Amendment 66, which is on the ballot, is much more than another new tax for Colorado’s schools. The $1 billion it will raise in its first year will return Colorado public school funding to its prerecession level, with the money used in targeted ways that have been shown to increase student learning.
That means more teachers to reduce class sizes, more classroom aides and additional preschool funding. The foundation for learning begins early.
It also will give school principals more authority in how they run their schools (those closest to the students know best) and require more transparency in how district money is spent.
That the $1 billion will be spent in those effective ways is not optional. Those specific uses are spelled out.
As significant is where the $1 billion will originate. This money will not be from a sales tax, which often is regressive in who pays. Nor is it a dreaded property tax where local districts always go for their share of school funding. This money will come from a return to the 5 percent income-tax rate that existed several years ago (and the Colorado economy performed just fine at that rate), plus a 5.9 percent rate on the amount of annual income over $75,000.
Today’s rate is 4.63 percent.
Those who make the money will pay for returning school funding to its previous level.
Also imbedded in Amendment 66 is the end of Amendment 23. That amendment to the state Constitution, passed by Colorado voters in 2000, required that state school funding be increased annually by the amount of inflation plus 1 percent. The extra 1 percent expired after 10 years, but having to increase spending by the inflation rate remains a burden. Given how much of the state’s budget is spent on schools, that requirement continues to prevent the Legislature from being able to realistically provide for other state needs.
Plenty of voters who believe in the importance of education favored Amendment 23 at the time, and it looked as though the money would be there, but Amendment 23 turned out to severely hamper the state’s fiscal decision makers.
Amendment 66’s revenue is directly tied to income-tax receipts. It does not contain a provision for inflation.
If Amendment 66 does not pass, there is no certainty as to whether local school districts will attempt to increase local funding to meet their needs. But if they do, they almost certainly will look to the property tax. That is not what anyone wants.
And without Amendment 66, Amendment 23 continues to unreasonably skew state revenue to the schools.
These are good reasons to vote yes on Amendment 66.