This ballot question, which would restructure Colorado’s K-12 financing system, is the most important item facing voters this November. Unfortunately, it is an extremely complicated measure that would require sacrifices from the middle class in the form of increased taxes. Here’s some food for thought intended to highlight some of the measure’s most controversial aspects.
The decision would be easier if there were plentiful data to suggest the sacrifice would be worth it, but unfortunately there is little research that indicates this is the magic bullet Colorado’s education system needs. Supporters can argue it’s a good start but for every argument they offer, there are equally valid points made by the opposition.
Even more frustrating is the decision of many business organizations to stay out of the fray and avoid taking a position on the amendment, which does not help individual members of the business community in forming their own opinions on the matter. It is also irritating that the Colorado Education Association and other education advocates tend to paint anyone who does not support this measure as being anti-education or anti-children. Business organizations do not want to be characterized as anti-children — or pro income tax increases. That is the reason for the resounding silence from the business community.
Amendment 66 would change the formula for school funding. Few observers would deny that this is sorely needed. What is missing, according to the measure’s critics, is proof that more money equals improved education and higher graduation rates. A University of Colorado study commissioned by a consortium of business organizations concluded, “The lack of quantified metrics to measure the return on investment on the increased funding, or quantified measurements of improved educational performance, left the research team to study and hypothesize what benefits may manifest in Colorado.”
There is a basic public policy question that should be considered by all voters regardless of the issue. Is it smart to put include funding requirements in the state constitution? The measure’s author, Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver points out that Amendment 66 would eliminate the spending requirements of Amendment 23 (requires base per pupil funding increase by at least the rate of inflation annually). However, in its stead Amendment 66 would require that at least 43 percent of all state tax revenues be deposited in the state education fund.
It’s a shame that this measure is so complex and full of uncertainties. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to vote on Amendment 66. In the absence of good data we will all have to make our best guess about what is right for Colorado.