Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Education overhaul in Colorado

On Tuesday, Colorado will try to address those problems with one of the most ambitious and sweeping education overhauls in the country, asking voters to approve a $1 billion tax increase in exchange for more school funding and an educator's wish-list of measures.

The effort has touched off a fevered debate in a state that two decades ago passed one of the nation's strictest limits on taxes and spending. It is emerging as the latest test of whether Democrats can persuade voters to embrace higher taxes by tying them to school funding.

Outside money is pouring into the state. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to support gun control here, has given $1 million to the school campaign, as have Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation is one of the largest philanthropic organizations involved in public education. Teachers' unions have contributed at least $4 million, and other pro-labor groups have given thousands.

…Supporters say the measure would provide enough money to revolutionize education for a generation. Opponents, which include anti-tax groups and Republican politicians, say it would raise taxes on struggling families and businesses with no guarantee of a better education.

"It's a very hard sell," conceded Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat and the measure's highest-profile advocate.

In 2010, Colorado spent about $9,306 per student, among the bottom 10 states in the country, according to data compiled by Education Week. Over all, the publication ranked the state's education system slightly behind the national average.

Amendment 66 would make full-day kindergarten standard across the state. It would set aside more money for students who do not speak English, have learning disabilities or come from poor families. It would send more money toward charter schools, as well as districts in poorer areas that cannot easily raise property taxes to buy computers or raise teacher salaries. The measure would also let people go online to track how schools spend every dollar.

"Total transparency, school by school," Mr. Hickenlooper said. "No state's ever done that."

The prospect of more money for all has united two usually warring factions, teachers' unions and the charter school movement.

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