Colorado

Great Education Colorado Lines Employees’ Pockets While Pushing for Higher Taxes

Organizations

Progressive nonprofit Great Education Colorado claims to be the most effective education advocacy group in the state, but less than 30 percent of Great Education’s funding actually finds its way to education campaigns and issues. The small amount spent on education has supported initiatives that would drastically raise taxes on Coloradans.

According to Great Education Colorado’s publicly available IRS 990 reports, $120,000 – 55 percent of the group’s $220,000 in total 2011 revenue – was spent on employee salaries. Another 20 percent of Great Education’s budget went to fundraising expenses.

Great Education spent nearly $61,000 on a handful of fundraising events in 2011, twice the standard 10 percent fundraising expense to contribution ratio.

The majority of nonprofit organizations in Colorado devote roughly 20 percent of total expenses to administrative and fundraising overhead, with the rest typically spent on the services each group was established to provide.

Nine of ten nonprofits spend at least 65 percent on programs and services. Charity Navigator, which evaluates nonprofits in order to hold them financially accountable, gives a zero star “Financial Health” rating to any nonprofit that spends more than 33 percent on administrative, fundraising, and other overhead costs.

In 2011, Great Education Colorado spent a whopping 75 percent on salaries and fundraising, which left just $55,000 for education advocacy projects in Colorado.

This year, the small amount of funding Great Education has managed to dedicate to education advocacy went towards efforts to draft and lobby for eight different education initiatives which would amount to a nearly $1 billion tax increase if approved by state referenda.

Great Education submitted its eight ballot proposals to the Colorado legislature last month, each in favor of Senate Bill 213, Senator Mike Johnston’s $1 billion school finance overhaul for the state.

When asked by EdNews Colorado why so many plans were filed in a recent article titled “Lots of Ways to Raise Your Taxes”, Great Education policy director Lisa Weil simply replied, “We wanted to make sure there are as many options as possible.”

Great Education brands itself as a “nonpartisan, grassroots organization that works to inform citizens about critical education resource and reform issues,” with a goal of empowering citizens “to advocate effectively for permanent change in how we invest in our schools and our children.” The group’s entire staff and Board of Directors are registered Democrats who have a consistent history of supporting only liberal candidates and partisan education causes.

Weil has personally contributed several thousand dollars over the last few years to support 21 different Democrat campaigns and issues. This list includes a donation to education union champion Evie Hudak, who currently faces a special election recall after making multiple controversial comments during this year’s legislative session.

Weil has not contributed to any Republican campaigns or issues.

Not only do those who run Great Education support strictly partisan causes under a non-partisan banner, the freshman Democratic Senator Jesse Ulibarri is listed as an active participant on the group’s advisory board. Ulibarri voted in favor of Colorado’s recent school finance overhaul and relied on the strong financial support of local, state, and national education unions to get elected to the Senate last November.

Most recently, Great Education Colorado has partnered with Great Futures Coalition and the 2013: Year of the Students campaign, both of which also backed Senator Johnston’s partisan school finance tax measure.

Despite the clearly partisan nature of Great Education, the enriching of its employees over the education of the public, and its brushes with non-compliance with Colorado’s mandatory reporting requirements, there is no evidence the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has ever challenged its nonprofit tax exempt status as the IRS recently admitted doing to many tax-exempt entities on the right side of the political spectrum.

Follow Kyle Forti on Twitter: @kyleforti