Friday, October 18, 2013
There are a multitude of reasons to support Amendment 66, the public-school funding measure on this year’s election ballot. Perhaps most important for voters to understand is that the amendment, which will raise Colorado income taxes, does not push funding for public schools in this state to some extravagant new realm. It will only return funding for K-12 public education to the level it was at in Colorado prior to the recession. And it establishes multiple reforms in doing so.
A net gain for School District 51
Most people locally know that for decades, School District 51 has been at or near the bottom of Colorado school districts in per-pupil funding. Amendment 66 will change that by adding $830 in annual per-pupil funding for the district, plus additional money for low-income and special-needs students.
But there are additional financial benefits for the local school district and its taxpayers. Under the current Colorado school-finance formula, taxpayers here actually send more money to the state than the district receives in reimbursement for schools. Based on several different budget analyses, with the change in school-funding formula under Amendment 66, District 51 would see a net inflow of state education money of $1.5 million to $4.5 million a year.
Tax hit small for most Mesa County residents
A big reason that Mesa County will receive more than it pays is that, despite the claims of Amendment 66 opponents, the amount of additional money most Mesa County residents would pay as a result of Amendment 66 is relatively small, about $10 a month.
The amendment would boost state income taxes from the current rate of 4.63 percent to two new levels — 5 percent on the first $75,000 of taxable income and 5.9 percent on any taxable income over $75,000. So, if you’re a well-to-do family with taxable income of more than $100,000 a year, you will see a robust increase in your income taxes.
But most Mesa County residents don’t make that much money. The median household income in this county is $52,986 a year. Based on that income level, the average amount Mesa County households will pay is $122 per year — about $10 per month.
Statewide changes to reform education
Amendment 66 establishes a new funding requirement for public education by mandating that 43 percent of state income tax, sales tax and excise tax revenue be set aside annually to pay for public education. Although we’re not fans of budget measures being enshrined in the state Constitution, thereby limiting the ability of the Legislature to act as necessity dictates, in this case there is a sensible reason for doing so.
While it sets a base percentage that is to be spent on public education each year, Amendment 66 also repeals the requirements of Amendment 23. That constitutional amendment requires that per-pupil funding for education increase every year by at least the rate of inflation, and it contained no accountability requirements for how the additional money is spent.
In contrast, Amendment 66 requires the state to prepare a return-on-investment study and a cost study to help identify problems that affect student and school district performance. Additionally, the state is mandated to make detailed spending data available to the public regarding each school district and individual school. That’s information that is not readily available now.
The ballot measure, working in tandem with Senate Bill 213 that was passed by the Legislature this year, will also make a number of other needed changes in school operations.
For example, it provides increased funding for kindergarten and preschool programs. It also allocates money to help school districts implement earlier reforms, such as the 2010 measure that eliminates teacher tenure but requires evaluations of all teachers and principals. Finally, it changes the way a school district’s population is calculated. Instead of basing population on the number of students who show up a few days each October, per-pupil funding will be based on a district’s average daily enrollment throughout the year.
All of these are sensible reforms that, combined with restoring school funding to pre-2009 levels, will help improve schools statewide, and especially in District 51.
Vote “Yes” on Amendment 66.