A ballot initiative backed by Great Schools, Thriving Communities could be the first constitutional amendment to go before voters in a post-"Raise the Bar" political environment in Colorado, and it could also be the first ballot petition eligible for the 2018 election cycle when it's turned in today, July 11.
Initiative 93 would raise the state income tax for purposes of implementing full-day kindergarten and increasing public school funding. More than 100,000 voters signed petitions in support of the ballot initiative; those signatures will be submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State's Office for verification today. If at least 98,462 signatures pass the audit process, Initiative 93 will be placed on the November ballot.
"Because of the dedicated work of all partners and supporters, the campaign is confident it will meet the Wednesday deadline to deliver well over 100,000 signatures representing all parts of Colorado to the Secretary of State’s office," the Great Schools, Thriving Communities campaign says in a statement.
Since Initiative 93 is a proposed constitutional amendment, petitioners had to gather signatures from at least 2 percent of voters in all 35 Colorado Senate districts. The extra hurdle to amending the state constitution was instituted after voters approved the Raise the Bar amendment in 2016, which made it that much harder to change the document. Politicos are still watching to see whether the new barrier will hold up in court after it was struck down by a lower court but upheld by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in April.
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The measure isn't a blanket state income tax increase; only the top 8 percent of earners will pay more to the state treasury. Everyone making under $150,000 will be exempt. Some domestic and foreign corporations in Colorado will see a 1.37 percentage point increase on their income tax as well.
All of that extra money is estimated to bring in $1.6 billion for public schools at a time when teachers across Colorado, and the country, have marched on their state capitols to demand more funding for education. This year, school districts received a paltry $100 million in additional funding even though the state has cut education funding by $6.67 billion since 2009, according to the Colorado Department of Education. Last year alone, the state cut $828 million for public schools in what's known as the budget stabilization, or BS, factor.
Westword broke down the complicated education funding system in a story on School District 27J in Commerce City, the first urban district in the state to transition to a four-day school week. Teacher salaries have been cripplingly low at a time when Colorado has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Starting pay for first-year teachers with a bachelor's degree — and, likely, student loan debt — in the Denver area alone is as low as $33,686. In addition, school districts have struggled to keep textbooks updated, and teachers have been known to crowdsource funding for classroom supplies.
Great Schools, Thriving Communities will throw a party with food and entertainment at noon today to celebrate the milestone of turning in the signatures, according to a campaign statement. It will take a few weeks for the state audit to be completed.