By Debbie Kelley
While many public school districts support the statewide ballot proposal to increase income taxes on wealthy residents and corporations to raise more money for preschools through high schools, a Colorado Springs-based cooperative services group is one of the few education providers in opposition.
The board of Education reEnvisioned BOCES, which serves about 2,500 students in two multidistrict online schools, voted last week to oppose Amendment 73. Four board members agreed, and one abstained.
“The amendment itself states some uses of the money will be stipulated by law, so this is less freedom to spend the money than it would be if a local mill levy had been passed by the community,” said Ken Witt, executive director of Education reEnvisioned BOCES.
“It’s also less efficient funding because it’s now routed through the state.
“K-12 education funding has grown in the past two years, which is contrary to the story line being used by those advocating for this,” Witt said. “I’d love to see Colorado educators become more efficient with their management of education funding and the Legislature become more mindful about adjusting education funding priorities appropriately.”
Amendment 73, known as Great Schools, Thriving Communities, was petitioned onto the Nov. 6 ballot with voter signatures.
It would change Colorado’s constitution and state laws to increase taxes for people making more than $150,000 a year and raise the corporate income tax from 4.63 percent to 6 percent. It also would freeze the property assessment rate for homeowners for local school district levies at 7 percent, down from 7.2 percent, and reduce the nonresidential rate to 24 percent from 29 percent.
The changes would produce an estimated $1.6 billion, which would increase statewide per-pupil funding by 8 percent, to $7,300 annually.
The measure also would establish a Quality Public Education Fund that would funnel $120 million to special education, $20 million to English language proficiency programs, $10 million to gifted and talented instruction and $10 million to preschool education. It also would provide free full-day kindergarten.
Proponents say the money is sorely needed, as state education funding cuts have left schools at less than pre-recession funding.
Colorado ranks 28th in the nation in per-pupil spending, when all state, local and federal dollars are combined, says the most recent ranking by the National Education Association.
The funding varies greatly by district, though. For example, more than half of Colorado’s 178 public school districts operate on a four-day week because they can’t afford to be open five days.
The board of Harrison School District 2 in southeast Colorado Springs last month unanimously approved a resolution in favor of Amendment 73.
Harrison D-2 would receive an additional $21.7 million annually from the proposal.
The benefits would be substantial and other impacts minimal, board president Steve Seibert said after hearing a presentation by the Colorado Association of School Boards, which is encouraging districts to get behind the initiative.
“Our average property value is just over $100,000, so a large amount of our constituents would fall into the dropping property tax category,” Seibert said.
The board of Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument, which would get an extra $9.4 million, last week approved how it would spend such a windfall: “Engaging with the community in a collaborative process to prioritize regionally competitive salaries, more enriched learning environment through smaller classes and increased teacher-planning time, and address deferred maintenance.”
The board stopped short of endorsing Amendment 73, though.
D-38 board member Mark Pfoff said he thinks the proposed corporate tax hikes are too high for Colorado.
“If it passes, I’ll have to pay more taxes, and I will without hesitation because I think it’s for a good cause,” he said. “But ... I think it went too far with the corporate tax. I would encourage people voting the way they want to.”
Lewis-Palmer D-38 and Harrison D-2 have their own ballot initiatives Nov. 6, to fund needs that wouldn’t be covered by Amendment 73.
Education reEnvisioned’s Witt said with several constitutional amendments dictating school financing, adding another would further complicate Colorado’s complex funding system.
“This is not the kind of education funding Colorado schools need,” said Witt, whose organization is affiliated with School District 49 in eastern El Paso County, Creede School District in south-central Colorado, Durango School District in southwest Colorado and Pikes Peak Community College. “This is a thinly veiled, paltry increase in education funding with too many strings attached.”
Under a 2016 law that makes it harder for Colorado’s constitution to be altered, Amendment 73 must pass with at least 55 percent of the vote.
Proponents say voters seem to like the initiative. It differs from previous proposals in that it would allow local districts to talk to their communities about how to spend the extra revenue, said Susan Meek of the Colorado Association of School Executives.
Supporters turned in 179,390 signatures in July, of which 130,022 were deemed valid. They needed only 98,492 to get on the ballot. Those signatures also had to represent 2 percent of the registered voters in every state Senate district.
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