A ballot measure in the upcoming election could increase school funding per student in order to make teacher wages competitive, hire mental health professionals, and maintain aging facilities. Colorado Springs public schools lack sufficient funding due to taxation restrictions from the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. “The schools in the city are falling apart,” Colorado College Democrats (CC Dems) co-chair and Statewide Outreach Coordinator Kadin Mangalik said. “Many are not ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] certified. There are heating issues. Most schools lack counselors or nurses, and the teachers are understaffed.”
Colorado Springs School District (District 11) spends $9,721 per student with approximately 26,000 students enrolled in the district. Some districts like Kit Carson School District (District 1), spend $25,000 to $29,000 per student, whereas districts directly east of Colorado Springs like the Ellicot, Peyton, and Falcon School Districts average around $7,000 per student. In the United States, the average spending per student is $11,841. With the Colorado average at $9,120 per student, the state lies well below the national average.
This spending has tangible effects. Nationally, Colorado currently ranks 50th in teacher wage competitiveness and 42nd in per-pupil spending adjusted for regional cost differences. Restricted funding stems from the libertarian Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) constitutional amendments from the 1990s that requires all tax increases to be put to a majority vote. TABOR limits taxation, adjusted for inflation and population change, preventing the state from annual growth. “As a state we have a tiny government and every year it gets smaller and smaller relative to the economy because due to the way it indexes its limits, the government cannot pay for all of its services” Mangalik said. Ballot measures are important to make up for that discrepancy A mill levy is an extension of TABOR that would increase property taxes to provide necessary government functions. “Most counties in the state pass them regularly to allow their basic services to function effectively” Mangalik said. The mill levy override on the ballot proposes a property tax increase that would fall between $5 and $14 per household per month based on property value.
Restricted spending affects all facets of Colorado government. “It is hard for Colorado state government to grow and to keep up with our growing population and forces like inflation” CC Dems co-chair Steven Ortega ’18 said. “During the recession Colorado could not raise enough revenue to provide government services. As a state they have a balanced budget amendment so cannot take on any debt. Because of that Colorado’s budgetary priorities have shrunk.” These consequences of TABOR have proximity and immediacy. “By 2020 it is projected that the state will only have enough money for its K-12 education system, its prison system, and Medicaid/ Medicare payments” Ortega continued. “That has resulted in a state that is one of the best economies in the country in terms of unemployment having some of the worst public services in the country.”
Ortega shared his experience growing up in the District 11 public schools. “It has been really felt in D11 over my lifetime. When the recession hit in 2008 there were massive school closures and my elementary school closed. Several schools around where I went to middle school and high school closed and were subsumed by my school. Class sizes increased and we’ve never really repaired that. It’s like we are still stuck in a recession for our school district.” No mill levy nor bond (a similar property tax increase to allow the government to take on debt to fund services) has passed in Colorado Springs since 2000. “The fact that a mill levy or bond hasn’t been passed since 2000 is horrible” Mangalik said. “Every year schools have to cut back and seventeen years later a lot of damage has been done.”
Both the recession and lack of successful ballot measures for funding have left Colorado Springs students disadvantaged. “When you ask the question why there are so few students from Colorado Springs at Colorado College I think this is part of the answer” Ortega said. “The local students around Colorado College are simply underserved. I think that makes getting to an education like this that much more challenging for a lot of these students.” To increase voter turnout on and off campus, CC Dems is canvassing, offering voter registration, posting fliers about the election to raise awareness, and working with CCE to increase communication with the student body and Colorado Springs community. “Our theory is that if you can speak to the needs that these children actually have and you understand how these funding issues can affect real, tangible students, that’s the most effective voice for why this is important” said Ortega. “We have the power to make real, tangible change in local politics” said CC Dems co-chair Sophia Brown ’19. Mangalik agreed. “While in the national elections there are millions of votes, in these municipal elections the turn-outs are very low.” Mangalik sees voting as a way for CC students to engage and effect change. “As Colorado College students we are part of this community. When you’re here for four years to think about the city you are in and think about how you can make it better. This ballot initiative will very clearly make the city a better place.”
Brown encouraged students to participate. “Having CC students engage in this issue shows that we care enough to invest time in helping the Colorado Springs community. Students can register to vote online at govotecolorado.com, and will receive a ballot in the mail between October 24th and 30th. CC Dems will be collecting ballots in Worner student center. Everyone must either vote by mail or in person by November 7th.”
In addition to measure 3E, other ballot measures this November aim to improve the city and fill the gaps left by TABOR. Ballot measure 2A is designed to generate revenue for a storm water drainage system. Colorado Springs run-off presents an environmental and social justice issue because the garbage on our streets gets into the river and floats south to communities like Pueblo.