October 11, 2013
The billion dollar-a-year tax increase, Amendment 66, is like the latest "As Seen on TV" product. It's full of promised innovation and life-changing outcomes, but post-purchase you realize you just spent a lot of money and nothing is actually better.
Coloradans are preparing to vote on the largest income tax increase in the state's history, sold under the guise of school reform and promising innovation, yet it falls short on both fronts. This nearly $1 billion-a-year tax increase is poised to be another crushing disappointment to those who yearn for the genuine education reform that will actually improve student outcomes.
Too much of Colorado's school funding goes to administration and special interests, and too little makes into our classrooms. Administrative bloat in Colorado's public education system is very real. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, fewer than half of Colorado's public school employees are actually teachers.
Even worse, over a 17-year period from 1992 through 2009, the number of Colorado education administrators increased an eye-popping 83 percent, while the number of students increased by just 38 percent. This explosion in administration has hurt Colorado's teachers — the very people we entrust to help prepare our children for life. Without this bloat, teachers could be earning approximately $10,000 more per year.
Amendment 66 contains no assurances that the $950 million in taxes would ever make it into classrooms. Even proponents' promotional materials say Amendment 66 "could reduce class size" (emphasis added). If the people of Colorado are expected to pay an additional $950 million a year, we deserve better than "could."
This effort isn't just unfair to teachers — it is unfair to students. Colorado's children deserve a world-class education, but our public education system is broken. Currently, 40 percent of our state's high school graduates need remedial classes once they enter college. While the proponents of this amendment talk about reform, it doesn't contain genuine reform measures, such as success-based metrics, real school choice, and funding that directly benefits children and teachers in classrooms.
This amendment redistributes taxpayer dollars in a way that's unfair to most school districts. Many districts will receive less per pupil than their residents pay into the system. For example, for every new tax dollar Jefferson County citizens pay, Jefferson County schools will receive just 56 cents in funding if Amendment 66 passes. Colorado school districts passed more than $1 billion in school bonds and mill-levy overrides just last year and Amendment 66 will require many districts across the state to go back to their residents for even more tax increases.
The concern over this bill doesn't stop there. This amendment was offered to help fund some of the merit-based tenure reforms passed in 2010. Yet recently, Coloradans learned that special interests are waiting until after the Amendment 66 vote in November to sue to discontinue merit-based tenure, a key education reform. They don't want the bad press from a lawsuit to cloud Coloradans' vote on their tax increase. It's dishonest, and Coloradans deserve to know the true intentions of those hoping to take more every year from each Colorado family's budget.
This amendment is a nearly $1 billion tax increase on all Coloradans when they are still recovering from the recession. Colorado incomes, on average, remain 7 percent below pre-recession levels. The median Colorado family could see an increase in taxes of over $250 per year. According to the USDA, that's nearly three weeks of groceries for a family of two.
Further, the U.S. Census recently revealed that Coloradans have never paid so much in taxes as they do today. Colorado currently has a more than $1 billion surplus sitting in our State Education Fund. Why hold hostage many of Amendment 66's promised outcomes when they can be funded from the current surplus?
We all see the bumper stickers proclaiming Colorado to be 49th in education spending; however, even the National Education Association (aka the teachers union) cites Colorado as 26th in the nation — right in the middle of the pack.
We can all agree that Colorado needs to fix our school system. Great education isn't a Republican or a Democratic issue — it's a core American value. That's why Coloradans for Real Education Reform has attracted a diverse, bipartisan coalition against this misguided tax scheme. We all want to see our children thrive and we want to give them the best education system we can. This amendment offers the illusion of reform with a hefty price tag. Our children deserve better than more broken promises.