Who Is In Charge

The week at the Capitol – Jan. 22-25

The legislature gets down to real business this week, with a significant number of bills starting to move through committees.

Colorado state flag

EdNews posts a weekly calendar every Sunday (Monday this week, given that the legislature is taking the day off). Updated daily calendars are included in the Capitol eNewsletter on weekday evenings. (If you’re not a subscriber, you can sign up here.)

For new readers, and for those a little rusty on legislative folkways, here are some tips on navigating the calendars.

What’s included: Our calendars list only education-related bills and other measures of interest to the education community. All bills are listed for meetings of the House and Senate education committees. Only education-related bills are listed for other committees, whose calendars may include other bills before, after and in-between the ones listed.

How to stay current: Calendars change daily, so this weekly calendar isn’t the last word. Subscribe to the Capitol eNewsletter to get the latest schedule (see above). Or use these links to the full House and Senate calendars. Updated versions are available early in the evening on weekdays.

Use the Education Bill Tracker: Get descriptions of education-related bills, links to full texts and status information in in this exclusive EdNews resource.

Legislative jargon: In addition to committee hearings, every bill goes through three steps, or “readings,” on the floor. First reading is when a bill is formally introduced and assigned to a committee. During second reading the House and Senate meet as what’s called the “committee of the whole” to debate and amend a list of bills. (Second reading is labeled “preliminary consideration” in our calendars.) During third reading the House and Senate take final roll-call votes on bills. (We call that “final consideration.”)

Don’t be fooled: After bills clear committee they’re scheduled for floor debate. But bills frequently are laid over, so just because a measure is on a particular day’s floor calendar doesn’t mean it will be considered.

Timing: Many committees, including House and Senate education on Wednesdays, meet after floor sessions are finished. (That’s what “upon adjournment” means.) That can mean any time from about 9:30 a.m. until noon, depending on how busy things are on the floor. Otherwise, House Education meets at 1:30 p.m. on Mondays, and Senate Education convenes at 1:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Complicated or controversial measures, and those expected to bring lengthy testimony, usually are scheduled for those afternoon sessions, which can run until late in the afternoon or even early evening.

Follow meetings yourself: Live video of floor sessions is streamed on the legislature’s website, and there’s live audio of all committee meetings. Archives also are available, generally within a few hours after a meeting ends. Get more information and links here.

This week’s calendar

MONDAY

Legislature closed for Martin Luther King holiday

TUESDAY

8:45 a.m. – Capital Development Committee, room 356
– Presentation on BEST program and discussion of possible legislation on oversight

10 a.m. – House preliminary consideration
– House Bill 13-1026 – Technical measure affecting higher ed construction projects

WEDNESDAY

7:45 a.m. – Joint education committees, room 0112
– CDE presentation on early childhood education and full-day kindergarten
– Staff briefing on status of State Education Fund

Upon floor adjournment – Joint education committees, room 0112
– Discussion of budget recommendations and strategic plans for departments of education and higher education

Upon adjournment of joint session – House Education Committee, room 0112
– Vote on budget recommendations and strategic plans for departments of education and higher education

Upon adjournment of joint session – Senate Education Committee, room 356
– Vote on budget recommendations and strategic plans for departments of education and higher education

1:30 p.m. – Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee, room 354
– Senate Bill 13-024 – Labor union membership

1:30 p.m. – House Finance Committee, room LSB-A
– House Bill 13-1040 – Change in calculation of PERA retirement benefits

THURSDAY

1:30 p.m. – Senate Education Committee, room 356
– Briefing on unimplemented audit recommendations for departments of education and higher education
– Senate Bill 13-002 – Designation of BOCES as local education agencies
– Senate Bill 13-033 – ASSET bill for undocumented students

Looking ahead

Some bills already have been put on the calendars for late in the month. Of immediate interest is Senate Bill 13-009, which will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28.

Follow the money

In Denver school board races, incumbents outpacing challengers in campaign contributions

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver school board vice president Barbara O'Brien speaks at a press conference at Holm Elementary.
Donations to Denver school board candidates as of Oct. 12
    Barbara O’Brien, At-Large: $101,291
    Angela Cobián, District 2: $94,152
    Mike Johnson, District 3: $81,855
    Rachele Espiritu, District 4: $73,847
    Jennifer Bacon, District 4: $59,302
    Robert Speth, At-Large: $38,615
    “Sochi” Gaytán, District 2: $24,134
    Carrie A. Olson, District 3: $18,105
    Tay Anderson, District 4: $16,331
    Julie Bañuelos, At-Large: $7,737

Three Denver school board incumbents brought in more money than challengers seeking to unseat them and change the district’s direction, according to new campaign finance reports.

Board vice president Barbara O’Brien has raised the most money so far. A former Colorado lieutenant governor who was first elected to the board in 2013 and represents the city at-large, O’Brien had pulled in $101,291 as of Oct. 12.

The second-highest fundraiser was newcomer Angela Cobián, who raised $94,152. She is running to represent southwest District 2, where there is no incumbent in the race. The board member who currently holds that seat, Rosemary Rodriguez, has endorsed Cobián.

