Liddick: Amendment 66 mugs the haves but doesn’t give to educational have-nots
October 15, 2013
The full-court press is on, featuring so many kid-centered commercials that the backers should be indicted for violating child labor laws. It's "for the children" time, that no-holds-barred run-up to election day when Colorado's educrats, Democrat politicians and assorted hangers-on, led by the advocacy group "Colorado Commits to Kids," try to insert their hands even further into the hip pocket of the Centennial state's good citizens, claiming all sorts of achievements to come, if only we cough up …
The object of their desire is Amendment 66, and the fabulous improvements $950 million more will bring to our educational system — the extra teachers, the new classes, the reforms …
It's hogwash. Amendment 66 is a device to divide Coloradoans by income and punish the better-off for the effrontery of their success. Endless slick advertisements promise amazing results for "$133 a year," but they don't tell you their promise is subject to change without notice. Section one, Subsection 8 of the amendment says, in part, that any taxes under this new provision of the state constitution can be both collected and spent "without regard to any limitation on revenue, spending or appropriations contained in section 20 of Article X of this Constitution, or any other law." Or any other vote, ever — making it not only a shot to the head of the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, but also an excellent example of a "Hezbollah ballot:" one person, one vote, one time.
If you think Amendment 66's tax rates are set for all time, you're wrong. Section 2, Subsection 8 specifies that rate increases — but not decreases — can be approved by voters. Section 3, which deals with the differential rates for various income groups also notes that the General Assembly may "adjust the income thresholds for the income tax increment …" to account for "inflation." This escalator only goes one way, and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly determines how fast.
If you think Amendment 66's additional revenues are all going into the classroom, sorry. Section 1 Subsection 6 (a) of the amendment creates a "State Educational Achievement Fund" to receive such income tax revenues for education as the Department of Revenue determines (6b). Subsection 6(c) notes that revenues appropriated can finance "educational reforms and programmatic enhancements, enacted by the Colorado General Assembly." "Programmatic enhancements" are not defined, which leaves much room for mischief, like the 83 percent rise in Colorado's "non-teaching educational administrators" between 1992 and 2009. K-12 enrollment increased 38 percent in the same time period. And do not doubt there are those who will attempt to squeeze the underfunded PERA program under the tent as an "enhancement."
If you think Amendment 66 will bring any sort of "educational reform," you haven't been paying attention. One of the arguments holds that the amendment will funnel more money to charter schools, but "charter schools" appears nowhere in the text. Instead, educational money will continue to be allocated by the state Assembly — exactly as at present. Then there is the Colorado Education Association's threatened lawsuit over educational reforms initiated by last year's Senate Bill 191. This legal challenge by Colorado's largest teachers' union raises an inconvenient question: if the CEA is behind Amendment 66, why are they poised to strike at the very reforms the amendment promises to fund with $350 million in the first year? And why does it now look — after quiet negotiations with both the State Board of Education and Denver Public Schools — as though the CEA will postpone its suit until next February? This sort of cynical politics should make every taxpayer queasy.
Finally, the real question: will doing more of the same result in improvement? A commonsense answer might be: why does anyone believe it would? In the case of education, there's not much reason for confidence, and plenty of real-world examples to show money alone can't buy success.
Assertions to the contrary, Colorado spends about an average amount on k-12 education compared to other states. National Educational Association statistics show both Iowa and Nebraska spend less than we, and Washington, D.C. spends far more. Students in both of the former do far better than ours on both ACT and SAT tests; the District of Columbia is dead last. Money is clearly not the critical factor in academic success; more important are the attitudes of family and peers, social practices and perceptions, individual effort. None of which can be addressed by shoveling 950 million new taxpayer dollars into a business-as-usual system. Which only adds insult to the pro-Amendment 66 argument: "Colorado Commits to Kids" and their ilk think Colorado voters are too dumb to figure that out.
Time will tell if they're right.
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County.
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