War chests fill up

Democrats, unions pour money into key races

Democratic candidates in pivotal state Senate races, including those of interest to education, continue to lead their Republican opponents in fundraising, according to campaign finance reports filed Tuesday.

Competing casino interests have wagered more than $25 million in the campaign over Amendment 68, the constitutional proposal that would allow opening a full casino in the metro area, with part of the revenues earmarked for school districts.

Three political committees funded by teachers’ union members have raised more than $490,000. But the big funder in legislative and other races is the Colorado Democratic Party, which has raised $838,938 and contributed $676,366 to its candidates. (Some union groups, such as the Public Education Committee, which is related to the Colorado Education Association, contribute to the Democrats.)

Much of the focus this year is on races for the Colorado Senate, where Democrats have an 18-17 majority and Republicans are hoping to turn a handful of key seats. Some of those races involve candidates with substantial influence over education policy, including the chair of the Senate Education Committee and the former chair of House Education.

Here are some highlights of the latest contribution and spending reports, which update 2014 totals with August activity. See the interactive chart at the bottom of this article for detailed financial reports on races that Chalkbeat Colorado has identified as important to education, including some involving members of the two education committees.


In battleground Jefferson County, Democratic Sens. Andy Kerr and Rachel Zenzinger hold substantial fundraising leads over their GOP opponents, Tony Sanchez and Laura Woods. Kerr is chair of Senate Education, and Zenzinger is a freshman member.

Two former Democratic House members. Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Judy Solano of Adams County, also are outraising Republican opponents in Senate races. Merrifield is known as a skeptic about education reform proposals, and Solano is a vociferous critic of standardized testing.

In District 5 in the central mountains, Democratic rancher and school administrator Kerry Donovan has a significant financial edge over GOP candidate Don Suppes. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Gail Schwartz, a strong supporter of higher education and the BEST construction program, is term limited.

But in Douglas County’s District 30 GOP Rep. Chris Holbert, who’s seeking to move to the Senate, has a big financial lead over Democrat Bette Davis.


Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, chair of House Education, has a comfortable financial edge of GOP hopeful Debra Irvine, whom Hamner beat two years ago.

Democratic House Education members Brittany Petterson of Lakewood, John Buckner and Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Dave Young of Greeley also have outraised their opponents.

But Republican Reps. Kevin Priola in Adams County and Justin Everett in Jeffco have fundraising leads over their Democratic challengers.

State Board

In the two contested State Board of Education races, Democratic incumbent Jane Goff is outraising GOP candidate Laura Boggs 10-1 in the 7th District. In the 3rd District, Democrat Henry Roman of Pueblo has a slight funding edge on GOP incumbent Marcia Neal of Grand Junction.

Ballot measures

To no one’s surprise, the two sides in the Amendment 68 battle are raising and spending stratospheric amounts of money, mostly on television advertising. Coloradans for Better Schools, which supports casino expansion, has raised more than $12.5 million. The group is pretty much solely funded by Mile High USA Inc., which owns the Arapahoe Park racetrack. That would be the site of a casino if the measure passes. The No on 68 committee has raised $16 million – all of it anted up by casino owners in the three mountain towns where gambling already is legal.

Relatively little money is involved in the campaigns for and against Proposition 104, the Independence Institute-backed ballot measure that would require school district contract negotiations be held in public.

Outside committees

A variety of groups – small donor committees, political action committees and independent expenditure groups – focus on education-related candidates and races. The biggest one is the Public Education Committee, supported by the dues of CEA members. It’s raised $247,252 this year and contributed $167,700, all to Democratic candidates.

CEA affiliates the District Twelve Education Association and the Jefferson County Education Association Small Donor Committee have raised $135,928 and $107,105 respectively. They have spread contributions among Democratic legislative candidates.

There also are a clutch of committees associated with Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children, but their general-election giving has been relatively minor so far.

Candidates rely on more than education groups and political parties for their campaign cash. Other labor unions also are significant contributors to Democrats, but candidates of both parties rely on networks of individual donors, who give anywhere from $20 to $400, plus the long list of political action committees representing industries, professions and other groups.

