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.

Higher Learning


In November voters in the Mile High City will decide on a ballot measure to place a small addition to the city’s sales tax. If passed, the city will have $10 million annually specifically designed to help city students pay for college.

Two hours to the south, in Pueblo County, there is another tax on the ballot which would be for the benefit of young college students — a marijuana excise tax that would be levied in the transaction between the cultivation entity and the store.

When county commissioners met a month ago to determine whether to put the measure to voters, local retail marijuana growers showed up… to voice support!

“Contrary to popular belief we definitely do want to see a positive impact from our industry in the community,” said Richard Quessel of the Southern Colorado Growers Association, “and we feel this is a great responsible way to write that up.”

Under the plan detailed by Commissioner Sal Pace, a successful vote would create $3.5 million a year by 2010 and half of that would go toward a scholarship fund that would help defray college expenses for county graduates who attended either Colorado State University-Pueblo or Pueblo Community College.

Pace has said that the proposal is intended to “give Pueblo kids a boost.”

We can think of a few snarky names — be it the Pot Promise, the Ganga Guarantee, Pact 420 or the Cannabis Commitment — but we are more interested in seeing if this passes and what it will mean for other places.

Can Promise Diversify Teaching?


By Brett Hoover

In 2013 I read a story in the New Haven Independent that hit me hard. A young football star at the predominately black Hillhouse High School in New Haven talked about the importance of having African-American male teachers because they could “relate more to the students.”

Yet he was talking in theory. In 14 years as a New Haven Public School student he’d never had a black male teacher. Not one.

Dr. Thomas S. Dee, now a professor of education at Stanford University, concluded a decade ago that students typically learn better from those who share their racial identity. Dr. Dee’s conclusions may not sit well with some or perhaps many. What is evident is that the workforce in position today is falling short of the expectations that we should all have for students today.

New Haven is hardly alone in its workforce disconnect with its students. About five-in-six students are black, Latino or Asian while about four-in-five teachers are white. Garth Harries — the Superintendent of New Haven Schools — told the reporter that the workforce “reflects the applicant pool.” As a result, the district’s teachers are largely white, primarily female, mostly suburban and — if research holds true — substantially “not prepared to deal with the growing number of diverse students in the schools.”

In short, there is an enormous need to broaden the applicant pool and diversify — in race and gender — the educator.

For the Cities of Promise — starting with New Haven, Pittsburgh, Denver, Buffalo, Peoria and Kalamazoo — comes the burning question: “What are your Promise programs going to do about that?”

At a time when fewer and fewer students are interested in studying education in the U.S., it leaves an enormous opportunity for students of color to return to their hometowns and make a huge difference for those sitting in the same classrooms where they had once sat.

As Promise programs not only bridge the transition from high school to college, they often address economic development by fostering opportunities in local businesses for those interested in returning home. Local school districts are always among the leading employers in a city and — working in conjunction with Promise programs and their college partners — there is a perfect opportunity to “hire within” by targeting and recruiting high-potential scholars and enticing them with the possibilities.

Superintendents in the Cities of Promise should never again explain a dearth of minority teachers by saying that it simply “reflects the applicant pool.” They should put some skin in the game to extend opportunities for their own graduates to educate, inspire and transform their current students.

When a city the size of New Haven — roughly 130,000 residents — has an annual school budget nearing a half-billion dollars, it can find a way to make a commitment to minority teachers and its own homegrown pool. And it can surely find a way to transform its hiring practices.

Brett Hoover — who formerly served as the Associate Director of the Ivy League — is a co-founder of Cities of Promise.