Vail Daily letter: ‘Yes’ on 3A, 3B
Understanding how school funding in Colorado became so abysmal is a story that goes back decades and involves state policy choices that were never designed to work together. The problem began in 1982 with the Gallagher Amendment, which fixed a ratio between residential and commercial property and reduced the residential assessment rate. For education, the effect was a shift of more responsibility for funding schools to the state level.
Ten years later came the TABOR Amendment, or Taxpayer Bill of Rights. It prohibits any tax increase without a vote of the people. It also limits how much revenue the state can keep and how much it can spend. While it was supposed to protect taxpayers, the long-term effect has been a reduction in state revenues and a decline in school funding.
You probably can now see the problem developing. One amendment (Gallagher) pushes more responsibility for funding schools onto the state. The other (TABOR) constricts the state’s available resources. Prior to these amendments, the state contributed less than 40 percent of educational funding. Now it contributes more than 60 percent. This increase forced continued cuts to education funding. In an effort to protect school funding, and recoup lost ground, Amendment 23 was passed in 2000. It guaranteed increases to school funding by at least the rate of inflation.
Unfortunately, it was not that simple. Our legislators were doing the best they could with what they had and attempting to balance the needs of our state. However, they did not foresee the economic downturn that peaked in 2009. With significantly decreased property taxes, and TABOR limits, the state could no longer fill the void. During the recession we experienced a huge decline in state revenues, squeezing all areas of government service. In order to cut funding to education, the Legislature created an accounting trick called the negative factor. Money required by Amendment 23 was put in at the top of the funding formula then taken out further down in the equation. Bottom line, funding was not improved with Amendment 23.
Today, Colorado’s school funding is among the lowest in the nation, between 43rd and 47th, subject to individual data studies. For us here, Eagle County schools have lost over $47 million in the past six years. Many say “live within your means.” Our schools have done that by balancing their budgets to meet the lower funding reality but not without serious consequences. We have cut programs and staffing levels, reduced and/or froze salaries and deferred much-needed maintenance for our buildings and facilities. All this while still working hard to provide Eagle County students the quality education needed for today’s global workforce.
Some believed that marijuana money would save our schools. Marijuana funds are earmarked for construction purposes and allocated through a competitive grant process that favors schools and districts with low property tax values, which isn’t Eagle County. In spite of this, our school district has received a grant to bring some marijuana dollars to our schools, but it requires a local match that can only be provided if voters approve question 3B on the ballot.
Colorado’s state education funding is broken. There is no light at the end of the legislative tunnel. We cannot wait for the state to fix this problem. As a community we can bring positive change for our future. I urge you to vote “yes” for 3A and 3B.