Amendment 66 Hurts Colorado Economy, But "Where's the Beef?" on Reform

Following the Independence Institute’s own analysis of the economic harms the Amendment 66 billion-dollar tax hike would inflict, the Common Sense Policy Roundtable has released a long-term forecast that shows “without substantial improvement in student performance, Amendment 66 is drag on the Colorado economy.”

The second in the pair of studies sought to estimate how much better student performance would have to be in order to make the tax increase proposal a neutral proposition. University of Colorado business school researcher Brian Lewandowski framed the question to the Denver Post in somewhat dramatic terms:

“Even when you’re the best in the nation, graduation rate alone doesn’t get to break even,” he said. “We need a lot of improvement in educational performance for it to have profound positive impact on Colorado’s economy. But it’s not unachievable.”

So what does Senate Bill 213 — the new school finance measure that goes into effect if 66 passes — offer in the way of brighter academic prospects? Well, we already know the very weak connection between increased K-12 spending and better results for students. It’s not pretty.

But Amendment 66 backers say they’re offering a “grand bargain” of bold reforms tied to the extra 8 to 27 percent in state income taxes families and small businesses would have to pay. More than slightly prone to hyperbole, Governor Hickenlooper calls it “the single most important education reform initiative in the history of the United States.”

Except a look under the hood tells a different tale. Start with the fact “the measure allocates no dollars to reward success.” None! Amendment 66 is an overpriced proposition with so little real reform that some are asking:

“No, no,” the pro-66 campaign objects. “The billion (or more) dollars are to fund the reform bills we passed before.” You mean that reform the Colorado Education Association wants to undo with a lawsuit, but got an exemption to wait until after the tax election they’ve bankrolled to the tune of $1.3 million?

Yesterday the State Board of Education adopted a unanimous resolution to support and protect Senate Bill 191’s provision that principals don’t have to accept ineffective teachers into their buildings. So would union leaders disown the lawsuit idea? Hardly:

CEA spokesman Mike Wetzel, responding to the board’s resolution, said, “No, we will not commit to not suing, but we are willing to engage in further conversations to resolve our disagreements with [Denver Public Schools]. We are legally prohibited from filing a lawsuit during the time extension in the tolling agreement.”[emphasis added]

So let me sum it all up. Another study confirms the economic damage that a billion-dollar tax hike would cause — unless it drastically improves student achievement. But much of what’s left over after the “Where’s the Beef?” reform in SB 213 is threatened to be sued and undone by the union officials who are backing the whole campaign.

I hope the big people in Colorado are smart enough to know what to do.