Vail Daily column: A guide to election issues
Two education-related measures will appear on the ballot this November (or October for those mailing their ballots). The first is Amendment 68, which would change the state constitution to allow gambling at a select number of horse-racing tracks in Colorado. The second, known as Proposition 104, would amend state law to require school employee bargaining be open to the public.
Colorado’s constitution is relatively easy to change compared to other states. Hence the high number of amendments we see and the frequency at which these questions are put to the voters. Amendment 68 would expand casino gambling from those few places where it is currently allowed (such as Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek) to also be allowed at horse racing tracks in Arapahoe, Pueblo and Mesa counties. In reality, the only existing track is in Arapahoe County (Southeast Denver) so Amendment 68 really only opens gambling up at this location, at least for now.
Proponents of Amendment 68 (a group duplicitously called Coloradoans for Better Schools), claim that if we allow gambling at race tracks, more than $100 million annually would be provided to public and charter schools across Colorado.
Eagle County (and Colorado) voters should be skeptical of this claim. Colorado has some history of trying to use “sin” taxes in one form or another to pay for education, and they invariably don’t live up to the hype.
The most recent example was retail marijuana, which was supposed to provide $40 million (about the cost of building one middle school — yes, that’s right, one) for school capital construction needs annually. So far, only a fraction of this has actually been collected. Similarly, an effort to use gambling money from existing casinos to fund community colleges has also failed to live up to billed promises.
More importantly, it is a sad commentary that Colorado (a state which funds education at nearly $2,000 per student below the national average), continues to rely on these sort of gimmicks as a mechanism to educate its children. It is as if the notion of a stable, but reasonable, tax for the purpose of education is somehow a radical and unattainable notion.
Proposition 104 is an effort to do an end-run around the state General Assembly and change state law without legislative process. Regular readers know that I am no particular fan of most education policies put forth by our legislative branch, but this effort marks a new low for Colorado education law.
First, Proposition 104 is simply wrong-headed. This is an effort to jam it to the teachers’ unions by forcing school employee bargaining to happen in public sessions. The union is a familiar bugaboo for right leaning groups, that often feel that if we could eliminate or otherwise disenfranchise unions, then our schools would be better.
The problem is that even a quick review of the world’s best education system reveals that they are (for the most part) highly unionized. This, in itself, should call into question the wisdom and effectiveness of continuous public policies aimed at disrupting the union.
Second, Proposition 104 is ambiguous and poorly worded. It is not clear which negotiation meetings must be open to the public. Rather than jam it to the union, the law may actually require local school boards (and their representatives) to hold strategy sessions in public prior to negotiations with the union. Local boards that fail to hold these strategy sessions in public may open themselves to expensive and time-consuming lawsuits, thus creating yet another unfunded mandate on our schools.
Finally, the whole endeavor is hypocritical. This effort to pull school employee negotiations into the supposed light is being pushed forward by an ideologically driven think tank out of Denver called the Independence Institute. Yet, the institute fails to disclose its own financial backers — so much for transparency and sunshine.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Win or lose, Colorado voters need to know that neither of these efforts will do anything substantial to improve education in Colorado.
Amendment 68 is a self-interested effort by an out-of-state corporation to make millions in gambling revenue while being a laughably inadequate solution to the state’s education funding situation.
Proposition 104 is an ideologically fueled effort to hammer the union — which may actually backfire and create a decided disadvantage for school boards in the bargaining process. It does nothing to advance genuine quality in schools, which is achieved through sustained and focused work on improved instruction and ensuring an equitable education for all kids.
In sum, vote up or down on these ballot items — just don’t expect either to make much of a positive difference for our schools.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.