School-funding overhaul under way

Denver legislator working on wording for $1.1 billion ballot proposal

Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston

A private coalition of school funding reform supporters will likely decide by the end of the month how to word a ballot question asking for a $1.1 billion income tax increase for education, according to Sen. Mike Johnston.

Johnston, a Denver Democrat, co-sponsored Senate Bill 213 this year in the state legislature. The bill calls for changes in how the state funds K-12 education to give more money or the same amount of money to all Colorado school districts.

Johnston traveled to Rifle and Grand Junction Wednesday to discuss the bill and a ballot initiative that needs to pass in order to fund goals in the bill, which became law May 21.

During a meeting with the Daily Sentinel’s editorial board, Johnston said backers of the bill hope to decide how to phrase a ballot initiative for the Nov. 5 election within the next week or two. Twenty ballot initiatives have been proposed so far, with options ranging from creating tiered income tax rates for up to five income brackets to one flat rate for all income levels.

Johnston said he and other supporters are leaning toward a proposal that would increase the income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent for Coloradans who make $75,000 a year or less and 5.9 percent for Coloradans who make more than $75,000 a year in net taxable income.

“The momentum is behind the two-step option,” not the flat tax, Johnston said.

Once ballot language is picked and submitted, supporters have to collect 86,105 signatures from registered Colorado voters, which is the equivalent of 5 percent of the people who last voted for Colorado’s secretary of state. Those signatures are due Aug. 5.

If the ballot initiative fails, Johnston said a second effort in 2015 is possible. The bill has seven years to be repealed if funding it not obtained.

The legislation creates a new base funding level of $7,000 per student for every school district in Colorado. Districts will receive more money on top of that base based on how many students receive special education, free or reduced-price lunch, or are English Language Learners.

School District 51 anticipates it will receive $6,311.04 per student from the state funding formula in 2013-14. That makes it one of the state’s lowest-funded districts, along with Pueblo County School District 70, Academy 20 in Colorado Springs, Moffat Re-1, and 11 other districts.


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