In early returns Tuesday, Colorado voters appeared poised to refuse schools statewide a massive infusion of funding to deal with enrollment surges and funding cuts.
In all, voters faced an unprecedented $1.5 billion in local bond issues as well as a $1.6 billion statewide tax measure called Amendment 73 that would increase funding for every student in Colorado.
Amendment 73 was lagging with more than 56 percent of voters saying no to the measure to 43 percent saying yes as of 7:30 p.m., with just over 1 million votes cast. It needs 55 percent of the vote the pass.
Amendment 73 has been advocated by educators as the best tool available to give more money to Colorado schools, which are plagued by low teacher pay, staff shortages — especially in rural areas — cuts in services, aging buildings and burgeoning class sizes. The state adds 10,000 new students each year, but schools haven’t kept up with the enrollment expansion, especially since the 2008 economic downturn, say proponents of 73.
The Colorado Education Association and other education groups threw their support behind Amendment 73, which backers said stood a better chance among voters than previous school tax measures that failed. Massive teacher walkouts in the spring over funding woes caught the attention of the general public.
“I think people everywhere are finally seeing the needs of schools,” Westminster parent James Earley said.
Critics have attacked 73 as another needless tax-and-spend measure that will do little to help public schools.
“In 2011 and 2013 similar tax hikes were crushed by a 2-1 margin by Colorado voters,” said Michael Fields, a former teacher and executive director for Colorado Rising Action, a conservative watchdog group. “This time the structure of the tax might look a little different, but the results would still create an incredibly damaging ripple effect that will touch everyone in the state.”
The measure would have created a graduated income tax for people earning more than $150,000 a year and would raise the state corporate tax rate. It also would change the assessment rate — the portion of a person’s property value that is taxed — for commercial and residential property.
It would raise an additional $1.6 billion a year for preschool through 12th-grade education. That’s in addition to the roughly $9.7 billion in federal, state and local money that Colorado will spend this year on schools.
Amendment 73 would raise the base amount Colorado is required to spend on each student, and it also would dedicate money to preschool spots, full-day kindergarten, students with disabilities, those learning English, and those identified as gifted and talented.
Besides Amendment 73, nine Colorado school districts were seeking passage of basic bond issues totaling $1.49 billion. The largest request was in Jefferson County, where voters are being asked to pass a $567 million bond issue for safety and security upgrades, building modernization and upkeep, and more career and technical education options.
Jeffco voters have not passed a school funding measure since 2012. Douglas County, which hasn’t passed a school bond or mill levy override since 2006, asked voters for $250 million for HVAC systems, safety and security upgrades, information technology and transportation improvements.
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