Amendment 66: An Early Christmas for Colorado Public Schools?

by Jason Richwine

If approved by voters tomorrow, Colorado’s union-backed Amendment 66 would raise nearly $1 billion in new revenue for public schools.

Like most government agencies, public education in Colorado has historically received big budget increases, but supposedly remains chronically short of funds. Coloradans are being deluged with stories about schools that can barely afford to keep the lights on, but per-pupil spending in the state, adjusted for inflation, is up 20 percent since 1990 and about 10 percent since 2000. Where does the money go? An organization supporting the ballot initiative promises that it means “taxpayers will have confidence that new money is used only for education reforms or enhancements to existing programs.” As opposed to what? If current money is tied up in bureaucratic overhead, why not try to shift some of those funds into education programs before asking taxpayers for another $1 billion?

Amendment 66 guarantees that, “at a minimum,” 43 percent of general tax revenues would go to the existing education fund. In other words, if the legislature wants to raise revenue for something other than schools, it needs to tithe the education fund 43 cents for every 57 cents of new revenue for other purposes. Unlike the previous system, which was tied to inflation, the 43 percent requirement would at least let education spending fall if revenues fall, but why have any restriction at all? It’s a mechanism designed to channel money into public education regardless of need or voter intent.

The initiative also creates an “education achievement fund” paid for with the new taxes. It would enable passage of a separate bill that would use the new revenue on — in the words of the New York Times — “an educator’s wish-list of measures.” These include class-size reductions, professional-development classes, full-day kindergarten, state-sponsored preschool, and more. The cost effectiveness of all of these initiatives are, to put it mildly, dubious. But the education establishment may get its wish-list from the taxpayers — and seven weeks before Christmas!

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