Voting in next month’s election is underway and many Colorado voters across the state will see a hefty ballot – with 13 statewide proposals to be decided. As KGNU’s Roz Brown reports, included among the 13 is one to increase funding for public education.
“We’ve gotten very far behind in our education funding,” said Aime Baca-Oehlert, president, Colorado Education Association. “We trail even Alabama and Mississippi in per-pupil funding.”
It’s been six months since Baca-Oehlert was lending support to Colorado teachers who walked out of classrooms in April to protest at the State Capitol over teacher pay and lack of funding for schools. Now she’s advocating for Amendment 73 on this year’s ballot – a measure that would increase taxes for some Coloradans.
“Only eight percent of Coloradans will be impacted by the tax increase, but all of our students will benefit by having better schools,” said Baca-Oehlert.
The ballot initiative would boost funding for preschool through 12th grade education by $1.6 billion annually – but only those who earn more than $150,000 per year would pay the tax. The increase would also apply to corporations. But Baca-Oehlert says residential property assessments imposed by school districts would decrease, as would the assessment rate for most nonresidential properties.
“Again, only eight-percent of Coloradans fall into $150,000 earnings tax bracket, so 92 percent of us don’t make that much and won’t be impacted by this tax increase.”
Colorado’s taxpayer bill of rights, or TABOR, passed in 1992, requires approval from tax payers for a mill levy increase or issuance of bonds to fund schools. Because voters in some school districts have said no while others said yes, Baca-Oehlert says huge inequities exist for students.
“We now have a system of haves and have-nots,” said Baca-Oehlert. “We can have schools right next to each other, but because one has been able to pass a mill levy and the other has not, those students have very different experiences in their public schools.”
The TABOR Foundation opposes amendment 73, along with the Denver Chamber of Commerce and several realtor and construction groups. Supporters include the Colorado Education Association and 86 other groups including the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance and the NAACP.
It also received unanimous support from Northern Colorado’s Poudre Valley School District Board of Education. Their resolution acknowledged a statewide teacher shortage, insufficient teacher pay compared with high costs of living, and low per-pupil spending compared to the rest of the nation. Board member Cathy Kipp was instrumental in collecting enough signatures to put the amendment on the ballot.
“The more people make, the less percentage of taxes they pay. So we’re trying to level out the field,” said Kipp. “Those who are wealthier will stay pay less as a percentage, but it will flatten out the curve so the wealthy pay more of their fair share. I know many teachers who would like to be in the tax bracket to have to pay this tax, so I don’t think it’s a burden on those can afford it. If we want to continue to have a booming economy in Colorado, education is part of that.”
There are 18-hundred schools in 178 school districts in Colorado ranging from about 50 kids to 90-thousand kids per district. Colorado’s complex formula for school funding has allowed state lawmakers to cut more than $7 billion from the state’s educational system and redirect it to other state needs. Baca-Oehlert believes students and teachers are being shortchanged. She says many teachers can’t live where they work because salaries aren’t enough to afford housing on top of student loans and other expenses.
“Teachers are working two to three jobs just to provide for their own families,” said Baca-Oehlert. “Many teachers’ own children are eligible for free and reduced lunch because as teachers they earn so little they qualify. We need to have respect for our teachers by paying them a living wage.”
Because Amendment 73 is a proposed constitutional amendment, it will need 55 percent of the statewide vote in order to pass.