was sourced through a public search. This guide will continue to be updated as additional sources of information for candidates becomes available. If you are a candidate or campaign and wish to provide additional information please reach out to us at Mary@APlusColorado.org.  

Join A+’s special election guide webinar.
Voting on the State Board of Education: Why it matters

 Oct 21, 4:30-5:30 MST
️ As the 2020 election date approaches, A+ Colorado is bringing together a group of State Board of Education experts to inform voters on what the role of the State Board is, and why this campaign matters for the future of Colorado students.

Panelists:
– Stephanie Carillo at Colorado Children’s Campaign
– Sam Battan & Students at Colorado Youth Congress
– Dan Schaller at Colorado League of Charter Schools
– Moderated by Valeria Contreras, A+ Colorado

➡️  Register via Zoom Webinar here
What questions do you have about the State Board of Education? Submit your questions when you register.

District 1 (Denver) 

See the Denver Post Q&A with District 1 candidates here

Lisa Escárcega (Democratic Party)

Lisa Escárcega is the former Executive Director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, where she “worked with school districts, advocacy groups, the governor’s office, the legislature, and the State Board of Education on the issues that are facing Colorado schools today.” Prior to that, she worked for Aurora Public Schools as the Chief Accountability and Research Officer. She has also taught English language development courses for masters-level students at Regis University, and has experience teaching from “Kindergarten to Masters Students.” 

According to her website, she is running state board because “I want to bring my background into the conversation more directly, and to ensure the board is making the best decisions for our students, families, and educators.” 

Sydnnia Wulff  (Republican Party)

According to her campaign website, Sydnnia Wulff is an attorney and “who emigrated from a communist country and became a citizen.” 

She is running because “an extreme decline of Colorado academic results requires a more objective, non-education board member. We need to bring back common sense in the classroom,” according to the Washington Park Profile.

On a post by cologop.org, she wrote, “I am a patriot, a Christian, an attorney, a conservative and a fellow republican. I believe in God, in preserving the Constitution, the rule of law, and in President Trump.”

Note: According to the Denver Post, Sydnnia Wulff has not returned their questionnaire for their election guide, which was used to source information for the other candidates. The Washparkprofile.com did publish a Q&A with her on Oct. 6, 2020. Read that here.

Alan Hayman  (Libertarian Party)

Alan Hayman works in retail construction and has experience tutoring students in chess and math. According to the Denver Post Q&A, he is running to “give voters in Colorado a third choice in this race, and to offer some new perspective to education in our state.” 

Zachary Laddison  (Approval Voting Party)

Zachary Laddison is a 21 year-old Denver resident, who according to the Denver Post Q&A, is running “to get the phrase ‘Approval Voting’ under people’s noses and into their vocabulary.” 

“My one and only priority if elected will be to demand a recount and to launch a full-scale investigation into whatever corruption and fraud made my victory possible,” he said. 

District 3 (Western Slope)

See the Denver Post Q&A with District 3 candidates here

Mayling Simpson (Democratic Party)

Mayling Simpson has served on the Steamboat Springs District School Board, has taught at the high school and college levels, and her career focus is public health. She has been an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and has held senior environmental health advisor positions at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland and at Catholic Relief Services in East Africa.

According to the Denver Post, she is running because “I wish to serve my state and to address education issues I feel passionate about. I want to advocate for equity in per pupil funding across the state and for teacher pay that meets the cost of living. I want to work toward increased funding for our public schools and be a voice for rural Colorado schools, students, teachers and parents.”

Joyce Rankin (Republican Party) 

Joyce Rankin was first appointed to the State Board of Education in August 2015, to fill a mid-term vacancy and was elected in November 2016, to complete the six-year term. She serves as a Legislative Intern for her husband, Senator Bob Rankin.

According the the Board website, she’s “an advocate for school choice, she supports allowing parents to direct education funds to the school that best fits their child’s needs, whether public or private. She is also a supporter of charter schools, magnet schools, online schools, schools with blended learning opportunities, and homeschooling.”

