Proposed education funding measure falls short of November ballot

From the Vail Daily

Initiative 63 fails to collect required signatures in time

Petitioners and volunteers across the state — including members of the local Education Foundation of Eagle County — were working to get an education funding measure on the November ballot, but that effort fell short of the required 125,000 signatures necessary for it to reach voters in November.  

In a prepared statement issued Monday, Lisa Weil, the executive director of Great Education Colorado, the organization that introduced the measure, wrote: “It is with profound disappointment that we announce that we will not be submitting signatures for Initiative 63 to the Secretary of State today,”

Weil went on to add: “We are heartbroken that voters will not have the opportunity to make this historic investment in our teachers, student support professionals and students, despite their overwhelming support for Initiative 63 as demonstrated in polls and by the public enthusiasm every volunteer experienced when gathering signatures.”

Initiative 63 was proposed as a way to channel an additional nearly $900 million, without raising taxes, to K-12 schools in Colorado.

The measure proposed diverting an additional one-third of 1% of taxable income that is already collected to the State Education Fund and removing it from the TABOR surplus calculation. In doing so, around about $896 million would be diverted, meaning that $1 billion in TABOR surplus would still be rebated, according to Great Education Colorado.

Earlier this year, local advocates — including Eagle County Schools Superintendent Philip Qualman and Education Foundation of Eagle County President Wendy Rimel — dubbed this measure a good first step in addressing K-12 funding in Colorado. The hope was that it would help close the gap between Colorado and other states on per-pupil funding as well as help with the recruitment of educators to the local school district.

Overall, Rimel and the Education Foundation of Eagle County saw broad community support for the initiative.

“It is the easiest signature I have ever gotten. Eagle County and Colorado residents who signed our petitions want to give their TABOR surplus checks they are receiving to teachers, and we were only asking for 1/3rd of 1% of those refund checks. Our community wants to say yes to improve teacher pay here and in Colorado,” Rimel said. “We felt the passion in every corner of the state. Colorado’s economy is booming, everyone we talked with agreed the surplus should go to the education fund and teachers.”

However, education initiatives have had a challenged history in Colorado — both in getting on the ballot and getting passed — and this was no different.

“What was hard was raising money to pay for paid signature gathers. If you look at every initiative that was filed with the state, each of those initiatives had a well-funded and expensive signature-gathering campaign,” Rimel said.

125,000 valid signatures without paid signature collectors is an incredibly difficult goal, it doesn’t happen in our state. Even volunteer signatures cost money to organize and gather. ”While the Education Foundation of Eagle County had a goal of 10,000 signatures, the organization was able to gather around 1,000. In her prepared statement, Weil wrote that even though Initiative 63 had “broad grassroots support,” it wasn’t enough.“Unfortunately for all Coloradans and especially for our public school students and teachers, deep pockets appear to be a prerequisite for ballot access,” she wrote.The fight for more funding for education is far from over, however, Rimel said. The local organization will continue to work with Great Education Colorado on other education funding proposals and measures.“Just because we didn’t get on the ballot, the legislature could refer measure. We will be asking our legislature to support this very popular measure,” she said.

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