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Teachers Line Streets of Longmont in Support of School Funding Amendment

October 6, 2018

Columbine Elementary third-grade teacher Jennifer Giles waves to cars Friday during a rally in support of Amendment 73 at the intersection of South Hover Street and Ken Pratt Boulevard. The rally in Longmont was one of several held across the state in support of the measure that would increase school funding if passed.

The cold and rain couldn’t deter a group of a dozen teachers from joining in a statewide rally to support Amendment 73 on Friday. The continuous honks of passing cars, however, were just enough to keep them smiling through it all.

If approved by 55 percent of voters on Nov. 6, Amendment 73 would raise the state individual income tax rate for those making more than $150,000, and increase the state corporate income tax rate from 4.63 to 6 percent, providing an additional $1.6 billion a year for Colorado’s 181 school districts.

With that money per-pupil funding would increase from $6,769 to $7,300, funding for special education programs would increase by $120 million, gifted and talented programs would receive an additional $22.5 million, English language proficiency funding would increase $41.6 million a year and preschool programming would increase by $131 million.

The remaining $738.6 million would be allocated at the discretion of the state Legislature.

Many of the amendment’s supporters say the additional money is needed to increase teacher salaries, of which Colorado has the fifth lowest in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education, resulting in a 19 percent turnover rate, 3 percent higher the national average.

“St. Vrain (Valley School District) isn’t in a horrible situation, but there are so many other school districts around the state that are,” said Michelle Bulley, a teachers’ association rep for Altona Middle School . “I’m here for them. We all need to stick together.”

Along with the rally in Longmont, similar showings were organized in 24 other districts on Friday, including nearly 1,000 supporters who lined Colfax Avenue in Denver.

“We just want what we need to do our jobs,” said Nikki Miller a fourth-grade teacher at Columbine Elementary school. “It’s unbelievable how much money we spend out of pocket for supplies. It’s probably around $2,000. Oh shoot, maybe I shouldn’t have said that, my husband’s going to kill me.”

Those who oppose Amendment 73 have taken a stance that the increase in taxes will not guarantee better academic achievement and it could negatively affect the state’s economy, further deteriorating the state’s budget crisis.

Rather than increasing taxes, opponents say education reform could increase funding without putting the economy at risk, noting that education funding increased by $425.6 million this year.

“Amendment 73′s massive tax hike is not the best way to improve teacher pay or put more money into classrooms,” Michael Fields, the executive director of Colorado Rising Action and a former elementary and middle school teacher, wrote in an op-ed published in August in the Daily Camera. “Colorado spends more on administrative costs than the national average — and only 53 percent of total expenditures go to ‘instruction.’ It’s time to think beyond blanket tax increases.”

Steve Villareal, the president of the St. Vrain Valley Education Association, countered that argument by pointing to the fact that tax increases would only affect corporations that have more cash on hand than ever before, or those making more than $150,000. Furthermore, he noted that finding more money in the budget for education, without raising taxes, is highly unlikely considering Gov. John Hickenlooper recently estimated a $700 million deficit this year.

“This is absolutely the way to do it,” Villareal said. “We need this to get our education system back on track after the Great Recession. We can do great things if Amendment 73 passes and take our education system to the next level.”

John Spina: 303-473-1389, jspina@times-call.com or twitter.com/jsspina24

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