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Local school officials back Amendment 73 to bolster sub-par education funding

August 31, 2018, 9:28 am
battle mountain high school

Battle Mountain High School in Edwards.

Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared in the Vail Daily on Aug. 29:

New Eagle County Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlos Ramirez was shopping at Costco in Gypsum the other night when he ran into a group of teachers getting ready for the school year that kicks off next week.

carlos ramirez

Dr. Carlos Ramirez (photo courtesy of Bruce Bourbon).

“They were shopping for their classroom supplies. A teacher had a big bundle of tissue for her class,” Ramirez said. “It’s just astounding to me that Colorado educators have been able to do the work that’s needed with the [current] amount of funding. They’re at a point where they’ve squeezed every ounce of energy they have to provide the resources and services our kids need.”

Ramirez, who’s new to the job as of last spring, was speaking in the context of a proposed constitutional amendment (73 on Colorado’s 2018 statewide ballot) that would increase corporate and personal income taxes on the state’s highest earners and raise $1.6 billion in education funding. Teacher, he said, should not have to buy supplies for their students.

“I think it’s a great piece of legislation; I really hope it passes because it’s needed,” Ramirez said. “As stewards of the public dollars, I can assure you that we’ll be transparent with how that money is allocated and of course we’ll have input from all the stakeholders, especially our teachers.”

The Eagle County School District stands to receive about $11.6 million in ongoing new revenue from the increase on federal taxable income for those making more than $150,000 a year – or about 8 percent of Coloradans. Amendment 73, also known as “Great Schools, Thriving Communities”, would also increase the tax on C corporations (not S corporations or LLC’s) by 1.37 percent – taking Colorado from the third lowest rate in the nation to the ninth lowest.

While the Eagle County Schools Board of Education has yet to take an official position on the initiative, which was the first to be certified by the secretary of state under Colorado’s new Raise the Bar Law that requires signatures from all 35 state senate districts, board vice president Tessa Kirchner said she personally supports the measure.

“I’ve always been intrigued by the unique situation Colorado finds itself in – the conundrum of the Gallagher Amendment, Tabor and Amendment 23 that continues to just put pressure on our education funding,” Kirchner said. “[Amendment 73] attempts to untie that Gregorian knot of Gallagher and Tabor.

Because of those funding restraints, Colorado lags well behind the nation in per-public public-school funding. It ranks 39th at a rate of $9,575 per student – more than $2,000 less than the national average of $11,762. Eagle County’s per-pupil rate is significantly lower than the statewide average at $8,496 per student. That’s down $815 per student since the great recession in 2008, when adjusted for inflation, and has forced numerous cuts over the last 10 years.

Passage of Amendment 73 would provide an additional $1,716 in per-pupil funding for Eagle County students, which would still be below the statewide average.

“As a school board member, I’ve been part of making those wicked choices,” Kirchner said. “They’re not just difficult choices; they’re wicked, and we’ve been doing that now for a very long time. I’ve seen the impact that has on a system and the impact it’s had on my own kids’ education and the experiences they’ve had.

“It’s a passion of mine that we continue to attempt to bring statewide funding to something that more closely resembles the national average,” Kirchner said, noting that Amendment 73 actually freezes the residential property tax assessment rate for schools and reduces the commercial property tax rate.

A group call itself Colorado Rising Action is opposing the income and corporate tax increase for schools without commenting on the property tax freeze.

“We can, and we must, do a better job of prioritizing our state budget to ensure that education funding goes directly into the classrooms, not administrative bureaucracy,” Colorado Rising Action Executive Director Michael Fields said in a press release. “Amendment 73 changes Colorado’s constitution to raise our taxes by more than a billion dollars every year without addressing the real issues in education funding,”

One of the benefits of the tax might be fully funded, all-day kindergarten.

“There is no language that says how it has to be spent specifically … but I would say that we would look at a way to possibly address that and fund full-day kindergarten so people don’t have to pay tuition,” said Sandra Mutchler, chief operating officer for Eagle County Schools.

Besides Ramirez’s promise of transparency, Kirchner added that local school boards and school districts will get the final say on how the additional funds are spent based on their particular needs. That makes this very different from the failed and very formulaic Amendment 66 measure in 2013, which was spearheaded by then state Sen. Mike Johnston of Vail.

“Again, the thing that makes this initiative more interesting and more palatable is that those dollars get to be decided on a local level,” Kirchner said, adding any district that then overspends on administration will likely pay a price. “It’s possible, but then you will know directly what your school board has decided and you can vote them in or out.”


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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is the editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and has had his awarding-winning work (see About Us) published in more than 75 newspapers and magazines around the world, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), the Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming), the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Newsline, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Cortez Journal, the Craig Daily Press, the Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Del Norte Triplicate (California), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Mont.), the Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), the Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the Las Vegas Sun, the Leadville Herald-Democrat, the London Daily Mirror, the Moab Times Independent (Utah), the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), the Montrose Daily Press, The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), the Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Sky-Hi News, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Sterling Journal Advocate (Colorado), the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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