District 7 (North & West Denver-Metro)

See the Denver Post Q&A with District 7 candidates here

Karla Esser (Democratic Party)

Karla is the Former Director of Graduate Programs for Licensed Teachers at Regis University, and has 20+ years experience in the classroom teaching in the Aurora and German public schools systems. According to the Denver Post, she’s running because “our community deserves a board member who understands the issues facing public schools. My entire career has been serving students, families, and educators in public schools.”

Nancy Pallozzi (Republican Party) 

  • Ballotpedia Site
  • Website
  • Facebook

In a Q&A with Colorado Community Media, Nancy wrote her profession as housewife and mom, and her website says she’s been a part of education for 25+ years. She’s running because “her main priority is to put our children’s education first.”

Ballot measures 

Some of the info below was sourced via Ballotpedia. Click on the titles to read more. 

Decrease in State Income Tax // Decrease in State Income Tax

A decrease in the income tax rate for individuals, estates, and trusts from 4.63% to 4.55%. The measure would also reduce the tax rate for C corps operating in Colorado at the same rate.

A+ Staff Position:  Given the current financial status of school districts across Colorado, a decrease in the income tax rate will exacerbate the current school funding crisis. Therefore, a “No”🚫  vote will maintain existing state revenue streams to help fund education.

Pros: The tax reduction will help individuals and businesses who are experiencing the financial crunch from COVID-19.

Cons: This will exacerbate the financial crisis in the midst of a recession, massive job loss, and a diminishing tax base. Education and other public services will suffer because of this tax cut.

Supporters: Jerry Sonnenberg, Republican Party of Colorado, the Independence Institute, Americans for Prosperity – Colorado, Colorado Rising State Action, and Unite for Colorado

Opponents: Great Education Colorado 

Gallagher Amendment Repeal // Amendment B 

The Gallagher Amendment constitutionally limits the residential and non-residential property tax assessment rates so that 45% comes from residential and 55% comes from non-residential. The non-residential rate was fixed at 29% and the residential rate adjusted every two years.  The rate was initially set at 21% but has decreased over time to 7.15%. If Gallagher is repealed, SB 20-223 would take effect. SB 20-223 prohibits the legislature from changing assessment rates for property, thereby freezing the current rates of 7.15% for residential and 29% for non-residential. However, SB 20-223 would allow the legislature to change these rates through legislation in the future.

A+ Staff Position: A “Yes” ✅ vote on Amendment B will effectively maintain existing revenues from property taxes (minus destabilizing effects from COVID-19 loss of revenues from property tax collections) and support existing maintenance of funding for a variety of state funded mandates, including education. 

Pros: Property tax assessment rates were expected to continue to decrease under Gallagher.  Therefore, repealing Gallagher and freezing property tax rates at current levels is expected to result in higher residential assessment rates. Additionally, the revenues will help pay for schools and other social services that Colorado can’t afford under the Gallagher Amendment.

Cons: Repealing Gallagher will result in paying “more” for property assessments in the future as the assessment rates were expected to decrease based on the Gallagher Amendment funding formula. Because of COVID-19, paying additional assessments may be difficult for some individuals. Additionally, increased property assessments could drive up the costs of renting.

Supporters: Chris Hansen (S-Dem), Daneya Esgar (R-Dem), Jack Tate (S-Rep), and Matt Soper (R-Rep)

Opponents: Colorado Rising State Action.

Tobacco Tax // Proposition EE

In Colorado, cigarettes are taxed at a statutory rate of .20 per pack. Additionally, there is an additional .64 constitutional tax per pack. The ballot measure would incrementally increase the statutory cigarette tax to 1.80 per pack by July 2027. 

Currently, in Colorado, tobacco products (cigars and tobacco designed to be chewed or smoked in a pipe) are taxed at a statutory rate of 20% of the manufacturer’s list price (MLP) and a constitutional rate of 20% of the MLP for a total rate of 40% of the MLP. The measure would incrementally raise the statutory tax rate to 22% by July 2027 for a new total state-levied tobacco products tax rate of 62% of the MLP.

