DENVER - Between now and Election Day, voters must answer billion dollar question. Are they willing to raise income taxes to generate nearly a billion dollars per year for schools? Supporters say it will lead to increased academic achievement. But, is that really true?
"Targeted investment in kids does matter and when we look nationally, we do see that," Tom Boasberg, Denver Public Schools Superintendent, said.
Nationally, the U.S. Census Bureau collected data on per pupil funding of every state in the country. Colorado ranked 40th in 2011 with a total of $10, 421 spent per pupil using federal, state, and local dollars. New York spend the most at $21,489 per pupil. The national average is $12,411 per pupil.
If you look at testing data from the National Center for Education Statistics, it generally shows that on the National Association of Educational Progress tests the states that spend the most are the same states that show the highest academic achievement.
"We invest in a focused way, we see higher student achievement," Boasberg said.
But, if you look closer at the numbers, Colorado is the only state that bucks the trend. Despite being ranked towards the bottom in per pupil funding, it is in the top 10 in all categories for 8th graders taking the NAEP tests.
"Well, I think that shows that money isn't necessarily connected to performance," Pamela Benigno, Director of the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, said.
Benigno and the Independence Institute are against the passage of Amendment 66. She says history shows improving schools is more closely related to a change in school culture.
"High expectations, highly educated teachers, a research -based curriculum, those are all important factors," Benigno said. "You could do those things with the same amount of money."
Boasberg agrees that some improvements can be made without extra costs, but he says it's not an either/or situation.
CALCULATE YOUR TAX INCREASE UNDER AMENDMENT 66
"That's a matter of leadership and of teamwork and that is extremely important and we have to invest in our kids," Boasberg said.
Under Amendment 66, he says the extra money will fund things like expanded preschool, support for classes involving students learning the English language. He says in Denver, targeted funds used for small-group literacy instruction and math tutors made a big difference at struggling schools.
"At the end of 6 months, they show dramatically greater progress than students that don't have that opportunity to have targeted literacy instruction," Boasberg said. "When we invest in full day kindergarten, when we invest in preschool, it makes a difference for kids who don't have that opportunity and that access."
Benigno says the question being asked under Amendment 66 is one that is not needed.
"We have many high-performing, public charter schools and they're actually educating some of the neediest children for less money," Benigno said.
If Amendment 66 is passed, it would change the current income tax rate of 4.63 percent to a two-tiered system. Any taxable income below $75,000 would be taxed at 5.00 percent. Any taxable income above that would be taxed at 5.9 percent.
For someone with a taxable income of $50,000 that would mean an increase of $185 per year or about 8 percent. For someone with a taxable income of $100,000 that would mean an increase of $595 per year or about 13 percent.
"Higher taxes are going to be harder on families, especially young families that are struggling," Benigno said.
The answer to the question, does more money mean an increase in academic achievement, Benigno says no.
"What we're seeing in successful schools in the state is that there's a culture of we are going to do well and we're going to work hard," Benigno said.
Boasberg says yes.
"So, I think this is the time for us to invest in a targeted, accountable way to help drive our kids forward," Boasberg said.
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