Pro-66 campaign surpasses $10 million in contributions

Bill and Melinda Gates, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a charity founded by Steve Jobs’ widow are among major new donors to Colorado Commits to Kids, the campaign committee that’s pushing to pass Amendment 66.

LogoThe committee reported $2.5 million in donations during the last two weeks. The Monday filing with the Department of State was the last one required before the Nov. 5 election.

Bloomberg Philanthropies gave $1.05 million while the Gates contributed $1 million of their own funds, not from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major donor to education reform causes.

The Emerson Collective, a California charity founded by Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs, gave $100,000.

Earlier this year Bloomberg gave $350,000 to a committee that supported Democratic state Sens. John Morse of Colorado Springs and Angela Giron of Pueblo in recall elections that they both lost. Conservative commentators criticized that contribution, and Bloomberg’s A66 gift was prompting critical comments on Twitter Monday afternoon.

In a statement provided by Colorado Commits, Gov. John Hickenlooper said, ““Our deep thanks go to Bill and Melinda Gates, Mayor Bloomberg and all of our Colorado donors for supporting Amendment 66. It is a testament to the breadth and depth of our reforms that Colorado has attracted the attention of business leaders across the country.”

Colorado Commits reported spending $4.9 million during the Oct. 10-23 reporting period, $3.1 million of that on advertising. That’s brings total campaign spending to $9.4 million.

Here are other major recent contributors to the campaign:

  • Reuben Munger of Boulder venture capital company Vision Ridge Partners – $200,000
  • Liberty Global, an international cable company headquartered in Colorado and headed by John Malone – $100,000
  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – $50,000
  • James Crowe of J.Q. Crowe Co in Englewood and a former Level 3 executive – $25,000
    Pat Hamill, CEO of Oakwood Homes – $15,000

Major contributors in prior reporting periods included the National Education Association and the Colorado Education Association ($2 million each) and Pat Stryker, a prominent Fort Collins philanthropist and Democratic Party funder, who’s given $825,000.

Other big expenditures in the last two weeks included an additional $1.1 million to FieldWorks, the company running the campaign’s canvassing efforts; $487,392 to TBWB Strategies, a San Francisco consultant that specializes in ballot measures, and $149,087 to Chism Strategies, another consulting company.

Coloradans for Real Education Reform, the main A66 opposition committee, reported raising a total of $24,400 across the entire campaign period. Virtually all of that has come from the Independence Institute, the libertarian/conservative think tank. The group has spent $19,352, mostly on political consultants.

The group’s primary campaign gambit was un unsuccessful legal challenge to some of the petitions that put A66 on the ballot. The spending report listed no legal expenses.

Another underfunded opposition group, Kids Before Unions, on Monday reported raising a total of $11,642 and spending $8,907.

Other players in the A66 campaign

Four other committees have reported raising a total of more than $136,000 in the effort to pass A66.

The Bell Action Issue Committee has raised $16,100, primarily from a related organization, and spent $14,377, mostly to reimburse salaries of Bell Policy Center employees who work on the campaign.

The Great Education Colorado Action Committee, an affiliate of the advocacy group Great Education Colorado, has raised $35,000 and spent $24,657. Its also received $24,657 in non-monetary contributions.

Greeley Commits to Kids has raised $33,841 and spent $17,912, most of it on advertising in Greeley.

The Stand for Children Issue Committee has raised $51,950 (almost all of it in prior reporting periods) and donated $50,000 to Colorado Commits.

There’s also been under-the-radar advertising spending on both sides of the A66 debate.

The Independence Institute, the conservative/libertarian thank tank, has been running television ads through another non-profit, Kids Are First. The ads don’t mention A66, the election or voting but rather argue a general theme of “Raise expectations, not taxes.”

The group’s website claims it has raised $734,350.

On the other side of the A66 debate, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Public Education & Business Coalition have been running ads with the general theme of improving schools and restoring education to what it used to be. Again, there’s no direct mention of A66, the election or voting.

Chris Watney, Children’s Campaign chief, has declined to tell EdNews how much is being spent on those ads.

As non-profits those groups don’t have to register with the Department of State and report spending because they aren’t expressly advocating for how to vote in the election.

A66 would increase state income taxes by a total of $950 million in the first year to fund a significant overhaul of the state’s school finance system, with an emphasis on funding for preschool and full-day kindergarten and on increased funding for at-risk students and English-language learners. (See this EdNews backgrounder for all the details.)

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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