Opinion

NOONAN | To Amendment 73’s foes, below average is good enough for our schools

Author: Paula Noonan - October 25, 2018 - Updated: October 25, 2018

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Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

The Blank Check, Blatant Deception committee against Amendment 73, led by Luke Ragland of Ready Colorado, argues that this fall’s ballot initiative to increase public school funding will devastate Colorado’s economy.”  

According to this theory, catastrophe will occur if Colorado’s voters decide to raise $1.6 billion annually for public schools that have been underfunded from $800 million to $1 billion per year since 2010.

Ragland was formerly vice president for policy with Colorado Succeeds, which now has another vision in mind for public education in the state“What if Colorado Schools were No. 1?”  The organization predicts an enormous economic benefit to the state if the public school system becomes first in class. With this premise, Colorado would move from 45thin its ranking for high school graduation rates to the top of the list and business would prosper.

But Amendment 73, according to Ragland, the former Colorado Succeeds staffer, will do “absolutely nothing to improve our schools or increase teacher salaries.” He asserts that school funding over 22 years (1992-2014) increased by 15 percent, but school salaries went down by 11 percent, ignoring the extreme downward pressure of the Great Recession on public school finance.  That’s why he stops his calculation at 2014, the low end of school finance cutbacks.

The Great Recession was the cause of the infamous “negative factor,” the $7 to 8 billion deficit in school funding that continues to this day. The 2018 General Assembly added to public school revenue woes with a bill to increase district contributions to the PERA retirement plan by many millions.  Plus, Colorado has more kids than ever with its expanding population.  Each new child requires more revenue.

It’s a bit head spinning. Colorado Succeeds proves the tremendous value of first-in-class Colorado schools as Ready Colorado, through Ragland, claims that economic cataclysm will result if Amendment 73 passes.  As an aside, Ready Colorado has contributed $468,000 of the $1,039,673 collected to defeat Amendment 73, but the organization does not disclose who contributes to its political pot.

Ragland asserts that the income tax burden imposed by Amendment 73 will “jeopardize Colorado’s economic development.”  The income tax increase from 4.61 to 5 percent will affect individuals with taxable income, after deductions, above $150,000.  Rates will go up about one percent in increments to a high of 8.25 percent on taxable income above $500,000.

The corporate income tax rate will go up from 4.63 percent to 6 percent, or about $250 million overall per year.  The reduced rate on non-residential property tax from 29 percent to 24 percent will offset some of the corporate tax increase.

To further his business case against Amendment 73, Ragland cites a National Education Association (NEA) report that places Colorado 27thin per student funding. It’s not terrible, he implies. “It’s squarely in the middle of the pack.”

The NEA report cited by Ragland shows that Colorado teachers’ average annual salary is $52,389. Nebraska, with a lower cost of living, is $53,473. Wyoming is $58,578. Minnesota, with its strong student achievement and graduation numbers across its public school system, pays on average $57,782.

According to Payscale, the average salary for an employee of the City and County of Denver is $63,201, and for the state of Colorado it’s $65,557.  School districts have to compete with those numbers in a tight employment market to attract employees.

Voters should examine Amendment 73 and the economics of public education financing for the state’s future.  One fact is certain: for the state’s schools to achieve Colorado Succeeds’ vision for No. 1 status in and out of recessions, a new, sustainable revenue stream of public dollars is necessary.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.