Teachers’ unions, both national and local, are flooding the TV airwaves and spending piles of union bucks – five million so far– to convince Colorado parents to pass a nearly one billion dollar tax increase “for the children.” The irony is that most of the ad money they’re spending is taxpayer money – we pay our teachers’ salaries, and they pay union dues that buy TV and radio ads to convince us to give them more money.
And they know that every time they flail us with that good old “it’s for the kids” guilt trip it’s nearly impossible to resist without being branded heartless monsters. But are we heartless monsters or are we just smart parents who want real reform instead of gold-plated band aids?
Because the brutal truth is that absolutely nothing in this hefty tax increase guarantees the money will be devoted to improving our kids’ education. There is not one word in this ballot issue that promises more gym classes, more music classes, more teacher aids, or anything else the pro-66 ads claim. There’s no guarantee that math or reading or science proficiency will improve, that graduation rates will rise, nothing that addresses academic excellence – in short – that our kids’ education will get better. Actually, many scholarly studies have shown that changes like school discipline, a rigorous curriculum, and parental involvement affect kids’ academic success more than school spending.
What a shocker. So here, for your pre-Halloween terror fix, are the top three reasons that you’re not a heartless monster who hates kids when you vote against this massive tax increase.
- The Money Helps Some Kids but Not Others
Most new tax money will fund more preschool and full day kindergarten for youngsters, plus additional money for English second language (ESL) learners and “at-risk” students.
The measure also funds Senate Bill 213 which sets aside over seven million dollars for principal and teacher “professional development,” for instance “team-building exercises” for teachers like rope climbing, obstacle courses, and tug of war. And spending that 7 million certainly will involve funding more teacher training days, when our kids get to stay home and watch TV instead of getting educated.
But won’t money stay in your local schools to fund academic excellence? Not so much. The amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Millie Hamner, told the House Education Committee last April that the share of dollars under principal control will be only “three to four percent of district funds.” But even those scanty funds will not be equally allocated among all school districts; more money will go to districts with more students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
This means that, for example, for every new tax dollar under this amendment that Boulder County citizens pay, their schools only get 59 cents to spend. For every new tax dollar paid by Jefferson County residents, their schools get 56 cents. And for every new dollar Douglas County residents are taxed, their kids’ schools receive only 50 cents. Of the 64 counties in Colorado, these three –Boulder, Jefferson, Douglas — will pay nearly 33 percent of the new taxes but receive just 18 percent of the new funds back. Denver citizens, however, will get nearly 100% back of every dollar they pay in new taxes. (This research is from Ben DeGrow, Senior Education Policy Analyst at the Independence Institute, used the new formula in the amendment plus county taxpayer info from the Colorado Dept. of Revenue to arrive at these figures.)
Something else to think about: this amendment does nothing to limit hiring more administrators, and Colorado schools are already top-heavy with officialdom. According to the Colorado Department of Education, from 2000-1 to 2012-13 the number of administrators rose 51 percent, yet in the same timeframe the student population only increased 19 percent and the number of teachers, just 16.5 percent. This trend has continued for decades. The Friedman Center for Educational Choice Study showed that from 1992 to 2009, administrators increased 83 percent while the number of students only increased by 38 percent. Without this explosion in the public school bureaucracy the study says teachers could be earning $10,000 more per year. Today the fat-paycheck bureaucrats continue to keep teachers’ salaries down.
- Big Price Tag, Little Change
This amendment will wallop a family’s budget big-time, raising Coloradans’ income tax anywhere from 8 to 27 percent, depending on earnings. According to the Census American Community Survey, the median Colorado family income was $69,110 in 2011 (latest figure available). So this new tax will cost this median Colorado family over $255 per year (for a total tax bill of $3,455.50), not the $133 that the slick pro-tax ads cite. This is real money to families already struggling while Colorado’s economy attempts to recover.
Importantly, this amendment also permanently changes Colorado’s income tax structure from a flat tax of 4.63 percent to a redistribution-of-wealth scheme, a graduated tax ranging from 5 percent for the first $75,000 of income to 5.9 percent for every dollar above $75,000. The new tax will handicap our state’s economic recovery because businesses will have less money to hire, which is why 96 percent of the members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses voted against supporting the tax.
This is how it looks in real dollars for taxpayers, and for the 92 percent of Colorado businesses whose owners file as individuals.
- This Tax is Forever and Will Go Up Every Year
Enshrining this nearly one billion dollar tax as an amendment to the Colorado Constitution assures it will ratchet our income tax upward, in perpetuity. The measure robs taxpayers of our right to vote on future increases of this tax with a built-in provision that exempts it from TABOR, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. At the same time it allows the legislature to increase the tax on our incomes by the rate of inflation every year. So we can expect our taxes to rise every single year from now on – without our approval. Maybe our taxes will go up 2 or 3 percent with inflation, or maybe 7 or 10 percent; there’s no way to know. Plus it forever locks in school spending at 43 percent of the state’s budget, handcuffing the legislature’s ability to spend on fire or flood or highways. How scary is that?
Joy Overbeck is a Colorado journalist and author who’s written for The Washington Times, The Daily Caller, American Thinker, My Colorado View, Breakpoint, and elsewhere. Her column originally appeared here.