Education issues a key feature of Election 2013

Colorado’s 2013 election is a great example of the old cliché that all politics is local.

Aside from Amendment 66, the proposed $950 million P-12 statewide tax increase, and the proposed marijuana tax, ballots around the state are dominated by local races and questions.

IllustrationIn Arapahoe County, for instance, there are five city elections for nearly 20 offices and nine ballot measures and five school district elections for 13 board seats, plus two school ballot measures. (That’s not to mention the 15 special district questions on Arapahoe ballots.)

School board elections are a common feature on ballots around the state, although the number of proposed district tax measures is down compared to recent years, partly because some school boards were reluctant to compete with A66 for voter attention.

Elections this year are being conducted this year with mail ballots that voters will need to return by mail or at voting centers.

Here’s a quick review at how Election 2013 shapes up for education:

Statewide issues

The vote on A66 sets up a watershed moment for education funding in Colorado. Passage of the income-tax increase would create significant new revenues for public schools and trigger implementation of Senate Bill 13-213, a sweeping change in how funds are allocated to individual school districts.

Defeat of the amendment could well lock schools into a tight “new normal” of funding that is some $1 billion lower than it would have been if not for recession-induced budget cuts in recent years.

Proposition AA, the proposed taxes on recreational marijuana, also has education implications in that some of the revenue would be earmarked for school construction.

Learn more:

School board races

Colorado’s 178 school boards are organized in a variety of ways. Many boards have five members, some have seven; many board members serve at-large while others represent areas within districts. Some boards preside over multi-million-dollar enterprises; others oversee small budgets and a few hundred students.

But all school board members are elected, and all run in November of odd-numbered years.

There’s also great variation in the intensity of board races, with hot contests in some districts and cancelled elections in others because there weren’t enough candidates to make a race.

For instance, among the 10 largest districts, there are strongly contested races in Denver, Douglas County and Jefferson County and full slates of candidates in Adams 12-Five Star, Aurora and Colorado Springs District 11.

But only one of two seats is contested in Cherry Creek, and only one of three in Poudre. And Boulder Valley and St. Vrain cancelled their board elections because there weren’t enough candidates to make a race.

Among El Paso County’s 15 districts, about a dozen have at least one contested seat. (El Paso has the largest number of districts of any single county.)

Denver and Douglas County have the highest profile races. In DPS, where four of seven seats are on the ballot, the races are a replay of recent years’ contests in that they put a group of candidates who support the administration’s reform initiatives against a group who are more skeptical of those policies and more supportive of neighborhood school improvement.

In Dougco, there’s a similar four-versus-four split, with challengers attacking the current board’s operating procedures and financial management, among other issues.

The intensity seems a bit lower, but Jeffco has a similar split between administration supporters and critics in its three races.

The Dougco election in 2009 was marked by over Republican Party involvement in the board races, leading to a takeover of the board. This year the GOP is backing certain candidates in both counties.

There’s also an overlay of partisanship or ideology in a few other districts’ races. In Grand Junction’s Mesa 51 contests the county GOP is backing certain candidates. An in northern Colorado’s Thompson district a tea party-type group named Liberty Watch is backing a slate.

Learn more:

District tax proposals

School district tax proposals were the big election story in 2012, when voters in 29 school districts approved 34 bond issues and operating revenue increases – plus one sales tax hike – worth just over $1 billion. Districts had 38 proposals worth about $1.03 billion on the ballot.

The list is shorter and the ask is smaller this year. Some 23 districts have tax measures on the ballot, but the amount requested is only $206.4 million, according to information compiled by the Colorado School Finance Project. And the largest proposal, an $80 million bond issue in Littleton, wouldn’t require additional property taxes but merely asks voters to approve continuation of an existing tax.

Other proposals of note include a $44 million bond issue in Commerce City and tax overrides for operating expenses in Westminster ($5.2 million), Lewis-Palmer ($4.5 million) and Canon City ($1.3 million).

Six small districts are seeking $30.4 million worth of bond issues to raise the matching funds needed to qualify for state Building Excellent Schools Today construction grants.

Learn more:

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

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

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”