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'Voter Trust' Could Be Key To Education Funding Measure's Fate

DENVER (CBS4) - A measure to bring a lot more money to Colorado schools is on the ballot in the November election. The plan for higher taxation of corporations and wealthy Coloradans would be the third attempt in recent years to raise money for education.

education sign generic
(credit: CBS)

The upcoming vote on Initiative 73 comes in the wake of rallies last spring in which thousands of Colorado teachers descended on the state capitol.

"I think people really are hearing and seeing the reality of what the underfunding of our schools has done to the public education system in Colorado," said Amie Baca-Oehlert, the new president of the Colorado Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.

Baca-Oehlert says the rallies put teachers and teacher pay on Coloradans' radar.

"We have teachers working two to three, sometimes four jobs just to ensure that they can feed their own families. Many of our teachers their own children are on free and reduced lunch."

It was a catalyst for change, she says. She predicts 73 -- the ballot measure that calls for a $1.6 billion tax increase for schools -- will pass.

"More than half of the school districts in Colorado are on a four-day school week. Transportation has been cut in many districts, electives -- things like art, music and P.E," Baca-Oehlert said.

Previous school tax measures have failed, and recent analysis by Republican gubernatorial candidate state Treasurer Walker Stapleton doesn't help. It shows outsized increases in school pay for school administrators.

CBS4's Shaun Boyd interviews Walker Stapleton. (credit: CBS)

Stapleton's Democratic opponent Rep. Jared Polis says he wants strings attached to money the state gives schools.

Baca-Oehlert says districts have gotten the message and are doing something unprecedented this election.

"That's why I think you've seen more than 100 school districts pass local resolutions saying how they will spend the money. They want to get the voters' trust. They want to tell the voters 'We hear you and we are going to spend money in this way.'"

Critics of Initiative 73 say throwing money at education does not alone improve student achievement.

In addition to the statewide tax measure, many school districts also have mill levy increases on the ballot.

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