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Would Amendment 66 be a big win for charter schools?

Animas High School sees a boon; others see missed opportunity
Animas High School figures to receive around $450 per student for construction costs if Amendment 66 passes. Animas High juniors take a break from the classroom and work in the hallway Monday morning during humanities class. From left are Ashton Cornett, Cole Hawkins, Bryn Joyner, Lana Clark and Marisa Looney.

Advertisements for Amendment 66 say the proposed tax increase will help fund art, music and physical education. But for Animas High School Executive Director Michael Ackerman, the only subject that matters is math.

If voters pass the income tax hike, his school stands to receive $450 per student to cover construction costs. When Ackerman multiplies $450 by Animas High’s 400 students, he comes up with a number that’s about $40,000 shy of his school’s annual debt service.

“We’d still be fundraising, but it’s a lot more digestible gap,” he said.

Around the state, charter schools have greeted Amendment 66 with a mix of support and skepticism.

Animas High would be one of the big winners if voters opt to raise income taxes by about $1 billion a year. It’s a different picture in Cortez, where Southwest Open School officials are unsure of the amendment’s benefits for their school.

One estimate by the Legislature’s staff members shows Southwest Open School and Battle Rock Charter School, west of Cortez, stand to get $179,000 and $83,000 respectively. But Jennifer Carter, director of Southwest Open School, does not know if those projections are accurate.

“The formula is going to be pretty complex, so to run numbers would be challenging,” Carter said.

Because of the unclear effects of Amendment 66 on all charter schools, the Colorado League of Charter Schools has decided not to advocate for or against it.

And one retired Democratic legislator says the amendment is such a missed opportunity for charter schools that he has joined the mostly Republican opposition campaign.

For Ackerman, though, the math is clear. Academic results at his school are on the rise, even though the budget is falling.

“It’s not sustainable. I’m pretty much out of magic tricks when it comes to fundraising,” Ackerman said. “There is no fluff in the Animas High School budget.”

Ackerman’s teachers have never had a raise, although they got a bonus from a donor at the end of the school’s second year.

“People are going to have to do right by their families. They’ve got bills. They’ve got graduate degrees they’re still paying off. They’re going to look elsewhere,” Ackerman said.

Bob Hagedorn, a Democratic former state senator from Aurora, said he thinks amendment supporters did just enough for charter schools to ward off their opposition.

The amendment is a missed opportunity to fund expansions of high-performing charter schools with long wait lists, Hagedorn said. He’s not worried that charters will suffer if the amendment fails.

“Certainly, Colorado has demonstrated we can have good production with the revenue they are currently receiving,” Hagedorn said. “A billion dollars just seems a bit excessive.”

Although it’s neutral, the Colorado League of Charter Schools does see an upside.

“It would be an advantage to the majority of charter schools across the state,” said the group’s president, Nora Flood.

However, urban schools with more at-risk students would benefit more, while the effects on rural charter schools are less clear, Flood said.

Charter schools that are authorized by the state – like Animas – would get more out of Amendment 66 than schools chartered through a local school district, such as Southwest Open.

The amendment requires local districts to share their mill levy overrides with state-chartered schools in their area. But for schools chartered through a district, the amendment only requires districts to negotiate with their charter schools about how to share the mill levy.

State-chartered schools also do better under Amendment 66’s payments for construction, which Ackerman calls the Achilles’ heel of the charter school movement. Nondistrict charters that have their own buildings would get $450 per student, compared with $100 per student for schools operating in buildings owned by the school district.

If Amendment 66 passes, the state’s 4.63 income tax rate would rise to 5 percent on income of $75,000 or less and 5.9 percent on income more than $75,000.


Campaign tops $10 million

DENVER – Donations of $1 million each from billionaires Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg have propelled the Amendment 66 campaign past the $10 million mark in fundraising.

Fundraising reports released Monday show that Melinda Gates, wife of the Microsoft founder, and a charity run by Bloomberg were the top two donors since early October.

“We’re happy we could add our own personal and financial support for Amendment 66 to that of so many from throughout Colorado,” the Gateses said in a statement released by the Yes on 66 campaign. “Amendment 66 will bring a number of important policy reforms that should drive student achievement and provide Colorado students the education they need and deserve.”

Opponents seized on the involvement of Bloomberg, who helped fund unsuccessful campaigns by two Democratic senators to defend themselves against recall elections.

“Billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg should have realized by now that he can’t buy Colorado politics, but apparently he can still rope his friends in to try to flood the landscape with out-of-state money,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado, in a news release.

Previously, the campaign had received $2 million each from the National Education Association and the Colorado Education Association, plus donations from several wealthy Colorado business people, including Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort.

The Yes on 66 campaign is spending money even faster than it’s raising it. In the last two weeks, it paid for $3.1 million in television ads, $1 million in door-to-door campaigning and nearly $500,000 on mail ads.

Monday’s fundraising report was the last one before the Nov. 5 election. All registered voters should have received their ballots in the mail by now.


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