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Amendment 23 on School Funding

One proposed constitutional amendment that has received relatively sparse media attention but could have as much impact on the state budget as Doug Bruce's tax cutting Amendment 21 is Amendment 23 (school funding).

In the latest 9News/KOA NewsRadio/Denver Post poll, Amendment 23 held a 70 percent to 20 percent advantage.

The amendment guarantees a major funding increase for the state's public school systems for ten years. The public school budget would be increased at the rate of inflation plus 1 percent each year. Although the total budget impact is not clear do to the complicated formulas in the amendment, estimates indicate it will add upwards of $4.5 billion more to public school spending during the first 10 years (source: Denver Rocky Mountain News 9-24-00). K-12 public school funding is already the largest component of the state budget at approximately 40 percent, and on average consumes half of local property tax revenue.

Most people are not familiar with the details of the issue or the arguments for or against it. Amendment 23's popularity is a reflection of education being a top issue for Colorado voters. Having been told for years about the system's failures, the public is finally demanding change, and claims it is willing to put more money into schools.

The funding concept of Amendment 23 has existed among education establishment circles for several years, and has been proposed numerous times in Boulder by that city's educational activists without much success. Two factors got it moving this year. When teachers unions and public education groups were unable to defeat Governor Owen's school testing legislation, many shifted their activism to the guaranteed funding ballot initiative. They were helped by a wealthy Democratic dot.com entrepreneur who has invested several hundred thousand dollars into statewide Democratic politics in anticipation of his run for State Board of Education. Jared Polis provided the bulk of the funds (more than $100,000) to pay signature gathers to put the initiative on the ballot.

School Funding

  • Education is a major issue for voters.
  • Voters support more money and more accountability.
  • Amendment 23 is a constitutionally mandated budget increase.
  • Supporters claim it is necessary to make up for years of underfunding.
  • Teachers unions and the education establishment have money and a statewide grassroots network.
  • Opponents say it will lead to a fiscal train wreck with the money guaranteed even if there is no surplus tax revenue.
  • They also point out the amendment provides no accountability or rules for its use, and some higher education leaders and others say it will shift budget priorities to K-12 and away from other state needs.

Ciruli Associates, 2000

Twelve Ballot Issues

The school funding initiative is joined by 11 other issues on the statewide ballot. At the end of September, the 9News/KOA NewsRadio/Denver Post poll indicated 8 of the 12 initiatives were passing.

Ballot Issue Summary

. Support Oppose Don't
Gun checks 77% 19% 4%
School funds 70% 20% 10%
Math and science grants 68% 20% 12%
Medical marijuana 67% 28% 5%
Anti-growth 62% 25% 13%
Powerball 58% 31% 11%
Abortion information 56% 35% 9%
Tax cuts 53% 30% 17%
Ciruli Associates N500, September 2000

Public support in survey questions was largely a product of the civic-oriented and positive-sounding ballot titles that were read to survey participants. For example the school funding initiative reads,

Amendment 23 would increase state funding for kindergarten through 12th grade public schools by 1 percent plus the rate of inflation each year for the next 10 years.

Surveys conducted before people are informed about the issues provide first impressions and are subject to dramatic change when pro and con campaigns begin. When voters were asked in late September what they had heard about the ballot issues, only 12 percent said they had "a great deal of information." Forty-one percent said they had "very little information" or "almost no" information. With the exception of gun show background checks, most voters had only small amounts of information on initiatives.

Issues with the Most Information

. . .

Which of the ballot issues have you heard or seen the most information about?
Gun checks (A22) 49%
Growth (A24) 31%
Tax cuts (A21) 25%
Medical marijuana (A20) 22%
School funds (A23) 21%
Abortion information (A25) 17%
Powerball (RE) 12%
Math & science grants (RF) 7%
Other 1%
Don't know/NA 9%
Ciruli Associates, N500, September 2000

For the most part, campaigns with expensive media purchases did not begin until early October. Hence, in late September the details or arguments for and against most initiatives were little known by most voters.

Initiative Process

Colorado has been averaging 11 initiatives per year since 1990. This year the state legislature referred a record six constitutional amendments and statutes to voters.

There is a lively debate on the positive and negative aspects of direct democracy through statewide ballot issues. The process is well entrenched in Colorado history and political practice, although there has been a serious effort to raise the threshold for changing the constitution through the initiative.

Initiative Process
Good Bad
Direct democracy is a part of original intent and history . More sweeping and numerous
Check on run-a-way or inert state government . Dominated by special interests, hostile interests, or crack pots.
Has legislative, administrative and judicial controls . Insufficient checks and balances on concepts and language
Few of proposed initiatives make ballot, even fewer pass . Many attack minority rights, property rights
Has had a salutary effect on some policy areas . Vast amount of money increasingly dominates; conversely sometimes impossible to raise sufficient funds to defeat bad ideas
Good barometer of public opinion in spite of big money . Public mostly unaware of complexities and implications of many issues

One change that can be expected after this year will be an increase in the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot in 2001 and 2002 because the requirement is based on the total vote in the preceding Secretary of State race. With the unusual circumstance of the Secretary of State race in a presidential year (instead of the usual off presidential election year), the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot in 2001 and 2002 will be at least 20 percentage points higher. However, with paid petitioners dominating initiative campaigns, it may fail to deter groups and may simply raise the cost of ballot qualification.

  • A telephone survey of 500 Colorado registered voters sponsored by 9-KUSA, KOA 850 News Radio and the Denver Post.

  • Interviews were conducted by Ciruli Associates September 25 to September 29, 2000 with registered voters selected by random methodology screened for their likelihood to vote.

  • Statistical range of accuracy in 19 out of 20 cases plus or minus 4.4 percentage points for sample size of 500. Due to rounding not all totals equal 100 percent.


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