Currently, in Colorado, nicotine products such as e-cigarettes are not taxed. The ballot measure would create a tax on nicotine products that would match the tobacco products tax rates. The rate would begin at 30% of the MLP in 2021 and would increase gradually to 62% of MLP by July 2027.

Revenues would be directed to health and education programs including the following:

  • Preschool programs cash fund;
  • State education fund;
  • Rural schools cash fund;
  • Housing development grant fund;
  • Tobacco tax cash fund;
  • Tobacco education programs fund;
  • State general fund.

A+ Staff Position: Voting “Yes” ✅ on the tobacco tax increases revenues for preschool, the state education fund, the rural schools cash fund, and the tobacco education programs fund.

Pros: Measure may help with teen vaping by making it cost prohibitive. The measure will also offer funds for additional preschool programming to children from families with low incomes and children at-risk of entering kindergarten with low levels of school readiness. Finally, the measure will allow targeted resources to children who benefit most from high-quality early childhood education.

Cons: The tax increases government taxing and government involvement in tobacco issues. The tax might have a disproportionate impact on lower income individuals.

Supporters: Jared Polis & Colorado Children’s Campaign

Opponents: The tobacco industry opposes this measure.

Mill Levy & Bond – DPS 

On August 20, 2020, the DPS Board of Education voted to adopt a bond and mill levy proposal for the November 2020 ballot. Denver voters will be asked to consider two measures: a $795 million bond that would provide funding to build and maintain schools, and a $32 million Debt Free Schools ballot initiative that would provide operating dollars to fund priorities such as mental health, nursing, and special education supports.

A+ Staff Position: Voting “Yes” ✅  on these measures will  increase funding for Denver’s 79,423 public school students. 

The mill levy increase will expand funds for K-12 programming in DPS. While there are issues with DPS’ funding formula and current school finance policies, additional funding is needed. While the Staff recommends supporting this measure, A+ will continue to advocate for equitable funding and the remediation of large gaps in funding that will occur in 2021 due to the budget the Board passed June, 2020.

  • The proposed bond investments listed via DPS are:
    • Capacity – $65 million
    • Quality Learning Environments (funds for classrooms, fields, labs, gyms, etc) – $65 million
    • Maintenance – $208 million
    • Cooling, including air conditioning, for 24 schools*- $128.5 million
    • Technology & Safety – $65 million
    • Montbello Campus – $130 million
    • Certificate of Participation (COP) Payback – $80 million
    • General Fund Relief – $25.5 million
    • Capacity Utilization Fund – $6 million
    • Elimination of Kepner COP lease payments – $11 million
    • Additional School-Determined Funds for high-needs schools – $2.2 million
    • Food and Nutrition Services Greenhouse – $2.1 million
    • Master Planning – $2 million
    • Turf Replacement – Evie Dennis Campus, South High School, West High School, North High School – $3.27 million
    • Bruce Randolph Hydroponics/Greenhouse Program – $1.14 million
  • The proposed debt-free schools (Mill Levy) investments listed via DPS are:
    • Low Wage and Compensation Increases – $17 million
    • Mental Health Staff and Support – $3 million
    • Nursing Services  – $4 million
    • Special Education Services, including paraprofessionals and speech language pathologists – $2 million
    • Charter Share – $6 million

Pros: DPS is operating at a substantial deficit given COVID-19. The levy and bond will help shore up some of the financial burdens the Board created through the use of reserves and CARE funds without addressing financial structural issues.

Cons: Mill levy overrides and bonds will place a financial burden on individuals living in Denver at a time of great financial hardship.

Supporters: Unknown at this time

Opponents: Unknown at this time

Was this election guide helpful? If so, please send a friend, family member, or neighbor who cares about education in Colorado. 

Questions or comments? Contact A+ Director of Communication and Engagement at Mary@apluscolorado.org. 

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