Why I’m voting against Amendment 73 and the Jeffco Mill Levy

OpEd by Tom Coyne
Posted 9/25/18

Jeffco has had a student achievement problem for 30 years. On the 2018 CMAS, 61 percent of Jeffco seventh graders did not meet the state math standard. When they were in sixth grade, 59 percent …

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Why I’m voting against Amendment 73 and the Jeffco Mill Levy

Posted

Jeffco has had a student achievement problem for 30 years. On the 2018 CMAS, 61 percent of Jeffco seventh graders did not meet the state math standard. When they were in sixth grade, 59 percent didn’t meet it; in fifth grade, 58 percent, and in fourth grade, 63 percent failed. Over four years, they made no progress. With labor substituting technologies rapidly improving, the consequences of stagnant achievement for our children’s future are beyond dire.

Amendment 73 proposes to raise taxes to provide $1.6 billion/year for schools, on top of the $10 billion that Colorado already spends. Jeffco’s proposed Mill Levy will increase local taxes by $33 million/year, on top of the nearly $1 billion Jeffco currently spends.

Will this additional spending substantially improve student achievement results? The evidence strongly suggests it will not.

A73 will raise the top tax rate by 78 percent, leaving Colorado 8th highest in the nation, on par with New York. Since A73 does not adjust brackets for inflation, every year more families and businesses will pay higher taxes.

Steve Miller, the tax assessor for Larimer County, has noted that A73’s provisions will interact with the existing Gallagher Amendment to force a reduction in tax revenues for police, fire, and other municipal services.

And unlike the national award winning “performance mill” that Jeffco passed in 1999, neither A73 nor this mill levy is linked to improved K-12 performance. Instead, they are blank checks.

Dr. Glass says A73 and the mill levy will provide an additional $154 million/year to district-run Jeffco schools (he neglects to mention that Jeffco residents will get back only about half the higher taxes paid under A-73).

This additional spending is unlikely to improve achievement.

$12 million/year will be spent on classroom materials and technology, but will not reduce the painful school fees that parents currently pay. Adding more technology to classrooms often has a minimal impact on achievement. Through a CORA, I learned that Jeffco has not even bothered to evaluate the results of its experiment with giving Chromebooks to students in four high schools.

$12 million will increase Career/Technical Education and STEM classes. Warren Tech and Wheat Ridge High School show that well-run programs produce great results. But Dr. Glass ignores the confusing mix and uneven quality of current CTE offerings in Jeffco, and the district’s troubled relationship with the state’s nationally-recognized CareerWise apprentice program. More money won’t fix these.

$16 million will expand Early Childhood Education, despite research findings that this has minimal impact on achievement (see, “New Evidence Raises Doubts on Obama’s Preschool for All”, by the Brookings Institution, a Center/Left think tank).

$18 million will expand counseling services. Via another CORA request, I discovered that Jeffco doesn’t evaluate the achievement impact of its existing counselors, psychologists, and social workers, nor its expanding corps of “social emotional learning specialists.” Again, we’re asked to spend millions on blind faith.

$19 million is to reduce class size. Research shows this is the least cost-effective way to improve achievement results (“Class Size: What the Research Says”, by Brookings). And Jeffco’s pupil/teacher ratio has only increased from 17.8 in 2007 to 18.3 in 2017.

$77 million will increase teacher compensation – an average of over $15,000 per teacher. What does this represent? Surely it isn’t a reward for improved achievement! If it’s an incentive for better future results, then Dr. Glass is saying that Jeffco teachers haven’t been giving kids their best effort. And he evades the critical issue of getting poor teachers out of Jeffco’s classrooms, including the 1,130 teachers who are chronically absent.

We moved here from Alberta, where K-12 results dramatically improved. Districts first became much more efficient in their use of current funding, and rigorously used research and better management to deliver significant achievement gains. Only then did they ask taxpayers to invest more in schools. Voters enthusiastically supported the increase, which set off a virtuous cycle of continuously improving performance and increasing teacher pay.

Jeffco and the state should take the same approach.

Tom Coyne is a business executive, Jeffco parent and former member of the Jeffco District Accountability Committee. He writes about K-12 on Medium.com

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