Q: Why do we need this when St. Vrain just passed two Mill Levy Overrides?
A: In 2008 the St. Vrain voters were responding to teacher and programs cuts, as well as increasing class sizes. Our MLO was designed to reinstate some of the teacher positions and programs that were cut as a result from the deficit in the state budget. Over the next four years cuts in the Colorado State Education budget effectively negated the money raised in our first MLO. In 2012, our MLO was to “stop the bleeding”, in other words, to maintain class sizes and programs in the wake of four years of Education funding cuts. Instead of a band-aid to stop the bleeding, Amendment 66 presents a chance to actually provide MORE…more teacher positions, more funding for critical programs such as full day kindergarten, Gifted and Talented, ELL funding, and pre-school for at risk Colorado children.
Q: Will St. Vrain benefit less from Amendment 66 because of our mill levy overrides?
A: No. Mill levy money approved in any district stays within that district and is not considered by the state when they distribute education funds from the General Fund. GSV recently prepared a video outlining how education funding happens in Colorado and we clarify the role mill levy overrides play. Please take a moment to watch.
Q: Why is Amendment 66 written as part of our state constitution versus a state statute?
A: Education funding must work within the framework that has been set forth in our state. There are two main reasons that this initiative has reached the ballot as a constitutional amendment rather than a state statute.
Amendment 66 replaces Amendment 23 which was passed in 2000 to reverse a decade of cuts to education funding in the 1990s. Instead of increasing education funding by inflation each year as stated by Amendment 23, Amendment 66 sets the education budget to be a flat 43% of the general fund. Amendment 23 can only be removed from the constitution with another constitutional amendment.
TABOR (a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1992) prohibits anything but a flat tax in the state of Colorado. Considering a two tier tax for education funding requires an exemption from TABOR which can only be done through a constitutional amendment.
In addition to the reasons stated above, a constitutional amendment is also the best way we have to try to protect money so that it is spent in the manner intended by the voters. If this was a state statute instead, the General Assembly could re-direct the funds away from education, regardless of the intentions of the voters.
Q: How is Amendment 66 connected to SB-213? Can SB-213 be enacted if Amendment 66 does not pass?
A: Amendment 66 is tied to SB-213 which redefines how state funding for schools is distributed and improves accountability down to the school level. If the additional funding from Amendment 66 does not pass, SB-213 cannot be enacted.
The current School Finance Act was enacted in 1994. It takes state education funds collected from state sales and income taxes and determines a per pupil funding amount for each of the 178 Colorado schools districts. There are several factors used to determine each district’s per pupil amount. They adjust for things such as rural schools, the number of free lunch students and, most notably, cost of living. This cost of living adjustment gives more money to districts where it costs more to live and work, such as Aspen and Cherry Creek. The new School Finance Act (SB-213) tied to Amendment 66 updates the factors used to distribute funds across the state. And the new factors are better targeted toward the actual costs of educating a child. For example, ELL, SPED, reduced lunch students and GT have been added as factors and cost of living has been eliminated. SB-213 also directs money towards early childhood education which has been proven to improve student achievement throughout their education career.
Q: Why is Amendment 66 structured as an income tax increase and why doesn’t it sunset?
A: The only tool school districts have to improve funding for schools, is to ask for a local mill levy override or an increase to local property taxes that is exclusively earmarked for our schools. But property tax increases are less “fair” than an income tax increase for two reasons. First, commercial property owners are charged 3 to 4 times the amount of property tax required for residential property, making their share of education funding disproportionate. Second, annual property tax liabilities do not widely vary year to year, yet the ability to pay can. Particularly during a recession when people are out of work. Education funding based on income is, we believe, a better balanced way to sustain education funding without over burdening businesses or people on fixed incomes.
As for the income tax rate not sunsetting, the state income tax rate decrease in 2000 did not sunset either, and 13 years later we remain at the lower income tax rates. Further, it puts education systems at risk to temporarily increase revenue and be unable to sustain implemented improvements such as teacher pay, program options, etc. Here is a link to the tax calculator to determine the impact of Amendment 66 on your family.
Q: What kind of support does this Amendment have in Colorado?
A: As of the third week of August, polls showed that just slightly over 50% of the population were in favor of Amendment 66. The key is to educate swing voters and to make sure that the voters who are inclined to vote yes actually turn out and vote in a non-presidential election year.