Anyone expecting state legislators to create the perfect solution for improving Colorado student performance is certain to be disappointed by state ballot Amendment 66.
In short, if that’s possible with such an omnibus piece of legislation, it does this:
• It raises personal income taxes to increase state money spent on public schools. It does this by scrapping Colorado’s current flat-tax rate on income, and creating one that taxes wealthier Coloradans at a slightly higher rate than poorer residents.
• It would raise an additional $950 million in state income taxes each year.
• If your taxable income is over $75,000, your tax rate increases from 4.63 percent to 5.9 percent. If your taxable income is under $75,000, your tax rate increases from 4.63 percent to 5 percent. Roughly, it means about $10 a month more in state income taxes if your taxable income is about $30,000. Likewise, it means that a family with a taxable income of about $150,000 would pay about $100 more a month in state income taxes.
• Schools with poorer students and students who don’t speak English as a first language would get more money than those schools with more affluent, better-performing students.
• The bottom line for Aurora Public Schools would mean about $60 million a year in additional funding, more than $1,000 per student. That’s a lot.
• The bottom line for Cherry Creek Schools would be about $35 million a year in additional funding, about $450 per student. Also a substantial funding increase.
The law behind the tax increase does much more than just increase school funding. The measure sets out to drastically increase full-day kindergarten and preschool programs, increase the length of the school day and the school year, and implement a host of education reform measures that will languish unless they’re funded.
On the state budget side, the measure goes far beyond increasing school funding. It reapportions the state budget, setting up a large rainy-day fund for public schools and requires that Colorado spend 43 percent of the state budget on public schools.
The downside of this measure is profound: as comprehensive as it is, it doesn’t address the startling problem the state has with funding roads and higher education, which are arguably just as important and just as imperiled. By squeezing more taxes out of voters without a plan of what to do about underfunded roads and a state college system that is rapidly tuition-hiking middle class students right out of a degree, state lawmakers nearly ensured those problems can’t get fixed any time soon. Amendment 66 is relatively expensive, and the chances of going back to taxpayers for more any time soon are more than unlikely.
But for a problem that is as complicated and critical as is public education, Amendment 66 offers a vast improvement over what Colorado has now. Public schools in Colorado are seriously underfunded because we expect them to do so much more than just teach kids to read. State lawmakers and local school boards can legislate all they want, the bottom line is it just takes money to implement what we know works to raise the grades — money that schools currently don’t have. Kids who come from poorer, non-English speaking households struggle more than their wealthier peers. Funding public education to a level that it’s successful is a wise investment for everyone in Colorado, and Amendment 66 is a strong step in that direction.