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We love Colorado.
Like so many others who have chosen to live in our state, we love the quality of life, the open spaces, extraordinary vistas, and the feeling that this is a place where one person – or a group of people – can truly make a difference.
That’s why, over the past two years, we have been part of a historic process to make critical changes that we believe are long overdue, especially in how we, as Coloradans, invest in our children and our future. Over 20 organizations representing Colorado’s diverse places and people together developed a plan to increase funding for public schools and make our tax system more balanced and fair.
The Colorado secretary of state just approved signatures from every senate district across the state to place Amendment 73 on this November’s ballot. This is the first statewide revenue measure developed for local school districts to help communities sustain and benefit from Colorado’s economic growth. No other bill or voter measure in Colorado history could do more to support local school districts and economies across the state than this proposal.
It freezes the local property tax rate for families, currently the third lowest in the nation, and cuts property taxes on businesses, farmers and ranchers. It only increases the income taxes for the top 8 percent of earners and the corporate tax by a modest 1.7 percent. The new revenue goes into a dedicated state education fund that allocates resources equitably to every school district in the state. Local school districts decide where to allocate the dollars to address the most critical needs they face. This will have an incredible impact on local communities not just by helping our kids, but by improving local economies.
Colorado’s school funding levels lag behind the rest of the country by roughly $2,800 per student, below Mississippi and Alabama. Our teacher pay is the least competitive in the nation and local schools struggle to recruit and retain qualified teachers; most districts are starting this school year with unfilled teaching positions because the low teacher salaries can’t compete in this job market. Many teachers and support staff qualify for welfare; most must take on extra jobs to make ends meet. Nobody expects to get rich when they decide to work at a school, but they shouldn’t have to depend on local food pantries to feed their family.
Across the state, special education programs, S.T.E.M. (science, technology, education and math) programs, as well as career and technical training to help high school graduates be career-ready, are all taking the hit. Half of the districts are on four-day school weeks, and parents must pay for full-day kindergarten, if it is even offered. Our local school districts are legally required to help every student who walks in the door, but current funding levels cannot meet the demand. Meanwhile, Colorado has the fastest-growing economy in the United States. How can we sustain that economic growth without a workforce that’s ready to fill those positions?
With this rapid economic growth, the cost of living has skyrocketed. The companies and developers who helped make this growth possible enjoy numerous incentives and tax breaks. This proposal won’t reverse those incentives; it simply asks those who profit most from Colorado’s economy to pay a little more to develop the educated workforce they need to continue to be profitable.
Great schools help decrease crime, allow families to lift themselves out of poverty, provide self-sufficiency for kids with special needs, and ensure a safe learning environment. They allow us to build a strong workforce today, so we can build the economy of tomorrow.
The benefits for our communities and our state will be truly transformational.
It is an opportunity to make Colorado an even more exceptional place to love.
The authors are the proponents of record for Amendment 73 on the November ballot.