2021 Election, Education, Featured, Sherrie Peif, TABOR, Taxes

New taxes on marijuana would fund parent-driven after school education programs

DENVER — A ballot measure that would help parents fund after-school tutoring programs was filed Feb. 19 with the Colorado Legislative Council on behalf of a bipartisan group of officials.

The Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program would give parents access to an education savings account that they could use to purchase supplemental education services, materials, or special needs therapies with any provider, public, private, or religious.

The program would be funded by a new 5 percent tax on retail marijuana sales, beginning Jan. 1, 2022. Initial distribution of grant money would begin in 2022, with full roll out in 2023.

According to the document on the Legislative Council’s website, the program will “provide consistent and reliable access to learning opportunities for all of Colorado’s children and youth outside of their regular school schedules.”

The program would help parents pay for such things as tutoring and supplemental academic instruction in core subject areas such as reading, math, science, and writing. It would also target special needs children; access to mental, physical and emotional health counseling; English language learners; access to learning materials; and programs no longer offered in schools such as music, dance, arts, and career and technical education training.

“For a generation, Colorado has struggled to close the education gap between the rich and poor, said Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, “between those attending high performing schools and those not, between those who have access to tutors, technology and other out-of-school tools and those for whom even a little help with homework feels like a world away.”

This fund would do just that, especially after a year where so many have lost so much, said Luke Ragland, President of Ready Colorado, a Denver-based organization whose mission is to support more parent choice in education and one of the groups supporting the measure.

“Parents need to recover, and children need to recover from a year of lost learning,” Ragland said.

The measure is in a very early stage and much could change before the final language is approved, Ragland said. But he believes something needs to be done to help students falling behind.

Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, agreed.

“Many of the top-performing students in the top-performing high schools that will attend top colleges and universities have benefited from a tutor in math or science, specialized preparation for the ACT and SAT, or a writing coach,” Gardner said. “We want this same advantage for every single student in Colorado. This ballot measure would provide it.”

Families will have complete control over choosing programs and activities they believe are a best fit for their children.

In addition to the marijuana tax increase, a portion of the revenue collected through existing severance taxes will be diverted to the new program.

Under the organizational plan, the new program would not be an agency of state government or guided or directed by any agency of state government. It would have its own board of directors and administer the program independently.

Low-income families — which the measure defines in three categories — would have priority, and it would be the first education choice program of its type in the country. Priority would be granted in order of households that are at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, then families between 100-200 percent of the federal poverty level and then finally those families over 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

“In determining the method of distribution, the authority shall prioritize low-income families with children or youth who could not otherwise afford learning opportunities,” the ballot measure reads. “… the authority may place an additional priority on those eligible children who are not proficient at grade level in reading, math, or other core academic areas, or who have special educational, physical, or emotional needs or disabilities.”

Pushback may come, however, from groups who fight to protect the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) as the measure specifies the revenue collected to fund the program would be exempt from spending, revenue or appropriations limits under TABOR.

“This is just the initial language,” Ragland said. “There are still many title board meetings to come. It will be interesting to see the broad coalition of bi-partisan support this generates.”

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