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Real school reform vs. taxpayer con job

Next week voters across Colorado will be asked to approve Amendment 66, a nearly $1 billion tax increase supposedly designed to fund smaller classrooms and better education outcomes for all kids. What’s happening in Colorado is also seen in many states and communities every year.

Surprise! It’s a typical bait-and-switch. It’s the same old pitch from the K-12 education establishment: Give us more money and we will do a better job.

In truth, more tax money reserved specifically and exclusively for public education will not only NOT improve school performance, but pouring more money into a failed system only serves to delay true education reform, not advance it.

The teachers union and their allies are spending over $10 million to promote a Yes vote on the tax increase, and much of that money is coming from out of state. The legislation that put the proposal on the ballot was passed last spring by the Democrat-controlled state legislature without a single Republican vote. So much for “bipartisan reform”!

Not only does the ballot measure raise taxes on individual incomes by $950 million, it replaces Colorado’s flat tax rate of 4.62 percent with a two-tier system with a top rate of 5.9 percent. That’s a 27 percent increase in income taxes for any individual earning over $75,000 – which includes approximately 80 percent of the state’s top job creators – small businesses.

But that’s only the beginning of the economic mischief. The history of multi-tier tax rates is uniformly a history of tax rate creep. Once the flat rate is abandoned, politicians will find it easier to increase tax rates on the state’s top earners.

Because Amendment 66 is a constitutional amendment, not statutory, it circumvents the state constitution’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights requirement that tax increases must be approved by a vote of the people. If Amendment 66 passes, the legislature henceforth will be able to change the two tax rates without approval of the voters.

So, the tax increase is both a bait-and-switch for citizens wanting better schools and a clever way of undermining the state’s low-tax business climate – all in the name of providing a brighter future for our children and grandchildren. You see, it’s “for the kids.”

A barrage of television advertisements have promised smaller classes, added music and arts classes, and more gym and team sports – “for only $133” more in taxes. The problem is that there is nothing in the language of the proposal that guarantees any of that will happen in the taxpayer’s own school district or local school building. The additional money will go to school districts to spend however they choose, and nothing in the proposal prohibits some of that new money going to bail out the under-funded teachers’ retirement plans. In fact, many people suspect that is the primary goal and motivation for the whole thing.

In reality, the tax proposal adds $950 million to the state’s public school budget without tying new money to improved school performance or improved student achievement scores. It is all based on the fairy tale that more money always beings better results.

The promoters of this bureaucratic fairy tale ignore one inconvenient fact: Total K-12 per-pupil spending in the United States has more than doubled in real, inflation-adjusted dollars since 1970 without any measurable improvement in student performance on standardized tests – no improvements in mathematics, not in English, not in any subject.

Two years ago, Colorado did pass a genuine bipartisan reform in teacher compensation, which ties salary increases and bonuses to performance evaluations, not to tenure. You will not be surprised to learn that reform was opposed by the state’s teachers union, and they are still fighting its implementation. That was true reform—and it was not conditioned on more spending.

Why do many of the best teachers leave the public school system to teach in private schools – for lower salaries? Isn’t it because they are free to innovate, motivate and teach their subjects free from government bureaucracy and mind-numbing political correctness that dominates public education? And when parents choose to move their kids to charter schools, is it because the charter schools spend more money per classroom? No, because they don’t.

Someday, maybe even the business community will figure out that more money is not the answer to poor school performance. Maybe they will someday discover that it’s competition that improved any product, not taxpayer subsidized mediocrity.

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