A press release from Great Schools, Thriving Communities announces the approval this week of Amendment 73, a constitutional ballot measure to raise state income taxes on high-income earners as well as the corporate income tax to fund Colorado’s perennially underfunded public schools:
“Amendment 73 is set up so local school districts decide where resources are most needed,” said Buffalo School District Superintendent Rob Sanders. “It isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It recognizes the values and priorities of unique communities across the state.”
Although Colorado has one of the fastest growing economies in the nation, the state spends $2,000 less per student on average, compared with the rest of the country. Teacher pay is rated well below the national average, and schools struggle to recruit and retain qualified teachers. Many districts are forced to start off the school year with unfilled positions.
“This will help us address critical needs and offer educational opportunities to all our students,” Sanders added. “We can address the growing teacher shortage crisis, fund programs for students with special needs, provide career and technical training to make high school graduates career-ready, and keep students safe.”
Amendment 73 would raise $1.6 billion a year in additional, sustainable revenue for Colorado’s public schools, bringing them closer to the national average in school funding. Revenue will be deposited in the Quality Public Education Fund, a new, dedicated state education fund that will allocate revenue equitably to every Colorado school district.
“This initiative helps every community throughout Colorado, no matter the size — no one is left behind,” said Martha Olson, one of the proponents of the initiative.
The message of relief for every Colorado public school district is underscored by the qualification of this initiative, despite the onerous requirements imposed on constitutional ballot measures under the 2016 “Raise The Bar” amendment requiring measures to obtain support from all 35 Colorado Senate districts. This provision essentially gives any one region of the state veto power over constitutional changes, one of the more controversial aspects of Amendment 71. On the flip side, as the Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins explains usefully, achieving this higher benchmark shows this is an initiative with real potential after years of disappointments on education funding at the ballot box:
One of the aims of “Raise the Bar” was to ensure ballot measure campaigns would have to earn buy-in from voters in rural parts of the state. Supporters of the education ballot measure campaign were able to do that. In the sprawling, rural Senate District 35, represented by Republican Sen. Larry Crowder and stretching 300 miles across 16 counties from Wolf Creek Pass to the Kansas border, the campaign needed to find 1,844 people willing to sign for the measure — and was able to get 2,416.
“It’s called ‘Raise the Bar,’ it definitely raised the bar,” says Lisa Weil, director of Great Education Colorado. “I think that probably the conventional wisdom was that it would be impossible.”
…Weil credits a few factors in successfully getting the measure on the ballot beyond a sales pitch centered on improving public schools in a state where teachers walked out of classrooms to rally for more funding and where about half of the school districts have cut back to four-day weeks. The campaign also was made up of a coalition of 20 different organizations including unions who had been working on the issue for two years and relied on a massive volunteer mobilization.
After stinging defeats in several recent elections for ballot measures to boost education funding, Amendment 73 offers some key differences: a tax increase only on high-earners and corporations instead of regressively targeting the middle class, a midterm electoral climate strongly favoring progressive policy measures in addition to Democratic candidates–and to that, add a demonstrable base of support in every corner of the state by meeting the higher test post-“Raise The Bar.”
From here, there’s only one more test, and the bar is higher at the polls too. It’s a cynical reality that the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which hamstrung the legislature’s ability to respond to the state’s evolving needs including education, would have failed had Amendment 71’s 55% threshold been the law of the land back in 1992. But today, we have a measure that has passed all our state’s self-imposed hurdles. Amendment 73 satisfies TABOR in letter and spirit, and made the ballot despite the higher standard required under Amendment 71.
All of which should count in its favor with voters.