AURORA | Proposition 119 invites the Colorado electorate to consider ratcheting up taxes on retail marijuana sales in order to buoy extracurricular educational opportunities statewide.
The proposal calls to ramp up the sales tax on retail marijuana sales in the coming years, eventually bringing the total to 20% by 2024. In turn, the revenue from those increases would fund the so-called Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress program, or LEAP, providing out-of-school help via tutoring, language classes, mental health services and other opportunities for kids ages 5 to 17. Children whose families earn an income at or below the federal poverty level would be given priority.
If passed, the new program would be run by a new, nine-member entity that would be appointed by the governor and operate outside of the purview of the state board of education.
In the first few years of implementation, the proposal calls to divert roughly another $20 million from State Land Trust revenues to the new program, according to legislative budget analysts. After 2023, $20 million from the state general fund would be siphoned into the LEAP pot.
Those in favor of the proposition have said that it would stimulate the state’s beleaguered educational system that was dealt yet another significant blow when the pandemic shuttered schools last year.
“School closures caused by COVID have urgently increased the need for outside instructional support, especially among low-income students who cannot afford the cost of tutoring or enrichment services,” according to nonpartisan state budget analysts.
Colorado regularly ranks among the states that spend the least on local students, analyses show. This year, the state spent about $10,200 per pupil, which is less than half of what is spent in the highest ranking states, like New York and Connecticut.
A lengthy and bipartisan list of state legislators, including Democratic Aurora Sen. Rhonda Fields, have formally given a nod of support to the measure.
Opponents, including the marijuana advocacy group NORML, have argued that the measure would suck dollars away from physical classrooms, with some saying that the money should go directly to schools instead of extracurricular services.
While school districts and teachers would be given priority to provide services through the new program, third-party educational providers could also apply to participate.
Marijuana industry workers have also pushed back against the measure, saying it unfairly hampers business and could promote further proliferation of the black and gray market sale of the drug.
Several lengthy federal investigations in recent years have underscored that Aurora and other municipalities across the metroplex have become hubs for organized crime groups to buy homes, grow large amounts of pot and ship it out of state for a hefty profit.
Proponents of the measure have netted more than $1.8 million in attempts to garner voter support, though they’ve spent the majority of those funds, records show. The committee registered in favor of the proposal, now dubbed “Yes on Prop 119” had just south of $200,000 on-hand as of their most recent campaign finance report filed on Oct. 5, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.
Denver-based Gary Community Ventures, led by former Democratic state legislator Mike Johnston, has provided supporters the bulk of their funds.
A trio of issue committees have raised a few thousand dollars to try to thwart the measure: No on prop 119, Cannabis Community for Fairness and Safety and Coloradans Against School Vouchers. The bulk of the reported contributions have been in-kind donations, though on Thursday a Fort Collins dispensary, Organic Alternatives, chipped in $5,000 in cash to the opposition effort, campaign finance records show.
Because the measure would not alter the Colorado constitution if passed, it could be written into the books with a simple majority vote.