Incumbent Mike Johnson, who is running for re-election in central-east District 3, brought in far more money than his opponent, Carrie A. Olson. In a three-way race for northeast Denver’s District 4, incumbent Rachele Espiritu led in fundraising, but not by as much.

O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson and Espiritu had several big-money donors in common. They include former Denver Center for the Performing Arts chairman Daniel Ritchie, Oakwood Homes CEO Pat Hamill and Denver-based oil and gas company founder Samuel Gary. All three have given in past elections to candidates who support the direction of Denver Public Schools, which is nationally known for embracing school choice and collaborating with charter schools.

Meanwhile, teachers unions were among the biggest contributors to candidates pushing for the state’s largest school district to change course and refocus on its traditional, district-run schools. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund gave the most money — $10,000 — to candidate Jennifer Bacon, a former teacher who is challenging Espiritu in District 4.

It gave smaller amounts to Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who is running against Cobián in District 2; Olson, who is challenging Johnson in District 3; and Robert Speth, who is running in a three-person race with O’Brien. Speth narrowly lost a race for a board seat in 2015. A supplemental campaign filing shows Speth loaned himself $17,000 on Oct. 13.

The two candidates who raised the least amounts of money also disagree with the district’s direction but were not endorsed by the teachers union and didn’t receive any union money. Tay Anderson, who is running against Espiritu and Bacon in District 4, counts among his biggest donors former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, who endorsed him and gave $1,110.

In the at-large race, candidate Julie Bañuelos’s biggest cash infusion was a $2,116 loan to herself. As of Oct. 11, Bañuelos had spent more money than she’d raised.

With four seats up for grabs on the seven-member board, the Nov. 7 election has the potential to shift the board’s balance of power. Currently, all seven members back the district’s direction and the vision of long-serving Superintendent Tom Boasberg. Mail ballots went out this week.

The new campaign finance reports, which were due at midnight Tuesday and cover the previous year, show that several of this year’s candidates have already raised more money than the candidate who was leading the pack at this time in the 2015 election.

O’Brien’s biggest contributor was University of Colorado president Bruce Benson, who gave $10,000. Other notable donors include Robin Hickenlooper, wife of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne; and billionaire Phil Anschutz.

Several Denver charter school leaders, including Rocky Mountain Prep CEO James Cryan and KIPP Colorado CEO Kimberlee Sia, donated to O’Brien, Johnson, Espiritu and Cobián.

Political groups are also playing a big role in the election. The groups include several backed by local and state teachers unions, as well as others funded by pro-reform organizations.

Following the money

Douglas County slate that favors continuing school voucher court case is ahead in early fundraising, records show

Former State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. Scheffel is now running for the Douglas County school board. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A group of candidates that largely supports the direction of the Douglas County School District, especially its embrace of school choice policies, has raised nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions, new financial records show.

The group, which calls itself “Elevate Douglas County,” topped its competition, the “Community Matters” slate, by more than $30,000 in monetary contributions to committees for individual candidates.

A lot is at stake in the south suburban Denver school board contest. A majority of seats on the seven-member school board are up for grabs, putting the philosophical direction of the state’s third largest school district on the line.

For eight years, the school board has pushed a conservative education reform agenda that included developing a voucher program that would allow parents to use tax dollars to send their children to private school and establishing a market-based pay system for teachers.

While the Elevate slate has promised to reconsider and tweak many of the board’s most controversial decisions, such as teacher pay, the Community Matters slate has promised to roll back many of the previous board’s decisions.

The contrast between the two groups is most stark on the issue of the school district’s voucher program. Created in 2011, the voucher program has been tied up in courts ever since. The Elevate slate supports continuing the court case and reinstating the program. The Community Matters slate staunchly opposes vouchers and would end the court case.

According to records, the Elevate slate raised a total of $98,977 during the first campaign reporting period that ended Oct. 12. Grant Nelson raised the most, $34,373. The three other candidates — Ryan Abresch, Randy Mills and Debora Scheffel — each raised about $21,000.

All four candidates received $6,250 from John Saeman, a Denver businessman and the former chairman of the Daniels Fund. The foundation has financially supported the school district’s legal battle over the voucher program.

Other major contributors to the Elevate team are Ed McVaney, the founder of JD Edwards, and businesswoman Chrystalla Larson.

The Community Matters slate raised a total of $66,692 during the same period. Candidate Krista Holtzmann led the pack, raising more than $21,000. Her teammates — Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor and Kevin Leung — raised between $13,000 and $15,000 each.

Among the major donors to the Community Matters slate are Clare Leonard and Herschel Ramsey. Both Parker residents gave $1,000 each to all four candidates.

The campaign finance reports that were due Tuesday tell only part of the story. Earlier this week, special interest groups working to influence the election were required to report their spending.

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union, has pumped $300,000 into the race in an effort to support the Community Matters slate.

Meanwhile, Americans For Prosperity, a conservative political nonprofit, is running a “social welfare” issue campaign promoting school choice. Because the nonprofit is not directly supporting candidates, it is not required to disclose how much it is spending. However, the organization said in a statement the campaign would cost six-figures.