School funding across Colorado will be much improved by the passage of Amendment 66. In it, more money will be allocated to schools with students from low-income families and those in small districts, and the critical teacher and principal performance evaluation requirements will be properly funded. Money will be available for specially tailored programs that are known to bring learning improvements, and principals will be able to play a bigger role in creating their own school’s budget. Principals, closer to their students than a central administrative office, know what is best.
The money to do all these things, about $1 billion in the first year, will come from income taxes. The current Colorado rate of 4.63 percent of adjusted income will increase to 5 percent on amounts less than $75,000, and to 5.9 percent on amounts above $75,000. Nationally, only about 50 percent of Americans pay income taxes. Colorado’s percent may be slightly higher than that because the state’s average family income level is in the highest quartile, but not much.
The $1 billion will return Colorado’s public school funding to about $7,400 per pupil, or about what it was prior to the recession.
Looking directly to state income taxes for school funding is a first for Colorado. Tapping that new source, taxing those who make the money, will make it possible for the Legislature to fund other state needs that have been second-best. Higher education, for one. The state’s colleges receive only a minimal amount of per student funding, among the lowest in the nation. Students are paying more of their own way, and can graduate with considerable debt.
Colorado had been a leader in providing close to equal education funding across the state, but fell behind in recent years. Amendment 66 will go a long way toward rectifying that.
Significantly, Amendment 66 will also cancel Amendment 23, a well-intention voter-approved amendment in 2000 that required public education to be funded at a higher level than turned out to be economically possible. An annual inflation-adjusted increase will continue, but as a statute rather than as a constitutional mandate as in Amendment 23. Thus, the Legislature will be able to address it as economic conditions change.
Critics of Amendment 66 claim that among other things it will shift tax revenue from wealthier school districts to those less wealthy. But the revenue in Amendment 66 is income-tax revenue, and state income taxes have never been tied to particular municipalities, counties or school districts. State income taxes are taxes that are pooled in a sense, along with the state’s sales tax and state fees, to provide funds for needs and commitments across the state.
Amendment 66 is complex with multiple components, but its passage will immediately address in targeted ways much of what ails the state’s pre-kindergarten through high school education system.
Amendment 66 deserves a “yes” vote.