Denver Decides If College Matters Tuesday


UPDATE: Denver voters rejected the college affordability ballot measure by about eight points. Meanwhile it looks like Pueblo, Colo., will become the next City of Promise as voters passed a measure to apply an excise tax on marijuana cultivators to establish a college scholarship program.

Tuesday is election day and there isn’t that much excitement about it. Ohio’s measure to legalize marijuana is getting a good bit of attention as are tightly contested gubernatorial races in Kentucky and Louisiana. But the number of statewide measures up for consideration are at a 25-year low.

Of course, there are a number of mayoral races to be decided, including places like Charlotte, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Houston, Texas; Indianapolis, Ind.; Orlando, Fla.; and Philadelphia, Pa.

But for Cities of Promise, we will be focused on Issue 2A in Denver, Colo., which could use a very small slice of city sales tax — eight cents per $100 purchase — to generate $10 million a year for college scholarships.

This measure has wide support and publicity as evidenced by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper hooping it up for Issue 2A, known as College Matters. But the Denver Post editorial board doesn’t think this should be a city responsibility basically because it never has been.

If passed by voters, the City of Denver will establish a non-profit entity to partner with philanthropy-supported scholarship organizations, which includes the Denver Scholarship Foundation. The measure will “sunset” in 10 years unless voters vote to extend it later.

The message is pretty simple — debt means students can’t contribute to the economy. Voters will choose whether or not to give a penny for every $12 they spend.

And a collective thumb’s up won’t just mean a world of difference for the city’s youth, it would also provide a model to consider for cities across the land.

And we know that the U.S. can use more Cities of Promise.

Protecting The Promises


At its best, the Promise movement attacks the opportunity gap. But to sustain a Promise program is hardly an easy task. By design, such a program motivates students to perform well academically thus a growing number are expected to meet the requirements each year. On top of that, there is no indication that increasing college costs will level off.

So Promise programs — perhaps the best intervention in attacking the opportunity gap — struggle to keep up. Most of the recent Promise news is focused on finance. Here’s a spin around the nation:

star-denverVoters in Denver, Colo., might be asked to take on responsibility of funding the Denver Scholarship Foundation. The proposal before the Denver City Council is a sales tax increase of 0.08 percent — less than a penny for a $10 purchase — which would generate about $10 million for the scholarship organization. One councilman reported that his constituency is asking why this has become a city responsibility, but a recent study uncovered a nine-fold return on money spent by the Denver Scholarship Foundation. That in a state that has been ranked 47th in the U.S. for higher education funding.

Known locally as UIC, the University of Illinois-Chicago recently stepped up to sweeten the pot for recipients of the Chicago Star Scholarship, which gives free community college tuition to high-performing city students. UIC has offered guaranteed admission and up to $5,000 in support for those who earn an associate’s degree through the program. And outspoken Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised to be knocking on the doors of others to talk about their “responsibility to the kids of Chicago.” Emanuel made it clear that he wants higher ed support and he wants it soon, saying, “It would be easy to step back, observe the problem, study the problem, have a couple papers written on the problem, have a symposium on the problem, discuss what people should do about the problem and then go for a break and have a cup of coffee.”

Down in Greensboro, N.C., where more than $25 million has been raised toward an endowment for a Say Yes To Education program, city officials were hardly unanimous in their support of the initiative. At issue? The leaders of the campaign did not reach out to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners until “the ninth inning,” according to the board chair. That county board is also displeased that the early discussion did not include the county’s charter school students, which is “significantly different than where [the Say Yes to Education] board thought we were headed,” according to Gene Chasin of Say Yes.

Two faculty members of the University of Pittsburgh penned an op-ed piece in the Post-Gazette that asked for a focus on state funding for higher education, instead of hand-wringing about recent changes to the Pittsburgh Promise. Lindsay Page and Jennifer Iriti wrote that the purchasing power of the Promise will decline in the face of a lack of support of higher education in the state. “As a community, we should celebrate and grow the gift of The Promise, but we also should seek to protect that gift by pushing Harrisburg to reinvest in public higher education,” the piece concluded. “Without such reinvestment, continued increases in the costs of higher education faced by families will do more to hinder access to the promise and opportunity of higher education than the recent scaling back of The Pittsburgh Promise.”

Building Mile-High Strength On Pennies

By Patricia Melton

Perhaps it is the nature of election cycles, which usually focus on immediate needs. But it seems that taxpayer dollars are far more often apportioned to a “quick fix” campaign promise than applied to address a long-term sustainable investment.

But folks in Denver are counting on the success of the Denver Scholarship Foundation as a reason to buck that trend. For, if not, the organization may have to make a tough choice to reduce the number of students it serves or cut the level of support per student. Continue reading