On Friday at Colorado Northwestern Community College the members of Club 20, the consortium of community leaders from Colorado’s Western Slope, discussed the merits of educational legislation, specifically the passage of Senate Bill 213 and the pending ballot initiative 22 for the November election.
Colorado House District 61 Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, a proponent of SB 213 and the initiative, presented a slideshow about the benefits of the legislation. Among the goals with the funding are to provide additional funding for early childhood development for students in preschool and kindergarten, provide absolute funding equity for charter schools in the state, give principals more autonomy in their school budgets and create a system rewarding teachers and principals based on performance.
The ballot initiative would call for an increase in state income taxes to bring in an additional $950 million. This would change the flat rate of 4.63 percent to a two-tiered system — 5 percent for taxpayers claiming $75,000 and less in income and 5.9 percent for those over $75,000.
Should the measure go through, under the terms of SB 213 passed in May, a minimum 43 percent of the general fund would go toward public education.
The topic was met with a mixed reaction from Club 20 members. While those in attendance were near unanimous about their support to reform the education system and the intentions of the legislation, many took umbrage with the details Hamner presented.
Some believed the funds brought in would be difficult to distribute equitably between the Front Range and the Western Slope, while others were concerned the statewide measure would be a hindrance on funds at the local level.
Club 20’s Business Affairs Chairman Phil Vaughan, of Rifle, said he didn’t believe the income tax issue would be effective, nor well received by voters. His greater concern was how the structuring of the initiative would impact Public Employees’ Retirement Association of Colorado, which provides pension funds for former educators.
Vaughan said though the terms of SB 213 protect PERA finances, the initiative could change that down the road.
“My gut tells me these monies could get siphoned off in the future via legislative action,” he said. “We’re obligated to take care of our retirees because we have a contract with them.”
Hamner said she did not believe the PERA issue was as much of a concern as some perceived it.
“I believe there are constitutional and statutory protections that will guard against that ever happening,” she said. “I would argue that PERA is on a good path because of changes we’ve made in the legislature to make sure that it’s sustainable.”
Vaughan said the current efforts to fund public education are similar to Amendment 23, passed in 2000, which continually raised funding for K-12 at 1 percent per year through 2011 and inevitably keep up with the rate of inflation.
“When that passed, it never understood our economic reality in Colorado,” he said.
Ultimately, Club 20 members voted to recommend its board to oppose the ballot initiative, which Hamner said was disappointing, considering the amount of positive feedback voiced by teachers around the state.
“We’ve had a lot of support from CEA (Colorado Educators Association) and CASE (Colorado Association of School Executives), groups like that,” she said.
One of the most adamant voices for the initiative in the room was that of JoAnn Baxter. The Craig resident — a retired teacher, former Moffat County School Board president and current member of the State Council for Educator Effectiveness — said she believed the initiative was worth supporting.
“I agree with you that it’s not perfect, but let’s not let perfection get in the way of something we can do today,” she said.
Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.