A huge change in school funding
Amendment 66 would rewrite state’s current formula
The billion-dollar question for Colorado voters this fall is Amendment 66, an income-tax increase for schools.
The estimated $1 billion yearly increase would be the largest tax hike the state’s voters ever approved. At the same time, it would merely fill the yearly gap created in the state’s budget for schools by the Great Recession.
Why should I vote for this?
In return for the extra money, the state’s 20-year-old formula for funding schools would be rewritten. The new formula sets aside more money for preschool and full-day kindergarten, at-risk students and English language learners. It also gives principals more control over their schools’ budgets.
Taxpayers will be able to see in detail how the money is being spent.
Finally, the measure repeals Amendment 23, which requires that school funding increase each year by the rate of inflation. Amendment 23 has proved ineffective, as the Legislature found ways to cut school budgets during the recession.
Daniel Snowberger, superintendent of Durango School District 9-R, says this will increase “per pupil funding” for Durango schools by $493.
“Per pupil funding” is the all-important local denominator that handily decides how Colorado schools get money.
Bayfield Superintendent Troy Zabel said overall, Bayfield School District would get $737,000 per year annually, which goes some way toward recovering the $1.4 million it used to get before the recession.
Who is behind this?
State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, led a two-year effort to rewrite the school-funding formula. It passed the Legislature this year with only Democratic support.
Durango schools Superintendent Snowberger, Bayfield School District Superintendent Troy Zabel and Ignacio School District 11-JT lobbied Johnson extensively as the bill was taking form, to ensure that local districts didn’t lose money if the bill passed.
They successfully won a “hold harmless” clause, that stipulates no district will receive less than 95 percent of the average district’s funding statewide.
A business group called Colorado Forum is a major supporter. It also has support from teachers’ unions and a variety of civic groups. Several school districts, including Durango 9-R, Montezuma-Cortez and Dolores RE-4A, also endorse it.
What are the cons?
Most Coloradans would see at least an 8 percent increase in their state income tax bills, and high earners would pay even more.
Some taxpayers won’t get as many local benefits because the Legislature’s funding formula favors districts with small tax bases. Ignacio schools, which collect a lot in gas and oil taxes, are projected to lose $71 per student, compared to a gain of more than $1,000 per kid in Silverton.
Who is fighting this?
An opposition campaign called Coloradans for Real Education Reform is relying mostly on media coverage to get its message out.
Every Republican in the Legislature voted against the new school-funding formula related to Amendment 66. Club 20 and the National Federation of Independent Business also oppose the measure.
How will this affect my pocketbook if it passes?
A person or family with a $50,000 annual income would pay about $100 more a year in state taxes.
Families that make $150,000 would pay about $720 more, according to a legislative analysis.
But individual tax bills will vary. To check your own taxes under Amendment 66, go to www.colorado.gov/lcs/taxestimator.
For incomes below $75,000, the new tax rate will be 5 percent – the same level it was until 2000, when the Legislature cut taxes to 4.63 percent.
For money made above $75,000, the tax rate will be 5.9 percent.
People who make $76,000 would pay a 5 percent tax on almost all of their incomes, and a 5.9 percent tax on the final $1,000.
How much has each side raised?
The opposition campaign has raised just $10,000, all from the conservative Independence Institute.
The pro-66 campaign, Colorado Commits to Kids, had raised $5 million by the end of September. Big donors include the National Education Association ($1 million), Colorado Education Association ($750,000), Gary Community Investment Co. ($700,000), Democratic donor Pat Stryker ($650,000), architect Ben Walton ($500,000) and Education Reform Now, a New York group ($500,000).
How will this affect our local schools?
Budget increases would vary greatly depending on the school district. Montezuma-Cortez schools would get the highest per-pupil increase in the region, a projected $1,202. Other per-student increases: $1,043 for Silverton, $1,019 for Archuleta, $659 for Dolores town schools, $617 for Dolores County, $493 for Durango, $258 for Bayfield, $4 for Mancos and a loss of $71 for Ignacio, according to projections by Johnston.
Special-education student funding in Southwest Colorado would increase to more than $5,000 per student, up from just $1,000 now.
A handful of districts would lose money in the new formula, including Telluride and Norwood.
Much of the money comes to the schools for pre-determined services, like special education or English learning. But the state also would have a “Teaching and Leadership” fund to implement the set of reforms the Legislature enacted but never funded over the past decade.