This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at ckbe.at/newsletters
Candidates and political committees spent $1.67 million in this year’s Denver school board election, according to final campaign finance reports filed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office that capture spending through the Nov. 2 election.
The election was a sweep by candidates backed by the Denver teachers union and critical of Denver Public Schools’ past reforms, such as closing schools with low test scores. It marked a complete flip of the board, which was controlled by pro-reform members four years ago.
Reform organizations spent big to try to retain representation on the board but were unsuccessful. Independent expenditure committees funded by groups including the Colorado League of Charter Schools, Education Reform Now Advocacy, and 50CAN spent a little more than $1 million on mailers, digital ads, phone calls, text messages, and door knocking in support of three candidates who lost: Vernon Jones Jr., Karolina Villagrana, and Gene Fashaw.
Independent expenditure committees can spend unlimited amounts of money but cannot coordinate with candidates. This type of spending is often referred to as outside spending.
As in past elections, big-money donors supportive of education reform, including former University of Colorado president Bruce Benson, gave money directly to candidates. Jones, Villagrana, and Fashaw got a combined $72,000 in major donations over $1,000.
But the money didn’t translate to a majority of votes. The campaigns of the four candidates who won — incumbent Carrie Olson and newcomers Scott Esserman, Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, and Michelle Quattlebaum — were largely funded by the Denver and Colorado teachers unions.