Jeffco Voters Need Clearer Information to Decide Funding Proposals

Colorado’s largest school district is one of many asking voters this year for more operating tax revenue and for bond debt to fund school construction. An article in Sunday’s Denver Post quoted one of my Education Policy Center friends with concerns about Jefferson County’s proposals (designated 3A and 3B):

“They are asking taxpayers to build in a district with declining enrollment,” said Ben DeGrow, a policy analyst at the conservative Independence Institute think tank.

Referendum C, a five-year timeout from TABOR revenue restrictions passed in 2005, and a 2007 law that allowed local property taxes to grow should be providing “a lot more revenue” for Jefferson County and other school districts, DeGrow said. Referendum C provided more than $300 million to K-12 education in 2006-07.

No one doubts that Jeffco and other school districts need a certain amount of money to provide educational services. So it’s not a simple matter of voting Yes “for the kids” (like me) and voting No “against the kids.” If funding were attached directly to the student, and the parents could decide where to send their children, there would be a stronger case for that simplified line of thinking.

However, that’s not how the system currently works. Tax and bond money that would be raised through these proposals runs through the central administration of Jeffco Public Schools. What if the district had to post its checkbook and credit card transactions online so voters could judge whether the tax funds they already provide are being used appropriately and effectively?

It’s called transparency, and there’s momentum in Colorado toward making it the policy of government. Voters need more information before they can be confident in supporting 3A and 3B.