Educators looking to governor, legislature after rejection of $1.6 billion school funding measure
The solid rejection of Amendment 73, the statewide tax measure that would have raised $1.6 billion annually for Colorado’s schools, is forcing educators to look to the governor-elect and state lawmakers for help.
“With our loss (Tuesday night), funding public education in Colorado is still in dire need,” said Charlotte Ciancio, superintendent of the Mapleton School District in Adams County and a supporter of Amendment 73. “If this isn’t the fix Colorado voters want right now, we are compelled to continue working with the legislature, and now our new governor, to get it right.
“This loss is devastating for many of our small rural districts.”
Gov.-elect Jared Polis was called a “public education champion” by the Colorado Education Association after Tuesday’s election, with the teachers union adding that it hoped to work with Polis to make universal fullday kindergarten and preschool a reality in Colorado.
Yet there were some victories for public education Tuesday, with voters approving a majority of the state’s local school bond issues and funding packages.
But that doesn’t diminish the sting of Amendment 73 losing by a 55.5 percent-to-45.4 percent margin, said Tracie Rainey of the Colorado School Finance Project.
“When you look at the disparity in funding for these rural districts, Amendment 73 not passing is unbelievably devastating for their communities,” Rainey said.
Eight school bond issues were put to voters Tuesday night for a record amount of $1.5 billion. Districts wanted to improve aging playgrounds, schools and upgrade security systems. Five of the eight bond issues passed for a total of $572 million for building improvements.
Voters in Jefferson County rejected a $567 million bond issue and yet passed a $33 million mill levy override — a tax increase to retain and attract teachers. Supporters of the tax increase were grateful for the positive vote, but were stung by the defeat of the bond issue.
“This additional revenue will help close the pay gap between Jeffco and surrounding districts, but many are disappointed that the bond package was rejected by voters,” said Jefferson County Education Association spokeswoman Christine Wiggins. “Jeffco schools built prior to 1980 are in need of significant improvement due to continual cuts in funding.”
Voters in Jefferson County may have simply looked at the ballot and decided to approve the lesser amount for schools, Rainey said.
“I think they will go with the smaller number without necessarily knowing the impact of not going with the larger number,” she said.
Fifteen mill-levy overrides passed Tuesday, totaling about $190 million in new funding to hire teachers, counselors and expand instructional programs, according to preliminary figures from Rainey. Five tax increases were rejected.
Douglas County voters — stingy toward school funding in recent years — passed a $40 million mill levy override and a $250 million bond issue.
“I think Douglas County did a good job of showing the needs of the district,” Rainey said.
Amendment 73 would have set aside money to pay for full-day kindergarten and additional preschool slots, as well as targeting money to students with disabilities, those learning English and those identified as gifted. The measure would have directed lawmakers to come up with a new school funding formula.
The measure would have created a graduated income tax for people earning more than $150,000 a year and raised the state corporate tax rate. It also would have changed the assessment rate — the portion of property values that is taxed — for commercial and residential property.
In all, proponents expected to raise an additional $1.6 billion a year for preschool through 12thgrade education.
Amendment 66 — a state tax measure for schools — was rejected by two-thirds of voters in 2013.
Backers of Amendment 73 believed they improved their chances this year by harnessing widespread teacher activism and letting local districts decide how they wanted to spend their share of the measure’s proceeds.
Critics, however, blasted Amendment 73 as just another attempt to throw tax dollars into an education system burdened by administrative costs and little accountability. They say increases in teacher salaries and other needed improvements in Colorado will not happen unless there is full-scale reform.
“We know that a massive tax increase that is not tied to results is not going to make a difference for Colorado kids,” said Katie Kruger, the No on 73 campaign cochair. “We hope that both sides of this debate will set aside differences, roll up their sleeves and work together to come up with real solutions.”