Marijuana taxes aren’t a panacea for schools

Taxes from recreational marijuana sales have contributed nothing — as in zero dollars — in direct support for Mesa County Valley District 51 schools.

Even if there were 10 pot shops operating in Grand Junction, that figure wouldn’t necessarily change because “pot money” for schools — minuscule as it is — gets doled out through grants administered by the state.

Yet, there’s a perception that marijuana taxes are going directly to schools. It’s easy to see how the misunderstanding occurs. De Beque, for example, has dispensaries. De Beque also has a new school addition. Must be that pot money.

No. It was a bond issue that helped De Beque School District match a BEST grant to build the addition. The Building Excellent Schools Today grant program is funded by land trusts, Powerball and, yes, marijuana taxes. Up to $40 million of marijuana exise tax revenue goes into school construction each year through BEST. It sounds like a lot of money, but it’s drop in the bucket compared to the $14 billion in construction needs across the state.

District 51 has applied for a BEST construction grant four times; each request has been denied, including the most recent request for funding to help replace Orchard Mesa Middle School.

Clearing the air on the myth of marijuana money is important to D51 for several reasons. It’s trying to enlist the community’s support for a bond measure and mill-levy override. That’s hard to do if the community thinks the district is sitting on top of a pile of money that doesn’t exist.

It also refutes a false argument for more retail pot in the county. There are plenty of arguments for and against this idea, but more money for schools isn’t one of them.

The district has included a rundown of marijuana tax revenue in its Back to School supplement available in the July 30 edition of The Daily Sentinel.

As the school district’s spokesperson Emily Shockley points out, even if the district received a BEST grant, it would cover only a third of the cost of a construction or renovation project.

“The state decides how much a district must contribute to a BEST construction or renovation project based on factors such as the local median household income, assessed value of local property, and how many students get free or reduced-price school meals. For District 51, that would mean having to come up with the remaining two-thirds of a project’s cost even with a BEST grant.”

Also considered is how much effort a district put into passing a bond measure to fund construction projects in the previous 10 years. Our best hope for seeing marijuana money applied to local schools is to pass a bond we need anyway.

Many people who voted to legalize recreational pot did so on the proposition that it would help schools. Sadly, that’s not the case. With little to no help coming from the state, the fate of badly needed capital projects remains in local hands.


COMMENTS

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It is time for our residents to step up to their responsibilities in building a quality school system, including the facilities, the staff and the curriculum. It is short sighted and self defeating to continue to vote down the taxes required to do this. It is also critical to attracting people and jobs to the valley.

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