A Tale of Two Surveys: Dougco Embraces Reform, Colo. Reluctant on New K-12 Taxes

A great classic novel my big friends tell me I need to read someday starts with a famous line. I’m talking about Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.

I’m told Dickens was contrasting conditions in the major cities London and Paris during the tumultuous French Revolution more than 200 years ago. On a more modest scale, one could do a lot to distinguish Colorado’s two biggest education stories this year based on a pair of new public opinion surveys. Read on to find the information and draw your own conclusions.

First, my Independence Institute friends yesterday released results of their education reform survey to see where Douglas County residents stand regarding a whole host of bold and innovative policy changes, covering several key themes from parental choice to educator compensation and union relations. (Go here to listen to an iVoices podcast conversation between Amy Oliver Cooke and Ben DeGrow.)

The numbers speak for themselves, painting a picture of majority support across the board. The Choice Scholarship Program earns 56 percent favorability, which is outshone by community support for Pay for Performance (68%), ending the union contract (64%), and market pay (58%). Nearly 6 in 10 respondents said the whole package of reforms was good for Dougco.

(While we’re on the subject, this new presentation of positive Dougco results makes me smile, including seeing a familiar face on pages 6 and 8.)

Then you have the other side of the English Channel, as it were, where results are not so inspiring. Regarding a pending tax hike proposal to fund a weak-reform Senate Bill 213 (which interestingly, the Douglas County school board last night voted to oppose for resounding reasons), the Denver Post‘s Kevin Simpson reported Sunday on the results of a statewide poll.

In general terms, the idea of a “tax increase to fund education” narrowly won. But getting down to specifics of some of the likely proposals revealed a bleaker portrait:

When asked whether they’d support a “billion dollar” tax increase to fund education, 24 percent supported the idea and 58 percent were opposed….

Asked whether they would support an increase of Colorado’s flat tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5.35 percent, 36 percent favored the idea and 55 percent opposed. Polled on a graduated income tax based on whether people earned more or less than $75,000, subjects responded with similar numbers.

I’m not saying that supporters of the tax increase face “the season of Darkness” or “the winter of despair” (though many Colorado taxpayers may be ready for their own to end today along with the grueling and painful legislative session). With 20 or more different versions of a tax increase initiative in front of them, however, the challenge of convincing the state’s voters to reach deep in their pockets remains real.

Interestingly, both polls were conducted by the same firm: Magellan Strategies.

One final caveat: While these surveys provide a snapshot of the “best of times” and “worst of times” for different education policy approaches in Colorado, nothing ever should be taken for granted when it comes to public opinion. It could change in the weeks and months ahead. But it certainly is encouraging to see support headed in the right direction for now.