Colorado, School Finance, and Taxes
- Feb 20, 2013 | Gail Cole
Colorado Senator Mike Johnston (D-Denver) says it's time to tackle the school finance system, an area that has not been overhauled since 1994. "To give life to the system we built, we must make sure we have the resources and financial incentives to do that," he said. To that end, he is sponsoring the "Future School Finance Act."
Education requires funding, after all, and revenue often comes from taxes. The Senator's bill provides "a new formula to determine state and local shares of education funding." As now, the state would fund 64% and local governments would fund 36%, but the way students are counted would change, and the property tax base per pupil would be adjusted. If that leads to a reduction in state funding, localities "could increase local taxes to make up the difference, or just absorb the loss."
The bill includes an offer of matching state funds for school districts that increase local taxes to fund education. Tax changes in Colorado must be approved by voters, and matching state funds are seen as a way to make a tax increase "more attractive" to voters. Furthermore, "[b]y tying the bill to voter approval of a tax increase for education that would benefit all districts, supporters hope to avoid the perception of large-scale winners and losers."
Skeptics note that it could be challenging to sell "a statewide tax increase to the public" when "not all districts will benefit equally from the revised school finance formula." However, Cindy Stevenson, superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools, argues that "[i]f we want equal outcomes for all children in Colorado, we're going to have to have some unequal funding -- that's what equity is about."
Sen. Johnston has only been in the Colorado Senate since 2009, but he is well known in both state and national education circles. He is an experienced educator and "served as an education policy adviser to state and federal political campaigns around the country."
In presenting the draft of the Future School Finance Act, Sen. Johnston said that the state has a "once-in-a-generation chance to get this right." No pressure.
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