Such business-related PACs often are non-partisan; they just want the winning candidate to remember them later. For example, the Colorado Ski County PAC gave $400 contributions to both Democrat Donovan and Republican Suppes in Senate District 5, home to many of the state’s ski areas.

Campaign spending in legislative races tends to focus on expenses like brochures, mailers, phone banks, yard signs, meeting expenses and – in better-funded campaigns – staff and outsides consultants.

Using Chalkbeat’s campaign finance chart: Click a candidate to see contribution and spending totals in a bar chart at the top of the graphic. Additional information will appear below a candidate or committee name. You can click on multiple candidates to see comparative information.


¿Cuantos niños en su escuela son inmunizados?

Monserrat Cholico, 8, en la Crawford Kids Clinic en Aurora en 2015 (Denver Post).

Chalkbeat recolectó datos para ayudar a los padres a entender si las escuelas de sus hijos están protegidos de enfermedades. Busque su escuela en nuestra base de datos.

“Immunization rate” representa el porcentaje de estudiantes que están totalmente inmunizados.

“Exemption rate” representa el porcentaje de estudiantes cuyos padres optaron por no vacunar a sus hijos.

“Compliance rate” representa el porcentaje de estudiantes que están siguiendo la ley de Colorado. La ley dice que los estudiantes deben obtener vacunas o firmar formularios de exención.

Choosing college

State’s college attendance rate shows slight turnaround

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

The percentage of Colorado high school students enrolling in college right after graduation increased slightly in 2014, according to a new report from the Department of Higher Education.

Of 2014’s 53,771 graduates, 55.8 percent went on to college immediately, up from the 2013 rate but three percentage points below the record in 2009, according to the Report on the Postsecondary Progress and Success of High School Graduates (full copy at bottom of this article).

In the recession year of 2009, when the state started compiling the report, 58.8 percent of high school grads went to college.

“The most recent, 2014, is the first cohort whose enrollment rate increased from the previous year,” the report noted. “Previously, all graduating classes included in this report had a lower enrollment rate than their previous year.”

The report “is good news because so many of the jobs in our technology and information based economy require post-secondary credentials,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who’s also executive director of the department. “However, the report also reveals that we have continuing and significant gaps in post-secondary outcomes and that students from certain demographic groups are doing much better than others. If we are to meet our education and workforce goals, we must do a better job of supporting low income, rural, and minority students so that they graduate with a credential that will lead to a living wage job.”

Overall college enrollment tends to rise when the economy is weak and drop when times improve. Fall enrollment in 2014 was 251,778, down from the recent high of 284,405 in 2011.

The report details continuing disparities between demographic groups in college attendance and success. Postsecondary enrollment for Latino students is nearly 20 percentage points below white students, and, after their first year of college, African-American students on average earn nearly 10 fewer credits than white students, it said.

“As Colorado’s demographics continue to change and labor markets increasingly demand quality postsecondary credentials, ensuring the state’s future economic prosperity requires that these educational gaps be highlighted and strategically addressed,” the report said.

The report also breaks out college-going rates for individual districts. The district with the highest college attendance rate was Limon, with 84.4 percent of its 32 2014 graduates going on to higher education.

Larger districts in the top 10 included Cheyenne Mountain, Douglas County, Lewis-Palmer and Littleton.

The Plateau Valley district in eastern Mesa County had the lowest rate, 16 percent. Metro-area districts in the bottom 10 included Adams 14, Englewood, Sheridan and Westminster.

Some 76 percent of 2014 grads attended Colorado colleges, and 74 percent of those students attended four-year schools. The most popular schools were Colorado State University and the University of Colorado Boulder. Front Range Community College attracted the largest number of students enrolling in two-year schools.

The annual study examines not only college-going rates but also grade point averages, credits earned, persistence and graduation rates going back to the class of 2009.

Members of the high school class of 2014 who attended Colorado colleges had an average grade point average of 2.78 during their freshman year. Those students completed an average of 30 credits by the end of 2014-15.

Search for your district’s college-going rates here:

And read the Department of Higher Education’s report here: