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Colorado students and schools are showing many signs of improvement and innovation. Test scores, graduation rates, and college enrollment are increasing(1), while achievement gaps, dropout rates, and college remediation rates are decreasing(2).

But this success is happening despite our current funding system, not because of it. Our school finance formulas were written 20 years ago, and no longer meet current funding needs. Colorado kids go to school in a system that is underfunded and outdated and where parents, teachers, and students see the effects every day.

The Commits to Kids Initiative’s goal is to raise additional revenues for our students to reduce class sizes, ensure all Colorado schools are well-funded and able to provide preschool and full-day kindergarten.

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The revenues raised by the Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative will change what we prioritize in our schools and how those decisions are made. Up to this point, we’ve disbursed funds at the district-level. But this new initiative will identify individual student needs, provide the funding for those needs, and ensure the resources reach those students in the classroom.

Currently, we don’t have the resources to track where and how education dollars are spent, making it hard to determine what works and what doesn’t. The Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative will create an easy-to-use website where parents and taxpayers can track spending, educators can see what kind of programs are most effective, and policymakers can redirect resources for ineffective programs. This will provide more individualized attention for students, give our educators the tools to be the best in the country, and prepare our students for college or the workforce.

The additional money is locked in a newly created fund – the School Educational Achievement Fund–which is constitutionally protected from any use other than for improvements in the classroom.(3) It is important to note that these funds will be tracked at a school level so every dollar spent will be transparent to voters.

No. Similar to the current State Education Fund, money raised by Colorado Commits to Kids is constitutionally and statutorily prohibited from ever being used directly to fund PERA.

Colorado students are succeeding despite our current funding system, not because of it. Student achievement has increased, but without the right funding support our schools won’t be able to sustain the success, and we run the risk of plateauing – or getting worse.

Education is a key force for Colorado’s economy; a well-educated population helps to fuel growth and recruit and retain business in the state. Colorado has cut over $1 B in education funding over the past several years.(4) Without support for the Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative, the important initiatives for school finance reform will not be funded.

Without a broad-based, statewide solution, Colorado school districts will need to increasingly raise local property taxes to fund schools, thereby placing a significantly greater burden on homeowners and businesses with higher property tax rates. If districts in the six metro counties increased property taxes to fill their budget holes, it could mean an additional $390 M in property taxes.(5)

Many districts can't raise needed money for schools even if voters supported an increase in property taxes. Rocky Ford, for example, could only raise about $30,000 if voters there passed an average-sized property tax increase. As such, we run the risk of having a patchwork education system comprised of "have" and "have-not" districts.

This initiative will not take funding away from other area of the state budget. It provides an additional $950 million to our students that is locked in the newly created State Education Achievement Fund and dedicates 43% of the state General Fund towards education. This allows education funding to grow as our state budget grows in prosperous times, but provides financial flexibility during recessionary periods.

The Commit to Kids Initiative has broad support from a bipartisan coalition of business, education, and civic leaders. It is the culmination of a two-year process that started with the School Finance Partnership, an effort led by 16 statewide organizations. Click here for a complete list of endorsements: http://coloradocommits.com/endorsements/

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The initiative is proposing a two-step tax structure that would increase the rates on taxable income under $75,000 from 4.63% to 5%. Individuals with taxable income above $75,000 per year would pay 5% on the first $75,000 and 5.9% on taxable income above that amount.

After considering multiple options, such as increased property, sales, severance, business and personal income taxes, the state individual income tax was selected as the best way to raise money more equitably and to protect our economy and competitiveness as a state. This decision was also informed by extensive research, input from voters and meetings with business and education stakeholders.

All school districts in Colorado will see an increase in their state funding above current levels. These additional revenues can be used to reduce class sizes, ensure all Colorado schools are well-funded and able to provide preschool and full-day kindergarten. There will be more support available to all students, including gifted and talented students, at-risk students, and English Language Learners.

The Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative will also provide the funding for improved professional development for teachers and principals while holding them accountable for student achievement. In addition, the Initiative will invest in our most talented educators, giving them the chance to share their best practices and help all teachers continue to improve their skills and abilities.

This will provide additional compensation for teachers who want to stay in the classroom while taking on additional responsibilities like mentoring other teachers, documenting and disseminating their best practices, and serving as peer evaluators.

This year, Senate Bill 13-213 was passed and signed by the Governor. This legislation updates the system for funding schools. The Commits to Kids initiative raises the money needed to implement this legislation and its accountability measures.

New system for funding our schools: At the heart of Senate Bill 213 is a new system for how Colorado will fund its schools. It will increase every district’s current funding, and level the playing field across the state to help schools serve their specific populations of students.

Updating how students are counted: Because every student matters every school day of the year, Senate Bill 213 changes the system the state currently uses to determine student enrollment, which impacts the per-pupil funding each district receives. Under current law, student enrollment is based on a single count day. Senate Bill 213 determines enrollment based on the average number of students enrolled throughout the school year. Funding that districts and charter schools receive is then based on this average amount.

Full day kindergarten for all and preschool for qualified students: Investing in kids in the early years is critical to getting them off to the right start for success in school. Senate Bill 213 funds full day kindergarten for anyone who wants it and preschool for those students who qualify. Kids who participate in high-quality kindergarten and preschool programs are less likely to need remediation services later on and more likely to graduate.(6)

Increased commitment to special needs students: Colorado has a commitment to educate all of our students, including the broad spectrum of students with special needs. However, for too long the state has been under funding these programs. Senate Bill 213 increases the amount of money the state reimburses school districts by $80 million providing valuable budgetary relief and assisting school districts in educating all of their students.

Supporting innovative programs that help students achieve more: In classrooms and schools across the state, teachers and principals are developing innovative approaches to engage students and improve achievement. Senate Bill 213 dedicates $100 million through grants to help teachers and principals try new programs, analyze their effectiveness, and expand those that are successful in improving student outcomes.

Continue support for Colorado’s charter schools: Colorado has a vibrant system of charter schools. Senate Bill 213 increases funding for charter schools, helping them to operate on equal footing with traditional schools.

Supporting effective school leaders and teachers: Quality teachers and effective school leaders are critical to helping students learn. Senate Bill 213 increases our state’s investment in supporting our educators. It provides $1 million for principal professional development and sets aside $6 million to fund additional opportunities for highly effective educators.

Implements a centralized transparency system: Colorado is on the front lines of creating a more transparent system P-12 funding system. School districts and charter schools are already required to make their finances available to the public.(7) Senate Bill 213 takes it one step further by requiring a centralized website where any member of the public can track how districts and schools are spending taxpayer dollars.

Create a cycle of continuous improvement and investment: Senate Bill 213 requires the state to publish research reports every four years that will be used to continually improve our system. The first will determine how much funding is needed for schools to meet all the requirements in our state’s education policies and laws. A second report will look at the return on investment for taxpayers by examining the relationship between education spending and student outcomes. Together, these reports will be powerful tools to ensure Colorado’s education system is effective, efficient and ensuring students continue to achieve.

After any ballot initiative is passed, the Colorado legislature is tasked with enacting the policies required by the initiative. It will be the same for the Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative. If a shortfall occurs, the legislature will determine how best to implement education policies with the available funds.

The Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative reaffirms the Amendment 23 goal of prioritizing our students and schools. It requires that - at a minimum - 43% of the state’s general fund be designated to Pre-K through12th grade education each year, in addition to the new revenue generated by this initiative. The Initiative modifies Amendment 23 to achieve greater stability and flexibility in the state budget.

The new revenue generated will be locked in the State Education Achievement Fund where it can only be spent “to benefit the education of participants in preschool programs and public school kindergarten through twelfth grade students by implementing education reforms and programmatic enhancements, enacted by the Colorado General Assembly.”

The State Education Fund is currently not sufficient to support the annual and on-going needs of our students. The higher-than-expected revenues are largely one-time in nature and are not guaranteed to be available in future years.(8)

Because of the higher-than-expected revenues, the State Legislature transferred additional money into the State Education Fund. The additional money constitutes a one-time boost, however, and cannot be relied upon in future years. (9) It is unlikely that these transfers will continue beyond the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Colorado requires on-going, sustainable funding to support our students via the reforms outlined in Senate Bill 213.

[1] Colorado Department of Education, “CSAP/TCAP – Data & Results,” http://www.cde.state.co.us/assessment/CoAssess-DataAndResults.asp; CDE, “Graduation Data for the Class of 2011-2012: Historical Overview,” http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdereval/gradcurrenthistory.htm; Colorado Department of Higher Education, “Fall Enrollments By Institution: Fall Terms 2009-2011,” http://highered.colorado.gov/Publications/Reports/Enrollment/FY2012/20092011_Enrollment_Summary_byInst.pdf.
[2] Colorado Department of Education, “CSAP/TCAP – Data & Results,” Ibid.; Colorado Department of Education, “Dropout Data for 2011-2012,” http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdereval/dropoutcurrenthistory.htm; Colorado Department of Higher Education, “2012 Legislative Report on Remedial Education,” pp. 20, http://highered.colorado.gov/Publications/Reports/Remedial/FY2012/2012_Remedial_relmay09.pdf.
[3] See “Initiative 22” and CRS 22-54.5-102, Ibid.
[4] Joint Budget Committee, FY 2013-14 Staff Budget Briefing, December 2012
[5] Colorado Department of Education, Mill Levies and Overrides tables, 2012-2013
[6] Colorado Children’s Campaign, “2011 Kids Count in Colorado!” www.coloradokids.org
[7] Colorado Revised Statutes, §Article 44 of title 22, part 3.
[8] Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting, “The Colorado Outlook
Economic and Fiscal Review” June 2013 and Colorado Legislative Council, “Economic and Revenue Forecast, June 2013″ June 20, 2013
[9] Transfer Of General Fund Surplus to State Ed Fund, HB12-1338, Sixty-eighth General Assembly (2012)