From the Statehouse

Colorado Commits launches A66 TV spots

Educators and political junkies who’ve been wondering where the Amendment 66 campaign has been now need to look no farther than their TVs – the first ads boosting the amendment aired Tuesday.

Screen shot of TV ad
Screen shot of pro-Amendment 66 TV ad

The two spots, each 15 seconds long and airing in various TV markets around the state, carry the punch line “Big change, small price.”

The first shows a classroom scene, and the announcer says, “More teacher aides for $133 a year. Amendment 66 puts the money in the classroom. Big change, small price.”

The second ad shows kids in gym class, with the announcer saying, “Bring back gym class for $133 a year. Amendment 66 keeps money out of administration. Big change, small price.”

The spots run back-to-back.

The $133 a-year figure is the additional tax that the pro-66 campaign estimates will be paid on $57,685 a year, Colorado’s median household income. (You can view the ads here.)

Amendment 66 would raise the state’s individual income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent on incomes up to $75,000. Earnings above $75,000 would be taxed at 5.9 percent. The additional money raised by the new tax would be earmarked for education. (See page 5 of the state’s “Blue Book” voter guide for additional estimates of how the new tax would affect different income levels.)

Amendment 66 is a package deal with Senate Bill 13-213, a law passed last spring that would make major changes in Colorado’s school finance formula. The law won’t go into effect unless voters pass the tax hike. Major elements of SB 13-213 would provide preschool funding for all eligible at-risk students and cover full-day kindergarten costs for all students.

The law also would substantially increase funding for at-risk students and English language learners. But the bill does not specify spending on teacher aides, gym classes or to reduce class sizes. Those decisions would be up to individual school districts.

Do your homework

EdNews asked campaign officials about the size of the ad buy, in which markets ads had been placed and about the duration and cost of the campaign.

Curtis Hubbard, spokesman for Colorado Commits to Kids, would only say, “It’s a statewide ad buy that includes the three major markets and reaches SW Colorado via Albuquerque stations. Our aim is to reach as many voters as possible in the next five weeks to let them see for themselves that Amendment 66 promises big changes for a small price,” adding that the campaign will last “until at least 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5.”

Hubbard wouldn’t disclose the cost of the ads, saying “Financial details of the campaign are made available in our regular public disclosures.”

A source not connected with the campaign did some of his own research on Colorado Commits ad buys and told EdNews he believes the campaign has purchased ads costing at least $420,000 a week in the Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction markets.

In its news release, the campaign said the ads were produced by Putnam Partners, a Virginia-based political advertising firm. In its Sept. 30 spending report, the campaign reported paying Putnam $106,558 during the prior two weeks. (See this EdNews story for a full report on the latest Colorado Commits contributions and spending.)

While there’s been a lot of chatter in the education community about the low-key character of the campaign to date, Colorado Commits has been busy setting up field offices and hiring canvassers and conducting a fairly active campaign on social media.

Mayor Hancock endorses 66

Amendment 66 news conference
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock formally endorsed Amendment 66 on Oct. 1 at the Clayton Early Learning Center. The campaign logo had been chalked on the parking lot, along with a few thousand stick figures of children.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, flanked by sign-waving campaign volunteers and staffers, Tuesday endorsed the amendment.

“I am voting for Amendment 66 because when it comes down to it, it’s time for everyone of us to stand in the gap for Colorado kids,” he said.

The event was held at the Clayton Early Learning Center in northeast Denver to emphasize Amendment 66’s impact on preschool programs. Charlotte Brantling, head of Clayton, and Qualistar Colorado Vice President Heather Tritten also spoke in support.

The pep rally was staged on an asphalt parking lot on which had been chalked a full color Colorado Commits logo and a few thousand colorful stick figures of children. Creation of the chalk drawings was recorded on video and could show up in a future campaign video or ad. As the rally broke up, a maintenance man wheeled a power washer onto the lot, ready to clean it off.

legal opinion

Tennessee’s attorney general sides with charter schools in battle over student information

PHOTO: TN.gov
Herbert H. Slatery III was appointed Tennessee attorney general in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom he previously served as general counsel.

Tennessee’s attorney general says requests for student contact information from state-run charter school operators don’t violate a federal student privacy law, but rather are “entirely consistent with it.”

The opinion from Herbert Slatery III, issued late on Wednesday in response to a request by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, was a win for charter schools in their battle with the state’s two largest districts.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

McQueen quickly responded by ordering school leaders in Memphis and Nashville to comply. In letters dispatched to Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Director Shawn Joseph of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, McQueen gave the districts a deadline, adding that they will face consequences if they refuse.

“If you do not provide this information by Sept. 25, 2017, to the (Achievement School District) and any other charter school or charter authorizer who has an outstanding request, we will be forced to consider actions to enforce the law,” she wrote.

Neither superintendent responded immediately to requests for comment, but school board leaders in both districts said Thursday that their attorneys were reviewing the matter.

Chris Caldwell, chairman for Shelby County’s board, said he’s also concerned “whether the timeframe stated gives us enough time to make sure families are aware of what is happening.”

Wednesday’s flurry of events heats up the battle that started in July when charter operators Green Dot and LEAD requested student contact information under the state’s new charter law, which gives districts 30 days to comply with such requests. School boards in both Memphis and Nashville refused, arguing they had the right under the federal student privacy law to restrict who gets the information and for what reasons.

The attorney general said sharing such information would not violate federal law.

The requested information falls under “student directory information,” and can be published by school districts without a parent’s permission. For Shelby County Schools, this type of information includes names, addresses, emails and phone numbers.


To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer.


The opinion also backs up the new state law, which directs districts to share information that charter operators say they need to recruit students and market their programs in Tennessee’s expanding school-choice environment.

However, the opinion allowed for districts to have a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing such information. It was not clear from the opinion if the two school districts have exhausted that time.

A spokeswoman for Shelby County Schools said Tuesday the district had not yet distributed forms that would allow parents to opt out of having their students’ information shared, although the district’s parent-student handbook already includes instructions for doing so.

Below, you can read the attorney general’s opinion and McQueen’s letters to both superintendents:

Clarification, Sept. 14, 2017: This story has been updated to clarify the school boards’ arguments for not sharing the information.

First Person

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Grace Tatter covers a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in 2015.

For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.

Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.

1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.

I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.

2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.

I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.

3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.

During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.

4. Money matters.

Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.

5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.

6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.

If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.

Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.