DENVER – Are special interests are trying to hoodwink Colorado voters into passing a billion-dollar-a-year tax hike that will feather the nests of teachers unions under the guise of helping the state’s children?
This much is true: Amendment 66, a state constitutional amendment before voters in November, would raise taxes to fund education. If it passes, a family making $50,000 would see state taxes rise 8 percent, while a family making $200,000 would see state taxes rise a whopping 18 percent.
Amendment 66 has a constitutional component and a statutory component. The state constitution would be changed to demand that at least 43 percent of the state general fund be spent on education. The statute implements the tax hike.
“Under its rules, everything else would take a back seat to the demands of the school bureaucracy,” wrote Rob Natelson, in The Complete Colorado. “Law enforcement would suffer. So would disaster relief, parks, the environment, services for the elderly, health care, our universities, not to mention economic investment and the taxpayers’ own needs.”
But the billion-dollar price tag is only the beginning of the problems with Amendment 66, according to critics.
- Using children as an excuse, the amendment turns Colorado’s flat income tax into a tiered system that punishes families that earn more than $75,000.
- It also wrests control of school funding away from local school districts, and vests more power in the state. The amendment will redistribute school funding in the state, and actually reduces funding to 20 school districts that have decided at the local level to fund their schools more generously.
- The measure contains no substantive reforms. Instead, it merely throws money at the education problem. There are no incentives to actually increase performance, and no guarantees for charter school funding.
- Worse yet, the measure is floating on a raft of lies.
As Election Day nears, most mainstream media outlets are lining up behind Amendment 66, but a few conservative outlets are taking a closer look.
They claim Democratic politicians withheld money from the education system in 2013, despite a large revenue surplus, as reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette. They say lawmakers apparently were attempting to create the illusion that the education system was in dire need of more funding, in anticipation of springing Amendment 66 on unsuspecting voters.
Second, the tax-hike campaign is telling voters that Colorado ranks 49th among the states in education funding, despite a ranking of 26th from the National Education Association (NEA). The Amendment 66 campaign and its NEA funders know better, according to opponents.
The NEA has bankrolled the campaign with a $1 million dollar donation, and its Colorado affiliate, the Colorado Education Association, has chipped in an additional $300,000. As of September 30, tax hike supporters, led by the unions, have raised more than $5 million. Grass roots organizations opposing the measure have raised only $17,000.
Third, and most damning, the same unions funding the campaign effort have already made plans to dismantle real education reform in the state, just as soon as the funding of Amendment 66 is in place, some news outlets claim.
Colorado initiated reforms in 2010 that link teacher tenure to performance, over the loud protest of unions. Now, tax hike supporters claim they need the additional funding to cover the expenses of those reforms. However, it has been revealed that union groups – the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Colorado Education Association – are launching a lawsuit to attack those very reforms…after Election Day, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.
They struck a secret deal with the State Education Board to extend the statute of limitations and make way for a lawsuit in early 2014.
“By pitching this tax increase as a means to carry out popular reforms, the teacher’s unions have an illusory advantage. But the very threat of this lawsuit shows their true position,” State School Board Chairman Paul Lundeen told The Gazette. “They seek to keep in our classrooms those few teachers who don’t belong there because those teachers are dues-paying members of the union. They want to pass the tax increase on the very classroom transformations they intend to stop in court.”
Meanwhile, some say union groups continue talking out of both sides of their mouths. Mike Wetzel, spokesman for the Colorado Education Association, claims that the union is still seeking compromise and may stay out of court.
Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper was more direct, saying he is “deeply disappointed” with the union’s duplicity. He told the Gazette, “We understand that some may use this lawsuit as a reason to oppose Amendment 66.”
A look at Colorado education spending shows where the money is really going. From 1992 to 2009, the number of education administrators in the state ballooned by 83 percent, while the number of students increased only 38 percent, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice School Study. Now, the non-teaching staff members in the state outnumber the classroom teachers.
Amendment 66 supporters concede that the first $375 million of the tax hike would go directly to staff salaries.
State Treasurer Walker Stapleton has also warned voters that the giant tax hike might end up backfilling the state’s failing pension fund for state employees, instead of going to classrooms.
“The minute someone says ‘I need money to transform the classroom,’ it’s not real transformation. It’s just more money,” Lundeen said. “Reform is doing things better and wiser with the resources we already have.”
By the time Colorado voters realize their tax money is funding a bloated education bureaucracy that refuses to accept reforms that help kids, it may be too late, critics say. Their state constitution will demand that nearly half the state’s money must be poured into education, even if the system is failing.
Authored by Lisa Williams