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Differing sides weigh in on Amendment 66 in Colorado Springs debate

October 11, 2013 Updated: October 11, 2013 at 10:18 pm
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Amendment 66, a ballot initiative that would increase taxes to raise almost $1 billion for education, will benefit every school district in Colorado, said state Sen. Michael Johnston.

But Steve Durham, a lobbyist and former state legislator, believes Amendment 66 will not make a big difference in classroom achievement..

As the Nov. 5 election approaches, the debate over Amendment 66 is heating up.

Johnston and Durham squared off Friday during the annual conference for Action 22, a regional organization that represents southern Colorado. Another discussion is scheduled for Oct. 18 at the El Pomar Foundation's Penrose House, with Johnston and State Treasurer Walker Stapleton on the panel.

Johnston said the amendment will have widespread positive impact on Colorado's school grades K through 12.

"There's not a single district in the state that will not benefit," said Johnston, a Democrat from the Denver area.

Capital construction will receive significant investment, he said. Canceled school programs, such as gym, art and music, will be brought back, and schools that are behind technologically will be brought up to date. Districts will be able to attract top talent in the ranks of teachers and principals. and everything will all be done transparently, Johnston said.

"You will know exactly where the money goes and what return you got for your dollars," he said.

In all, the tax would amount to about $133 a year per taxpayer, or about $10 a month, he said. Even with the tax hike, Colorado's combined state and local tax burden would be lower than neighboring states and economic competitors, he said.

"Big change, small price is what we like to say about it," Johnston said.

Durham called the amendment a billion dollar tax increase that will not have a billion-dollar impact on the state's education system.

"The question you really have to take a hard look at is, will this make that significant a difference in outcomes? Is there a measurable result at the end of this in which you say: 'Gee, we didn't change the outcome much; do we get to stop paying the extra billion dollars a year?' I think the answer to that is, by and large, no."

He pointed out that a federal study found there is no significant relationship between the amount of money spent per pupil and educational outcomes.

Colorado, Durham said, spends about $10,000 a year per pupil now, "which is right about in the middle" - 26 among hte states. In comparison, North Dakota and South Dakota respectively are ranked 40 and 41 in spending per pupil in the United States, yet rank 12 and 14 in reading proficiency and 7 and 9 in math. Colorado is ranked 8 in math.

"If there is a need, if we are somehow demonstrably underfunding our education effort, it's certainly not in per-pupil spending," Durham said.

THE NEXT DISCUSSION

A discussion on Amendment 66 will take place at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at the El Pomar Foundation Penrose House, 1661 Mesa Ave, Pavilion. To attend, RSVP at www.elpomar.org/forumevent or call Matt Weigel at 577-7034. KOAA is soliciting questions for the panelists; to submit a question, go to www.koaa.com/pages/amendment-66-debate.

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