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A recent financial study confirms what most politicians already knew: Amendment 23, the school finance initiative passed last November, is having huge immediate and long-term impacts on the state budget.

The program adds more than $5 billion to school funding between January 2000 and 2025. The new mandate for public school funding, combined with a heavy commitment to capital construction (especially roads), tax cuts the last two years, and a slowdown in state tax revenue collection, has created serious budget tightening and the need to juggle accounts between funding commitments. Although transportation funding survived this year, it will become more difficult in succeeding years.

Amendment 23 may be the most serious challenge to state budgeting since the passage of the tax-limiting TABOR Amendment in 1992. The legislature lost power over much of state revenue during the decade. Now with the passage of Amendment 23, the state legislature is increasingly a check-writer for education.


Colorado voters were not enthusiastic about the amendments offered November 2000. Only the gun check measure passed with enthusiasm (70% approval). The school funding initiative was in the center of the pack winning with 53 percent, a support level that declined as election day closed.

Colorado 2000
Major Initiatives & Referendum Results
Proposal Votes Percent
Amendment 22 Gun Checks 1,194,000 70%
Amendment 20 Marijuana 912,000 54%
Amendment 23 School funding 879,000 53%
Referendum E Senior tax cut 839,000 54%
Referendum F Powerball 832,000 52%
Referendum C Math/science grants 695,000 44%
Amendment 25 Abortion delay 664,000 40%
Amendment 21 Tax cuts 572,000 34%
Amendment 24 Growth limits 512,000 30%
Rounded 000
Ranked by number of yes votes
Ciruli Associates, 2001

Education Ballot Issues

During the 1990s, education funding proposals from both the right and left were rejected by voters. Gov. Roy Romer was the sponsor of two initiatives to shift money to K-12 education. In 1992, he proposed a state sales tax increase, and in 1998 he sponsored a TABOR override, part of which was dedicated to K-12 funding. Also losing were two voucher initiatives in 1992 and 1998. Voters also rejected more money for math and science grants in 2000. Although Amendment 23's victory was modest, it is the first school funding proposal to win. Interestingly, Amendment 23 was a Romer initiative, and he now lives in Los Angeles. His son, Chris Romer, was the prime mover behind the amendment. He used his father in a radio commercial backing the amendment during the last week.

Education Related Ballot Issues
1992 Sales tax Defeated
1992 Vouchers Defeated
1998 TABOR override Defeated
1998 Vouchers Defeated
2000 K-12 funding Passed
2000 Math/science grants Defeated
Ciruli Associates, 2001

Education Clout

Amendment 23 supporters are exercising major power in the legislature even though the initiative only won 20 out of 63 counties and would have lost without huge majorities in Denver and Boulder.

Education County Results
Adams 53%
Arapahoe 53%
Boulder 65%
Denver 59%
Douglas 52% Lost 40%
El Paso 52% Won 23%
Jefferson 51%
Larimer 53% State Pays 51%
Mesa 40%
Pueblo 45%
Weld 48%
Ciruli Associates, 2001

The most recent battle in the state legislature over control of Amendment 23 funds shows the influence of school funding on state politics. Democrats demanded the money be provided to local school districts with no strings attached. Their position is that local districts know best how to spend the funds, and that it is essentially local education groups that passed the tax.

Republicans, most of whom did not support the tax, argued that voters expected the funding to improve the system and not just make the status quo more expensive. Democrats basically won the argument with the help of their labor and education establishment allies.

Education funding will continue to be a yearly battle especially as state budgets grow tighter and other needs rise in priority.

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