Proponents of a $950 million initiative to revamp the state's school finance system, and raise the state income tax in the process, delivered more than 160,000 signatures Monday morning to the Secretary of State's office in an effort to put the measure on the November ballot.
Supporters unloaded dozens of boxes of petitions from a school bus and hauled them into the downtown office, where they'll be examined for the 86,105 valid signatures required to move forward.
"I think we're going to be fine," said Gail Klapper of the Colorado Forum, one of the key backers of the initiative. "We got a lot of people involved and enthusiastic, and didn't have a lot of trouble getting people to sign the petitions."
The Secretary of State's office said it could take several days to inspect a 5 percent random sample of petitions to determine the validity rate of signatures. If in that sample names and addresses match the voter file at a rate that points to collecting 110 percent of the required signatures, the office can deem the total effort sufficient.
If the rate points to collecting less than 90 percent, the effort would be deemed insufficient. Any rate in between would trigger a line-by-line examination of the petitions, which likely would push the 30-day deadline to determine sufficiency.
Meanwhile, supporters continue to craft a message that can explain the complex Initiative 22 to voters traditionally reluctant to approve statewide funding increases for education.
Initiative 22 would raise the money through a change in Colorado's state income tax structure. The measure calls for the current flat rate of 4.63 percent to become a two-tiered setup, with all taxpayers paying 5 percent on the first $75,000 of income and 5.9 percent on income over $75,000.
The measure also would trigger a new way to determine state and local funding shares by taking into account differences in median income and at-risk students for each district.
State Sen. Mike Johnston, the Denver Democrat and primary legislative force behind the effort, said that the proposed initiative has addressed major issues that have sunk previous education funding measures.
"I've yet to find any voter, most liberal to most conservative, that said I would never, ever want to support an investment in K-12," he said after the petitions had been delivered. "What they want to know is: What am I investing in, where will the dollars go, and how will I know what the results look like? And how do I know the dollars won't be siphoned off to something else?
"What we've built here is a system that answers all those key questions for voters," Johnston said.
But Coloradans for Real Education Reform, an as-yet unfunded group that bills itself as the official anti-Initiative 22 issue committee, called the measure an "outsized tax increase" and said it didn't provide enough transparency or guarantees of better educational outcomes.
At an afternoon press conference, speakers like state Treasurer Walker Stapleton criticized the initiative as having no financial safeguards to keep money from being diverted or from being used to backfill pension obligations.
Former state Sen. Bob Hagedorn, a Democrat from Aurora, called the school finance revamp a "lost opportunity" to expand school choice and added that the economy is too fragile to support a tax increase.
Johnston, who launched the effort to reform school finance more than two years ago, eventually pushed Senate Bill 213 through the legislature, but with the proviso that it would only go into effect if voters approved a tax increase.
The law provides for full-day kindergarten and half-day preschool, plus funding for at-risk students and English-language learners based on their numbers within each district.
SB213 also targets $100 million for education innovation grants, $80 million for special education and $5 million for gifted and talented programs while also mandating greater financial transparency. Principals would be given more autonomy to allocate funds while taxpayers could track spending.
On the reform side, supporters point to a more equitable funding system for charter schools and $18 million for capital construction.