Editorial: Amendment 66 difficult to dissect

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Amendment 66 has received an enormous amount of attention, and whether you’re opposed or in favor of the constitutional amendment, one thing is clear — Moffat County education needs better funding.

The amendment may not be as important to other school districts, such as Steamboat Springs or Cherry Creek, but we believe it’s important to our district. Although the majority of the editorial board is in favor of the amendment, some board members have reservations.

One huge downfall is that it’s a constitutional amendment. Yet, as one board member pointed out, it would replace Amendment 23, which requires that Colorado’s per-pupil funding increase each year with inflation. Colorado voters passed Amendment 23 in 2000.

Specifically, Amendment 23 was slated to “increase per pupil funding for public schools and total state funding for special purpose education programs by at least the rate of inflation plus one percentage point for the next ten years,” according to the amendment’s language.

The per pupil funding model has hurt many school districts, including Moffat County. Student enrollment is monitored by the Colorado Count Day when school districts take one day out of the year to count student attendance, which ultimately determines the amount of funding for each district. The model itself has flaws, as it’s virtually impossible for “every” student to be present at school on a chosen day. An inaccurate count can mean less funding.

So, yes, Amendment 66 would change the Colorado Constitution, but the majority of the editorial board believes it would change it into a better financial model for school districts. Also, funds received from the proposed amendment would pay for school reform under Senate Bill 213, passed last spring.

Amendment 66 would give an estimated $950 million annually to the state’s school districts, increasing income tax for Colorado residents. Taxes would increase based on annual household income under a two-tier tax hike. For example, households that make less than $75,000 a year would pay an additional $132 a year in income taxes, and those that make more than $75,000 annually would pay an addition $252 or more each year.

Essentially, funding for the state’s public schools will jump from $5.5 billion to $6.4 billion, which is almost a $1 billion increase.

What does that mean for Moffat County? Well, the school district would receive roughly $2.9 million annually, which is roughly $1,000 extra per student. That’s a significant increase to the school district.

Opponents of the proposed amendment feel like the tax hike — the largest in Colorado history — will hurt small businesses and burden the state’s general fund. If passed, it would transfer 43 percent of excise, sales and income tax from the general fund into the state education fund. Additionally, the amendment does not specify how the money should be spent, which would allow school districts to spend that money at their discretion.

We feel that could be a good thing for Moffat County School District, yet we can’t ignore the fact that school board elections are also taking place this year. Eleven candidates are vying for five open board positions. That means change in leadership, and it’s not clear how the new board will govern the district.

To make matters more complicated, MCSD Superintendent Joe Petrone will retire next year, and the district will have to hire a new leader.

Therefore, if Amendment 66 is implemented, we feel its success in Moffat County will largely depend on how the increased funding is managed.

The constitutional change is a difficult topic to dissect, therefore of the six members on the editorial board, one is on the fence, one is opposed and four are in favor of the amendment.

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