I voted for the property tax increase for Littleton Public Schools in 2010. The district was forthright about its needs and what it intended to do with the extra money, and I — along with 53 percent of my fellow voters — agreed to the $12 million tax hike.
This Nov. 5, however, I will be voting against Amendment 66, the $1 billion statewide income tax increase. Proponents of the measure, Colorado Commits to Kids, failed to make their case and have been less than straightforward in their pitch for more money.
Let’s begin with the group’s claim that, should the amendment win approval, “We’ll be raising almost $1 billion for our underfunded schools.” The amendment will, in fact, increase education spending by $950 million in the first year and possibly more in the future. If Amendment 66 passes, the state will trade its income tax rate of 4.63 percent — which is equally applied to earners — for one that divides Coloradans into groups based on income levels. The income tax rate will increase to 5 percent for income up to $75,000 and to 5.9 percent for income above that threshold.
The second half of Colorado Commits to Kids’ claim, however, is less than factual. Colorado ranks 26th in the nation in education spending, about $10,000 per student, according to a recent National Education Association analysis. Colorado spends more than most of its neighbors in the region. If Colorado’s schools are underfunded, then roughly half of the nation’s schools are likewise cash-starved.
With the U.S. outspending almost every other country in the world on K-12 education, one can only ask: underfunded compared to what?
Worse, the claim insinuates that spending more will improve education outcomes. This is a false promise. “There’s no consistent relationship between school resources and school achievement,” maintains Eric Hanushek, the Hoover Institution scholar who testified in the Lobato vs. State of Colorado case. (Incidentally, the Lobato plaintiffs who sought to vastly increase public education spending lost their case before the Colorado Supreme Court in May, the same month the Colorado legislature agreed to put Amendment 66 on the ballot.)
Colorado Commits to Kids’ website states that “students who complete preschool and full-day kindergarten are more likely to graduate from high school and be prepared to enter college or the workforce.” It would be nice if that were true, and perhaps even worth increased public funding as the proposed amendment would do. Unfortunately, research shows that academic gains made in preschool and full-day kindergarten fade out over time. Rand Corporation researchers found that while “there are initial benefits for students and the mothers of students that attend full-day kindergarten … these differences largely evaporate by third grade. Contrary to claims by some advocates, attending full-day kindergarten is found to have no additional benefit for students in families with income below the poverty threshold.”
Similarly, the vast majority of research into the efficacy of preschool shows that it has no long-term impact. Colorado Commits to Kids is promising taxpayers and parents something that it cannot deliver.
There are other problems with the amendment. Ben DeGrow of the Independence Institute points out that the amendment would redistribute wealth among school districts. Normally, when voters are asked to support their community schools by approving a tax increase, the money actually goes to the community’s schools. Through redistribution, Amendment 66 turns this principle on its head.
In 2010, the Littleton Public School District made a strong case for its needs and funding priorities, and vowed the extra money would be spent locally. It was a wise investment. With its dubious claims and unfair spending formula, the same cannot be said for Amendment 66.
Krista Kafer is director of Colorado’s Future Project and co-host of “Backbone Radio,” airing Sundays from 5 to 8 p.m. on 710 KNUS. This op-ed originally appeared in the Denver Post.