Reading, Writing and Amendment 66
An opinion piece by Debra Irvine
People will run out of resources long before they run out of ways to spend money. The National Education Association ranked Colorado 26th in the Nation for 2011-12 education expenditures per student.
Amendment 66 is on our November Colorado ballot – an increase of nearly $1 Billion in new taxes for education. Each year; this we know. What we don’t know is how the money would be spent. Proponents of the tax increase aren’t giving specifics. From pre-school to pensions – we just don’t know.
Please note that I support quality education. I also realize our economy is still fragile and an additional tax burden will hurt struggling families. Parents face additional costs every school year while the median income has decreased.
Amendment 66 proposes a two-tier income tax structure that is unfair and unequal. Everyone with an income above $75,000 (except corporations) will have a tax increase of 27% (from 4.63 to 5.96%). The burden of the new tax will be carried by individuals and small businesses. Proponents of this tax increase argue that business income will not be subject to the tax provision and property taxes are not changed; so, no impact to business. Not true. Most small businesses are S Corporations and LLCs and will be impacted because they pay personal income taxes on their profits.
There is legitimate concern that funding generated by tax dollars will go to pensions instead of the classroom. Colorado’s public pension system (PERA) is underfunded by $20 Billion. Its portfolio maintains an unrealistic 8% return assumption. If it falls below that, taxpayers and our State make up the difference. Twice in the last decade money was diverted from the classroom to support PERA. By 2018 school districts will match over 20% of school teachers’ salaries into PERA. Try finding a match like that in the private sector.
Many proponents of Amendment 66 have a personal interest in its passage. Our State Representative Millie Hamner receives over $120,000 in retirement from education every year.
Regarding this tax increase Rep. Hamner has said, “Part of the money would go to those things (PERA, salaries, health benefits)…because that’s just part of how schools budget”.
Unions and other Amendment 66 supporters profess monies are needed to implement reforms created by Senate Bill 191 (SB191: teachers’ performance). However, there is strong indication that two supportive unions, the Colorado Education Association and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association plan to bring forward a lawsuit to end merit-based tenure after this election. The litigation against SB191 had to be filed before August 2013 when the statute of limitation expired. After an August 26 meeting, the Colorado Board of Education (defendant in the threatened suit) agreed to grant unions a one-year extension. After Amendment 66’s fate is decided by voters, the unions can fight to stop SB191’s merit-based teacher tenure.
This would leave us with more of our taxes going to fund education without holding teachers accountable for performance.
Amendment 66 will not distribute funding equitably. For example: school district per pupil funding increase for Summit will be $472; Archuleta: $1,019; Gunnison: $393; Ridgeway: $3.
Be aware that even if Amendment 66 passes, do not expect education mill levies to disappear.
With Amendment 66, the median Colorado family will pay over $250 additional taxes per year when it is already paying that (and more) for school supplies. Additionally, many parents want choices but private school vouchers will not come with this initiative.
Administrators of our hard-earned money should be forever mindful from whence it comes and to never become indifferent. A solar panel project by Summit County School District is being dismantled (at a great expense) because frustrated parents and residents made a strong case.
No matter what our political leaning, we can agree on the importance of quality education. We want our children to be challenged and to become successful, independent, contributing members of society. We also need to create an environment where businesses grow, jobs are created and families have more discretionary income.
Pouring additional money into education doesn’t guarantee reform. We need an approach that is wise, creative, and more productive with the resources we have.
Governor Hickenlooper said that this new School Financing Act would “turn every school superintendent into a CEO”.
His statement makes me realize that, to some, the bigger picture is fading.