Hike funding

Colorado schools funding measure won’t be on the ballot

Colorado voters won’t be able to decide in November to forego a portion of future state tax refunds to better fund K-12 schools.

Supporters of a ballot measure that would have dedicated about $984 million in future tax revenue to help school districts recruit and retain educators announced on Monday that they had failed to reach the nearly 125,000 signatures needed to get the measure passed this fall.

Tracie Rainey of the Colorado School Finance Project said the failure was particularly frustrating because the measure sounded well and appeared to have a better chance of succeeding than previous attempts to increase school funding.

“It’s unfortunate that voters don’t have the opportunity to vote on something they value,” she said.

Colorado funds its schools at lower rates than many other states, and for more than a decade failed to meet the constitutional requirement to increase school funding each year based on the rate of population growth. inflation. Meanwhile, in times of economic prosperity, the state must return money to taxpayers if state revenues exceed a ceiling determined similarly by population and inflation.

This year, taxpayers are receiving refunds of $750 each while lawmakers withheld $321 million in public funds that could have gone to schools.

Initiative 63 would have dedicated an additional one-third of 1% of state income tax revenue to education and exempted that money from the cap imposed by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. The measure would have raised nearly $1 billion a year for schools, with the money earmarked for pay raises and other efforts to hire and retain more workers.

Standing outside a Mexican restaurant on Denver’s Colfax Avenue on a scorching August afternoon days before the deadline, Joyce Brooks said she rarely heard no while collecting signatures for Initiative 63.

“It’s easier this time,” said Brooks, a longtime education activist and NAACP member. “They realize what schools, children, families and especially teachers have been through. And they know that more paraprofessionals are needed, and they know that the problem is the salary.

“Because of what happened, people want to help.”

A poll conducted for the campaign by Tulchin Research found that 64% of respondents were a definite or likely yes to the measure after being told about it. An independent poll by Magellan Strategies found an equally high level of support, with more than half of Republicans inclined to vote yes.

That was significantly higher than the 2018 pre-election polls on Amendment 73, a tax hike on high earners that ultimately failed with just 45% of the vote.

“That’s what hurts,” said Lisa Weil, executive director of Great Education Colorado. “That would be winning. What power does the Colorado voter have if things they really want to vote on can’t be on the ballot? »

Due to high turnout in 2018, supporters needed nearly 125,000 valid signatures to contest the ballot, up from 98,492 in 2018. Despite the lower bar, Amendment 73 supporters turned in approximately 130,000 signatures valid after a coordinated campaign.

Weil said people and organizations who had funded earlier signature-gathering efforts held back, prioritizing other races and pledging money for a general election campaign if the measure passed.

“Nobody wanted to write a big check for the 123,674th signing and we still can’t,” Weil said.

Ballot measurement campaigns in Colorado frequently use paid signature collectors, but Weil said the money also pays for postage, field managers to coordinate volunteers and information campaigns to s ensure people know where and when they can sign. All of that was missing this year.

Rainey said supporters are considering all their options, including trying another year or persuading lawmakers to send a measure back to voters. That’s exactly what lawmakers have done by proposing to fund school lunch for all students by reducing deductions for high earners.

Bureau Chief Erica Meltzer covers education policy and politics and oversees Chalkbeat Colorado’s education coverage. Contact Erica at [email protected].