School-funding measure goes down in ball of flames

Income-tax-raising Amendment 66 fails by 2-1 margin

An effort to raise nearly $1 billion for public schools by increasing the state’s income tax rate came up well short of what it needed to pass during Tuesday’s election.

Amendment 66, which supporters had hoped would help fix inequities in how state revenues are used to fund K-12 education, lost by a wide margin, garnering only about 34 percent of the vote.

The measure was designed to replace the state’s existing flat 4.63 percent income tax rate with a two-tiered plan that was expected to raise about $950 million a year. It called for increasing that rate to 5 percent for income of up to $75,000 a year, and a 5.9 percent rate for income earned over that amount.

Had it passed, it also would have enacted a measure approved by the Colorado Legislature earlier this year that reworked how much money each of the state’s 178 school districts receive, increasing that amount for most.

It also would have overturned a troublesome constitutional amendment that calls for an automatic increase in state funding to public schools regardless of what the economy does.

Instead of that law, known as Amendment 23 passed by voters in 2000, the measure would have required that 43 percent of all excise, income and sales tax revenues that the state collects be allocated for public education, allowing year-to-year K-12 appropriations to go up or down depending on the economy.

Currently, about 46 percent of the state’s entire budget goes toward K-12 spending.

Instead, the Legislature will continue to struggle with how best to fund K-12 schools without cutting into other state programs, proponents of the measure said.

“The vote on Amendment 66 is an upsetting result for the children of Colorado and the educators who have worked so hard to meet student needs during years of devastating budget cuts,” said Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman. “Colorado has cut more than $1 billion from our schools over the last five years and spends $2,000 less per student than the national average. Without the new funds, school districts will have difficulty bringing back art, music, physical education and other programs. Our rural districts will struggle to offer the most basic instruction to their students.”

Overall, public schools in the state receive about $5.5 billion a year, the bulk of which comes from the state. Other funds come from local property taxes and federal grants.

How that money is distributed to school districts is based on a 1994 law called the School Finance Act. It allocates money to schools based on enrollment and a number of factors, such as cost of living and students that qualify for the federal Free and Reduced Lunch program.

As a result, proponents of Amendment 66 said that act has created a number of inequities in that allocation, particularly for school districts such as Mesa County District 51, because more money leaves the district than comes in.

Had the amendment passed, it would have replaced the old formula with one that would have guaranteed that all school districts could have full-day kindergarten and half-day preschool for low-income families.

Opponents of the measure, however, said it was the wrong way to fix a problem they agree needs to be addressed.

“Today Coloradans rejected an imperfect bill to reform our education system that left open too many unanswered questions,” said Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton. “Having spent the last eight months arguing that this particular bill was not the right path for Coloradans, (Tuesday’s) result does not mean education reform is dead in Colorado. We will go back to the drawing board to reform our vitally important public education system the right way.”

Other opponents said that while they agree reforms need to be made to that formula, this measure wasn’t the vehicle to do it.

They said increasing taxes, particularly for small businesses, would have resulted in fewer jobs, which could threaten to put the state back into a recession.

“Passing Amendment 66 would have gravely wounded the state’s economy and business climate, while rewarding a reform-resistant education system with an unearned windfall,” said Dustin Zvonek, director of the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity. “This outcome reaffirms our sense, coming off the recalls, that arrogant overreach by the governor and other liberals is creating a significant backlash across the state of Colorado.”

Compared with other counties statewide, Mesa County voters were more concentrated in their opposition to the amendment, rejecting it at a nearly three-to-one clip.


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